This career advice post originally appears in my Work In Progress column for Forbes.com:
I recently heard from several authors who managed to write their novel and get it published outside of a very busy other career:
- Trevor Shane, author of the Children of Paranoia trilogy, still works as a lawyer in a financial firm while the third and final book of the series is set to drop this fall 2013;
- Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, author of the novel Pastor’s Wives and the CBS pilot The Ordained, worked as a print reporter/editor alongside the novel;
- Alison Singh Gee, author of the memoir Where the Peacocks Sing, worked in journalism and teaching while writing her memoir.
A lot of people have life goals and aspirations outside of a demanding day job. In just the past week, I’ve encountered three cases of people with large side projects outside of work: launching a job search before leaving the current one; training for a triathalon while running a business; juggling performances at night with a real estate job by day. Here are some strategies and tips inspired by Shane, Cullen and Gee for getting it all done:
Embrace your day job
In my interview with Trevor Shane, he talked very positively about his work as a lawyer – how it was a nice counterpart to writing; how it gave him the financial freedom to write more creatively and not just commercially. Many people blame their day jobs for keeping them from their life dreams. Shane’s attitude and accomplishments prove just the opposite: a very different day job can support and enable your dreams. How can you reframe how you feel about your other career?
Break it down
Alison Singh Gee confessed to writing one scene at a time, alongside her weekly teaching load. Gee did as much as she could do given her existing schedule. She didn’t wait for a sabbatical or another perfect time to get started. What small step can you take right now? What small actions can you build into your schedule on a regular basis?
Use support groups
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen recommends workshops and conferences for meeting helpful people and setting deadlines. She didn’t just rely on colleagues, friends or other people who may not have the shared interest or drive to provide the right encouragement. Instead, Cullen found a support group built around her goal. Similarly, the triathlete/ entrepreneur I mentioned earlier is working with Team-In-Training. What like-minded communities exist for your side project?
Be ruthless about your free time
Shane admitted that when he writes (it takes about a year per book) he loses track of anything in mainstream media or pop culture. He just doesn’t have time for other leisure activities between day career, family, and the writing. If you feel like you’re too busy to pursue a dream on the side, what exactly are you spending your time on? Are you spending it unconsciously, say turning on the TV after work out of habit? Can you be more deliberate with your time?
Commit mentally, not just physically
Gee told everyone that she was going to write a book. The peer pressure from sharing her dream with everyone gave her momentum and built-in accountability. This was a mental commitment that propelled her forward. It’s not just the physical time and activity; you have to decide to pursue your dream. How can you affirm your mental commitment?
Whether it’s writing a book, picking up a sport, or getting a new job, there will be times you want to work on something expansive and important that isn’t your day-to-day job. It’s not easy to juggle a different passion from your day career. But there are valuable advantages to maintaining both pursuits, and as these published authors demonstrate, it can be done.