We all have the dream. To be published, to be read, to be recognised as the writer we’ve always wanted to be. There’s just one problem.
Many of us have day jobs and write as a hobby, but busy lifestyles often mean that our fictional worlds fall by the wayside. It’s a Catch 22: we have to earn money to support our writing habit, but we’re too busy working to write. And, if we don’t write, how will we ever get our book published?
Balancing writing and life doesn’t have to be a complete nightmare. Listen up, fellow fictionalists: I have a solution.
Actually, I have several.
Schedule & Set Targets
I have a very busy life and, as such, I work better with structure. I have a weekly, immovable writing session on Tuesday evenings, but even that doesn’t get me too far. I’ve been struggling lately. My weeks were so full, I felt guilty about spending hours in my room writing, when I had so many other things to do. I was tired, I was grumpy, and neither of those states are particularly conducive to writing good fiction.
Feeling low and a bit useless, I did what I do a worryingly frequent amount – I turned to Terry Pratchett for advice.
“For more than three years I wrote more than 400 words every day. I mean, every calendar day. If, in those pre-portable days, I couldn’t get to a keyboard, I wrote hard the previous night and caught up the following day, and if it ever seemed that it was easy to do the average I upped the average.” – Terry Pratchett
I currently write children’s fiction, coming in at about 60k worth of words. With 400 words a day, a 60,000 word novel could be complete in first draft by early November. That’s not counting the days when I feel like writing more than 400 words a day.
I’ve been rocking this solution for about a month now and it’s working well for me. Not all of the 400 words are literary gold, but that’s what editing is for, right?
Decide how much you want to write and break those words into days. Plan your month ahead: if you know you will be unable to write on one particular day, then make allowances for that in your word count.
Use Your “Wasted” Time
Use this time!
This is time you could be writing a few words, a sentence or maybe even a paragraph to contribute to your novel. For example: last night, I was waiting for my friend to return from the bar with drinks. I spent five minutes jotting a few sentences that had been brewing in my head, and that allowed me to exceed my 400 words a day. Hurrah!
Do. Not. Edit.
I am the worst person to be giving this advice, or perhaps the best, because for years I mired in Editing Hell. I would write one scene, but it wouldn’t be quite right, so I’d spend hours tweaking it before moving on.
Don’t do that! As hard as it is to let a mistake lurk in your stream of prose: don’t change it. Make a note on the side to change it later, and continue as though you have already done so. That way you won’t forget, and you can continue along the path you want.
Nothing is perfect, but there is a time and a place for polishing. Unless the mistake you made cannot, for some reason, be fixed at any other time, your first draft is not the time to do it. Wait, and write on.
Always Carry a Notebook and Pen
This is a very old tactic, but it works.
I carry a notebook with me everywhere and my bag is littered with pens. I really should clean it out at some point but, whenever inspiration strikes, it comes in handy.
Carrying a notebook with you allows you the freedom of a quick jotting-down session wherever you are, whenever there’s a moment to spare.
Use Evernote (or similar)
If you’re not a ‘notebook and pen’ type of person, Evernote might be your salvation.
I cannot adequately express my delight with this software. It’s free (big plus). It’s compatible with computers and phones, and is perfect for writing-on-the-go. If you have a spare moment, waiting in a queue, sitting on a train, write a few paragraphs in Evernote and sync it to your computer. The text will be ready for collection (and addition to your novel) the next time you log on to your PC or laptop.
Blow Off Steam
Writing’s fine and dandy but you must not forget to live. Allow time to see friends, spend time with family: they may inspire you. And, if you plan your writing time, you won’t be worrying that you should be writing when you’re with them.
Writing mirrors life, after all.
Another time consuming habit!
With a busy life, it might be tempting to ditch reading for writing, as Stephen King surmises: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
It doesn’t need to be a four-hour binge with the latest fantasy epic. Just ten minutes a night before bedtime does wonders for the mind and the soul. Don’t get bogged down by your own words – lose yourself in someone else’s. You’d be surprised at how much another book can inspire you.
Oh, gawd. Everyone and their dog is getting a book deal these days. And those that aren’t are querying with their new novel. And those that aren’t querying are writing far more than me, you and the Shakespeare-typing monkey over there.
