On August 28, 2018 | 1 Comments

HOW TO MANAGE TWO CAREERS (writing + something else)

How to manage two careers:Dr. Anton Chekhov practiced while writing (Shutterstock)

How to manage two careers:Dr. Anton Chekhov practiced while writing (Shutterstock)

For more than two decades but particularly in the last ten years, I have written novels while practicing medicine full time. I’m certainly not the first nor will I be the last author-doctor combo. Anton Chekhov, the great Russian playwright who was also a medical doctor, said, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress. When I get fed up with one, I spend the night with the other.

Other writers were/are also doctors, including Somerset Maugham, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, Abraham Verghese, Khaled Hosseini (who said his medical training was an “arranged marriage”), and others. Robin Cook, an ophthalmologist, continued practicing medicine even as he prolifically wrote his gripping medical thrillers like Coma, but Michael Crichton, on the other hand, never practiced a day in his life.

How to manage two careers: Dr. Robin Cook, an ophthalmologist, practiced while writing

How to manage two careers: Dr. Robin Cook, an ophthalmologist, practiced while writing

How to manage two careers:Dr. Nawad El Saawadi, a psychiatrist, wrote while practicing (Alamy Stock)

How to manage two careers:Dr. Nawad El Saawadi, a psychiatrist, wrote while practicing (Alamy Stock)


People express surprise and admiration that anyone could manage the two careers of writing and medicine. A doctor’s life can be an exhausting treadmill of night calls, early mornings, and sleep deprivation–ask the average general surgeon, cardiologist or ob-gyn. Readers of my novels have often asked me, how do you manage to write and be a doctor? When or where do you get the time? First, I didn’t become a general surgeon, cardiologist or ob-gyn! Appendicitis, heart attacks, and babies have a habit of materializing at the dead of night when you will be dragged out of bed by the summoning hospital. Secondly, fairly early on in my career, I opted out of in-hospital duty (and therefore night call) although for quite some time I did the graveyard shift at an urgent care facility. Graveyard shifts annihilated my creativity.

The reality is that most writers have a “day job” and have to manage two careers. We don’t all get to be James Patterson or JK Rowling. Even famous authors managed two careers at some point to support their “writing habit.” I’ve now retired from medicine to be a full-time writer, but over the years, I’ve come up with some tips that might be help my fellow writers to manage two careers.

How to manage two careers: 5 tips

1. Where’s your loyalty?

Using Chekhov’s marriage analogy, you will need to continually evaluate with which job your loyalty lies more. As time passes, things can change. In the beginning, you will by necessity have to be faithful to your day job while writing “on the side,” but a lucky break might transform your options.

2. Night owl–or morningbird?

What time of the day or night you write is something you must decide based on a number of factors. Is your job a classic nine to five, or is it a swing or graveyard? Are you a “night person” or do you perform best in the morning? I am mostly useless at night and prefer to rest my mind until early the next morning. You may also have young children to whom you must devote your time and attention, leaving you no choice but to snatch a couple of writing hours late at night or early in the morning before it’s time for the kids to wake up and go to school. I don’t say it’s easy! Whatever time(s) you figure out to be best, I strongly recommend that you stick to the routine as much as possible. I realize that some may have a job in which the shift changes week to week. This may be particularly troublesome because it can disrupt your creative process.

3. Stealing time

Not everyone can slip out of his/her “day job” frame of mind to writing mode, but if you can write while at work without breaking any rules, it’s worth the effort. Even if you think you can’t write in the work environment, at least give it a try a few times. Co-workers going out to lunch? Skip it. Save yourself some dough, bring a packed lunch (sandwiches are the most convenient), and use the lunch hour to get some writing done.

4. Time efficiency

Related to #3, wherever and whenever you write, it’s not only how much time you have, it’s how effectively you use it. Unfortunately, our world is rife with distractions–Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, texts, and so on. While you’re writing, try setting yourself a reasonable time during which you don’t answer emails/texts, engage in social media, or watch funny cat videos on YouTube. There are several apps like Freedom and Anti-Social that can help, if not completely eliminate, the interruptions. MS Word also has a full-screen mode in which you don’t see enticing elements popping up around the margins of your page.

5. Share and share alike 

Here’s something you might not have thought about. I recommend you share your writing career and how you’re doing with it freely with your co-workers –even if you experience disappointments. When people ask how your weekend was, instead of the usual conventional replies, say something about your writing–“Great weekend! I got a lot of writing done.” Curious people might ask what your book is about and express interest. Give them a quick elevator pitch–you won’t hold their attention much longer than that, anyway.

  • Invite your coworkers to events like your book signings and book fairs. Even if they don’t show up, they will appreciate your invitation.  Involve managers and administrators too. They may be quite flattered by your gesture.
  • If you write a blog, ask interested colleagues if they’d like to be on your mailing list. If your workplace allows only emails related to the business, ask if you can use their personal email.
  • Give out “swag”–gifts like pens, coffee mugs etc. printed with an image of the jacket of your book, if you have
GOLD OR OUR FATHERS coffee mug (Kwei Quartey, juggling two careers)

How to manage two careers: GOLD OR OUR FATHERS coffee mug (Kwei Quartey)

reached that stage of publication. No one can ever have enough coffee mugs. You can also give Christmas presents with your book logo or design used as a seal on the wrapping. Your co-workers will also love business cards with the book jacket design(s) on the front and your contact info and website on the reverse side.

With the above steps, I’m leading up to something. There may come a point at which you find you simply must carve out more time for your writing. Perhaps you’re approaching the publisher’s deadline or you need some extra editing time. Here is where an appeal to your coworkers, managers, and administrators for their help and understanding may be rewarded by your having been so sharing with everyone. You have them on your side and they may be more than willing to figure something out with you. Perhaps one shift on the weekend really isn’t needed. Perhaps your work on one day can be rolled over to a colleague or your assistant, if you have one. Is there someone in your office willing to cover you for a day or an afternoon? Before I left medicine permanently, my administrators worked with me to split one day’s clinic schedule between two other days, thus freeing up my Thursdays, which was a godsend.

After giving decades of life to medicine, I finally called it quits and walked out the door to give my full attention to writing. It can be scary leaving your day job and it should never be done prematurely or before you’re ready. But always imagine the day it will happen. To achieve your dream, you have to make it come alive in the panorama of your mind.





Troy Johnson Posted August 30, 2018 at10:07 am   Reply

Hi Kwei, do you maintain two careers because you love them both, or is being a doctor a financial necessity which funds a sometimes expensive writing career with one considers marketing, travel and other related expenses.

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