The Freelance Creative

Ask A Freelancer: Can I Freelance and Still Keep a Job?

I’m working part-time and doing freelance writing on the side. I have some ideas of things I want to write, but the problem is just making the time to do it. I also don’t know where to pitch. Would you be able to recommend anything? How can I develop a career with my particular situation?

—Turning a Side Dish Into an Entrée

E.B. White had this great quotation: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

To make time to write, you’re going to need to find gaps in your schedule that can be exploited. You’ll often get the advice to “just wake up an hour earlier,” but a lot of us aren’t getting enough sleep already. So, instead of losing sleep over your writing, figure out how to use the time you already have.

Once brainstorming is out of the way, you can draft a good chunk of a 600-word article during a 30-minute lunch break and still eat a sandwich. Maybe you can send one pitch during a 15-minute work break. Or you can send another pitch waiting for the bus. You can carry a notebook or an iPad and outline a piece while you’re on the bus and start writing as soon as you get home.

I’ve written before about how I consistently complete between 20 and 30 pieces every week, and although I have the luxury of being able to write full-time, I still wouldn’t be able to handle that workload unless I knew how to take advantage of gaps in my schedule. When dinner cooks in the toaster oven for 20 minutes, I can usually finish about 400 words, even if that means I’m in the middle of writing when the timer goes off.

Once you block off time, the key is to be consistent. If you waste five minutes trying to decide whether to write or mess around on Twitter, you’ll never get into a flow.

Many famous writers have/had regimented routines. Write to Done has an interesting list worth checking out: Stephen King writes 10 pages per day; Ernest Hemingway preferred writing early and set a goal of 500 words per day; Joyce Carol Oates likes to work for an hour before teaching classes.

I also know certain part-time jobs come with unpredictable schedules, and life can get in the way. With that in mind, try scheduling deadlines with editors well in advance, so you aren’t forced to submit a late draft after your boss asks you to work an extra shift. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to finish assignments, and you’ll quickly figure out the amount of time it takes you to work under normal conditions.

If you decide to take the leap and figure out all these moving parts, you have to ask yourself one question: What kind of writer do you want to be? Find places that print that kind of writing and pitch them. Yes, read some pitching advice before getting started, but don’t get too bogged down in the minutiae. A good pitch is brief, clear, and includes a unique thesis. Learn the rest as you get more comfortable.

I’m glad you’re trying to start a freelance career while keeping your part-time position. Quitting a part-time job to become a full-time freelancer might seem tempting, but it is very hard to do unless you have already saved a lot of money to compensate for the financial lag while you make the leap—about one year’s worth of income in reserve is a common benchmark.

However, you can absolutely build a writing career while working a part-time job, and many freelance writers keep their part-time (or full-time) jobs even as their careers grow. You may never have ideal conditions, but don’t let that stop you from pursuing a passion.

Nicole Dieker loves regular schedules, which is part of the reason why she loves writing this weekly column. Send your Ask A Freelancer questions to

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