10 Ways to Follow Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job

This week, I went back to work full-time after a six-month sabbatical. It’s going to be tough re-adjusting to the work schedule while still making time to do the things outside of work that are important to me.

Writing fiction is the biggest of these for me. I have other hobbies, but writing is my passion.

So I’m making a plan. Here’s what I’m telling myself…

Vancouver Island road. Copyright Siri Paulson 2013.

1. Cut yourself some slack.

I’m going to be exhausted — especially at first, but there will continue to be exhausting days when one job is all I’m good for. That’s okay. My tendency to beat myself up is not the best way to get results, no matter what my Inner Critic thinks.

2. Set SMART goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. (Read more at Wikipedia.)

I want to highlight two of them and what they mean to me.

  • Attainable means realistic. See #1. My Inner Critic has entirely unrealistic expectations about what I “should” be able to achieve. But she’s not the one in charge — I am. It’s okay to start small and ramp up slowly.
  • Relevant means identifying what’s important. Networking and marketing — Twitter, Facebook, even blogging — are all good, but they’re only supporting what’s really important: the writing.

3. Build habits.

Way back, before last year happened with its home-buying and trip-planning and other good stuff, I had a habit. 9 PM to 11 PM were my writing hours. Even if I didn’t write for the full two hours, I usually wrote sometime during that period. I want to get back to that.

I also had a coffee-shop-writing habit. It’s taken several different forms over the years — sometimes Friday nights, sometimes lunch hours. The more, the better.

4. Know your rhythms.

I’ve already mentioned my 9-to-11 evening writing times. I’m a bit of a night owl, but I know exactly when my brain cuts out.

As well, I’ve been experimenting with timed writing and editing — everything from 10-minute sprints to half-hour Twitter challenges (look for #wordmongering and #editmongering) to 3-hour writing marathons (incidentally, that’s about the length a laptop battery lasts at a coffee shop).

I’m still working on identifying the optimal length of a writing session for me. Right now I’m leaning towards 90 minutes.

5. Know your weaknesses.

The Internet is mine. So I’ve been trying out Freedom, a software program that locks you out of your Internet for whatever length of time you specify. It’s great…at least when I remember to turn it on! Amazingly, when I know I can’t just check that one site, the craving completely disappears.

I also avoid getting online at coffee shops, because I know what will happen. So I compartmentalize and pretend there’s no wifi anywhere except at home. Surprisingly, it works. The brain is susceptible to being tricked…and I’m not above doing so.

6. Find the time.

We all have busy lives. But there are plenty of corners in mine that aren’t being used for anything in particular. I’ve already mentioned writing while on lunch hour. (Though I won’t do it every lunch hour, because my body needs some time off, too!)

When I do NaNoWriMo, I spend my public transit time scribbling notes and outlines in a notebook so I don’t have to spend precious keyboard time thinking.

7. Remember that baby steps add up.

As I mentioned earlier, my Inner Critic thinks anything less than a superhuman effort is doomed to failure.

However, my Inner Critic chooses not to remember that I’ve already written several novels…some during the mass marathon that is NaNoWriMo, others during perfectly ordinary months. I’ve written, edited, and published more than a few short stories. I’m the editor and co-founder of Turtleduck Press. And so on.

All while, amazingly enough, not being superhuman.

I have a feeling that, to really get my writing career going, I’ll need more than baby steps…but then again, my Inner Critic has been wrong before.

8. Just keep swimming.

Yes, that’s a Finding Nemo quote.

What does it mean here? Keep moving forward. Keep doing something, even if it’s small (see #7). Do it again the next day. If I don’t have the brain to write one day, maybe I have the brain to do something related (though see #2 — anything except writing is ancillary).

9. Find a community.

I always wanted to Be A Writer, but I didn’t really buckle down until I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2005. The hard deadline helped immensely, but that was only part of the reason. The other part was the people. I met writers that year who are still friends today.

Since then, I’ve met a lot more writers. I have a group born out of that year at NaNoWriMo, a real-life critique group, a close-knit group on Facebook, and a variety of loose-knit groups on Twitter. All of them help keep me accountable and help me nurture my passion in various ways.

10. Listen to Joss Whedon.

Wait, what? Yes, that’s what I said. Go read this. I’ll wait.

Your turn! What are your best tips for following your passion while also meeting the demands of Real Life?

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9 responses to “10 Ways to Follow Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job

  1. Lots of good advice here for anyone trying to squeeze their passion into a busy life. I might try a couple of your tips myself 🙂

  2. Great bits of advice, Siri. My fave? Just keep swimming. Not only do I love Dory and her simple, yet powerful phrase, but I also love that this mantra can be applied to just about anything you do in life.

  3. Mike, thank you, and let me know how it goes!

    Tami, exactly. It’s funny how some movie quotes just live on and on…”Layers, donkey!” and “Hakuna matata” are some of my other favourites.

  4. I can relate to so many of these points… I too remember a time when I had a great evening writing rhythm. I’d come home from work and switch on the computer instead of the TV and eat while I checked up on the latest FB updates etc… Then I’d write for a couple of hours and still have time to write a blog post. I’d really like to rediscover that rhythm and discipline. The TV in the evenings is a huge distraction for me.

  5. Ellen, wow! Sounds like some serious discipline. If you found it once, you can find it again…

  6. I love this post so much! I would like to plaster these tips all over my office. I keep my SMART goals on Post-Its, which are up on posterboard that I can look at every day. I read through this muttering, “OMG, it’s me!” Just like you, I didn’t really buckle down and start taking writing seriously until I found NaNoWriMo in ’11. Since then I’ve landed myself a freelance writing job for an online women’s magazine and have had some short stories picked up for publication. If your blog is like this post, I would really like to follow you so that I could learn some more tips and tricks from a fellow writer.

  7. Joy, thanks so much for the kind words! I’m glad to hear the post resonated with you and was helpful. Sounds like you’re doing a lot of the right things to get your writing career moving. Keep up the good work (and hang the Inner Critic)!

  8. Fish are friends, not food!

    *sigh* Yeah. I should just keep swimming.

  9. Listen to Dory, she is wise!

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