Science YouTuber by day, writer by night
Dr. Dominic Walliman is the author of the award-winning Professor Astro Cat science picture books and shares his love of science on his popular YouTube channel, Domain of Science. He has a PhD in quantum device physics and used to work on quantum computers.
Could you describe what you do when you’re not writing?
I produce the youtube channel Domain of Science, which also involves a bunch of research and writing. Then also a load of drawing, animation and video production.
Do you have a writing schedule?
When I have a Professor Astro Cat book to write I set out a schedule for myself to make sure I hit the deadline for my publisher. I find that this is really really important to help me keep on track and it really helps with my self motivation. My schedule consists of a target of words I need to write per day, but I don’t worry too much about when exactly I do the writing as my time is pretty flexible.
So far it has worked really well. Each book I write I get a little better at this part, and so I have become more efficient with my research and writing.
Do you have a target of how many words or pages you write in a day?
For my last book I was working to 400 words per day. I’m writing kids science books so this also includes research and then working out the best way to explain things. My kind of writing is somewhat atypical: I have a bunch of concepts to explain and I need to work out how to explain them in the best way given the tight word limit. It is like a puzzle to work out how to order the information and be efficient with my language and make it understandable and fun for kids. But I really enjoy it!
Where do you usually write?
Mostly at home. But sometimes I start feeling like a troglodyte, so I go out to coffee shops or find a spot in the park or community centre.
Do you like to write alone or with a writing group?
I mostly write alone. But I have gone to some writing groups from Meetup, most recently to try writing some fiction. Writing fiction is hard.
Ideally, what time of the day is the best time for you to write? What do you do when you can’t write at this time?
Since I quit my day job I like getting my writing done in the daytime so I can keep to normal working hours. When I had a day job I would write on weekday evenings and try and keep my weekends free, although that wasn’t always possible when deadlines loomed.
Do you get inspiration from your day job? Why or why not?
Yes, now I do. Writing for YouTube videos and book writing are very similar. I’m basically writing in the same kind of way, but for my YouTube videos I’m writing for an older audience. When I had a day job I found it hard to motivate myself to write as it felt like more work after a day work, so that was pretty tough. I mostly remember being tired.
If you had the option, would you choose to quit your day job and write full time?
I guess that’s what I have done, except I quit my day job to make youtube videos. But this has given me a more flexible schedule for writing. Quitting my job was a bit of a risk, but I did it strategically and so far it is working out. I’m definitely more suited to a self-motivated work life rather than an office based employed job.
What do you do if you fail to follow your writing schedule or don’t get to write as often as you’d like? Does it affect your day/s?
If I fail to hit my schedule I go though a round of guilt for not doing well enough, and then I work out how to make time to catch up and then belligerently sit down and hammer it out with lots of moaning and complaining.
Between your day job and writing, how do you fit in time with your family/partner/social circle, etc.?
When I had a day job and was writing I would try and keep my weekends free so that I had time to socialise and have a break for my brain. Now that I’m self employed, I feel like my work/life balance is pretty great.
How long does it typically take you to finish writing a book?
Two months to do a first draft, and then about a year of sporadic editing and re-writes.
Do you have any other advice on keeping up with writing while juggling a day job?
If you have a deadline it is essential that you get a piece of paper and work out how many weeks there are to the deadline, divide your writing into those weeks keeping the last one or two weeks free at the end to give yourself some wiggle room. And then you know exactly how much you need to get done each week and can divide it amongst your days or evenings or weekends.
Doing this as early as possible is great because you can track how you do in the early weeks and see if your plan is realistic, and if not you have an early warning sign that you either need a longer deadline or you need to work out how to be more efficient.
This was a really useful thing I learned from having a project manager in the tech industry. I hated doing this at first, but now I’m in the habit I find it incredibly helpful.