A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Making it work as a full time writer

Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators. So said Olin Miller, but he was wrong. I’m raising three alligators of my own, and successfully wrestled them through bath and bedtime by 19:00. Now it’s midnight, but the writing is still here, looking at me.


Time is the big challenge for all writers, and I was surprised to find that didn’t change when I began writing full time. I love my work and the flexibility it affords. But when I’m caught up in the excitement of new projects, with ongoing edits and layout checks competing for attention, I’m in danger of replacing all my spare time with screen time.

I’ve found three antidotes to writerholism…

Stick to routine

One of the big perks of writing for a living must be avoiding the 9 to 5, so I’m probably doing this horribly wrong. But writing 9 to 5 really works for me. It’s the best (only?) way to guarantee a break in the evenings.

Join a team

As a children’s writer you join teams of lovely, creative people, working on lovely, creative books. But after a couple of years of working remotely I found myself missing… meetings! Agendas! Water coolers! (I know, I know). Voluntary roles have been brilliant for snapping my brain out of that owly-eyed feeling you get from concentrating on sentences all day. For the last year I’ve been a school governor – a brilliant way to volunteer if you are interested in education. It also gets you involved in your local community faster than they can say, “stop hogging the coffee shop with your laptop and cold cappuccino”.

Edit someone else

Writing is a process of editing, editing and editing again – so the most important skill is being able to see the flaws in your work. As a former in-house publishing person, I still carry out freelance editorial work. I’m also part of a local critique group, which has been brilliant. The process of feeding back on other people’s writing – what works, what doesn’t, why? – helps me look at my own manuscripts with fresh eyes.

It also reminds me that there are many talented reptile wranglers who do the same job…

Alligator wrestlers of the world, I salute you!

Isabel Thomas writes non-fiction for children and teenagers, specializing in science and nature. Her books are published by DK, Pearson, Collins, Curious Fox, Oxford University Press, Laurence King, Raintree, Wayland and Bloomsbury, and she has also written educational resources for Lonely Planet and Macmillan Children’s Books.
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Photo by Tambako the Jaguar, shared under a Creative Commons License.

About Isabel Thomas

Isabel Thomas studied Human Sciences at Oxford University before becoming a writer. Her books for young people include HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (OUP), shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize 2016, and SELF-DESTRUCTING SCIENCE: SPACE (Bloomsbury). Isabel lives in Cambridge, where she is zookeeper to three young sons. Website: Twitter: @raisingchimps


This entry was posted on February 4, 2015 by .

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