Don’t look at everyone else. They’re like funny cats: just distractions. They have their own goals and you have yours. Don’t worry that you haven’t written as much as some, and don’t become complacent if you’ve written more than others. The Tortoise and the Hare is a popular fable for a reason: slow and steady wins the race. Keep your eye on your own novel and you’ll do fine.
I have a hard time with my partner. I’ll admit it – I’m completely and irrationally weird about it when he writes, and I think that makes me a secretly terrible person. He’s an actor and a painter and, being neither of those things, I see writing as my own little corner of the world. Every time he tells me he’s completed a new chapter, I get an unpleasant writhing sensation in my stomach and a nasty voice in my head whispers “What if he gets published before you?”
What’s strange is that I honestly don’t get like this with anyone else. I’m naturally and wildly supportive of my writing partner, S.E. Berrow, and several others in my Twitter and WordPress clique (and anybody else who sets pen to paper, really), but it’s a real effort with him, and it makes me feel horribly guilty. It’s an unsolved mystery, and of course, I’m outwardly supportive despite my jealous stomach can-can routine. Why?
Because he’s a writer too, so he deserves all the support everyone else does. Obviously. Also…
Because it doesn’t matter.
He works at his pace, I work at mine. He might get a book deal sooner than me – your friend might get one before you – but that doesn’t diminish your novel; it doesn’t make your words any less valuable. Get your head down and don’t worry about anyone else. It’s your novel and no one else can write it like you can.
Look After Yourself
Chocolate bars and icecream are wonderful rewards for writing, but remember that your body needs to function properly. Avoid junk foods and excessive caffeine; make sure you get plenty of sleep. The odd all-nighter won’t kill you, but a rested mind is a keen and willing one. Writing is a way of life, so it shouldn’t come at the expense of your health.
In fact, you’ll find the writing process easier and more enjoyable if your body isn’t stressed. If you look after yourself, your writing project will be the better for it.
Fellow writer Lucy Flint wrote an excellent blog post on ‘The Enormous Virtue of Showing Up’. If anyone would like to read it all, you can find it here, but there was one paragraph in particular I wanted to draw your attention to:
… to physically show up, you also need all senses active and ready. Aware of your body.
Because when you’re writing, you’ll need to rely on sensory detail, on description that is rich and vibrant and feels like a real person experienced it.
… And that’s true whether you’re writing a multigenerational saga or an oven manual. We’re never allowed to write as if we’re robots.
Physical energy is crucial too: It’s too easy to be half-asleep, slumped in the chair.
But writing is an exhausting thing–for me, at least. It takes real, physical energy to get words on a page. So eating smart, exercising regularly, sleeping well: That all feeds into a quality writing day.
See what I mean? Eat right, live right, write right.
Well… this one is obvious, right?
Some days , the fun is gone. It’s bound to happen. Some days, I don’t want to eat chocolate either, but that doesn’t stop me knowing that chocolate is amazing and I usually love eating it because it’s amazing.
Writing is like chocolate.
Writing should be fun. Yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s meant to be an enjoyable one. Writing isn’t about the end result – it’s about the journey. Getting to know your characters, seeing where they take you… that’s writing. Having an ‘off’ day will happen.
My excellent friend, who shall remain nameless, is a wonderful writer. For the past year, however, they’ve been in a writing slump. It’s not that they have writer’s block, exactly, but events in their life meant that all the fun was sucked out of writing. That’s just not a great way to be.
So, they gave it a rest. It’s been a year but I’m pleased to announce that they’ve started writing again, and they’re really enjoying the process. This is what it should be. Writing shouldn’t leave your stomach squirming, it should lift your worries. If, at any point, you find that you’re not enjoying the writing process, then it’s possible that you’re overdue a break. Getting bogged down in word counts and targets can sometimes mean that your well of inspiration dries up. Trying to force yourself to write after that means that you might be doing more damage than good.
By all means continue, if that’s what you want to do. There are some writers who thrive on pushing themselves to the limit, and work best under pressure, but I would not think it is the majority.
If you’re no longer enjoying the writing process, take a break; be aware that your book will always be there. Writing might be a huge part of your life, but it is not your entire life.
Be safe, be healthy and be happy, and then the words will come back to you.