One of the things people ask me quite often is about time – how there’s time to write, especially when you have a full time job/several other jobs/children or a family to look after. I don’t have kids so I can’t currently comment on that, but I will say that I have the utmost respect for parents who write. Several of my writer friends are parents and I think they’re absolutely amazing.
A lot of authors do still hold down full-time jobs, and many have other commitments too. Having worked with a lot of them and now attempting to be one myself, here are some things I’ve learned…
1. Don’t beat yourself up if you have off days. I went through a stage of being mad at myself a lot of the time because I felt as though I wasn’t achieving enough, wasn’t hitting the word count I wanted, wasn’t working hard enough or fast enough. But actually, that didn’t really accomplish anything – all it did was make me feel unhappy and more unproductive, because all my mental energy went into telling myself I wasn’t good enough. Now, if I have days where work has been too tiring and I can’t find the time or inclination to write, I let it go. I try to do something else, if there’s a small thing that will help me feel productive but is less challenging, or I make dinner and watch a good TV show and remind myself that this is only one day and (hopefully!) I have lots left.
2. Set word counts. Depending on what stage I am at with writing I will try to do 1000 words a day, and that’s basically until I can get the main bulk of the manuscript down. That’s what I did with The Doll House, and the words were fairly rubbish first time around, but once I had them written down I at least had something to work with. I think lots of people can get a bit stuck trying to make every sentence perfect, but I would advise just getting it down – you can go back and polish it as much as you like later on. Setting word counts meant that I could manage my time a little better – for example, I could have a day where I didn’t write as long as I made up for it so that by the end of the week I had roughly 7,000 words and was therefore ‘on target.’ I also think it helps to have a realistic deadline in your head – don’t tell yourself you will have it done within a month because chances are you won’t! Work out a reasonable time frame, and tell someone else (your agent/friend/partner) what it is so that you feel at least a bit responsible for meeting it (this is if you don’t have a contractual deadline – if you do have a contractual deadline, do your best to meet it and if you really can’t, let your editor know in advance so that they can rejig things their end!)
3. Find what time of day works for you. I can only really write in the evenings and at weekends – in the mornings I am just too tired, and setting my alarm at 5am to write for two hours just isn’t what works for me. I know it does work for other writers and that’s great – but I’ve always been someone who needs to work later rather than earlier. There is no right way, but if you can find what works best for you, and stick to it, you will find you become more productive because your body and mind are in the best position to work.
4. Find opportunities. I used to write in my lunch break in my old job, or use the time to query agents. When I was really close to finishing the book, I had to take a day of holiday to give it one last read through. Having more than one commitment doesn’t mean you can’t carve out bits of time for your own project; it’s just about finding the moments that work for you. Maybe you can work in your lunch break, or maybe you can write on the way home if you get a train. Maybe instead of saving all your holiday for a week in the sun, you can make it five days in the sun and two days writing at home – and that probably won’t make that much difference to how much you enjoy your holiday (especially when you add in the satisfaction you’ll get from getting lots done in those two days!).
5. Don’t be afraid to turn things down. I used to get really stressed over turning down social events, and I still do a little bit, but I am trying to be better at this. You don’t have to go to every event that comes your way – if you want to stay home and write, you can! Make an excuse, or say you have to work – if you’re taking your writing seriously, then it IS work! There’s nothing worse than standing having drinks you don’t want with a bunch of people then worrying that night about all the words you didn’t write. I’m not saying don’t go out and relax because you definitely SHOULD, but on occasions where going out is actually more mentally stressful than if you just stay in and do the work, I’d advise bowing out. Also, don’t worry about missing out. That feeling is always way worse in your head than it is in real life!
6. Try different things. Some people find writing little and often is helpful, others prefer to have longer chunks of a couple of hours. I actually find the latter more useful, so weekends are good, but you might find that you prefer having smaller bursts of productivity. There are some writers who I’ve seen doing this on social media – setting themselves challenges and asking other authors to write along with them – and I think this is really nice as you feel that sense of encouragement. Writing is quite a lonely business in a way, so it’s good to feel as though others are working alongside you – as though you’re not the only one sitting in front of the keyboard wondering what on earth to write next.
7. Finish halfway through a scene. This is a little thing but I find it helps – if I finish writing halfway through a scene or even a sentence, when I next sit back down to write I know exactly where I’m going with it. That gets rid of the slight sense of panic when you sit down to type, and then once you’ve finished off a scene you’re more in the flow of things, and you’ve got through those scary first few minutes. This is good for if you haven’t got much time – you can quickly finish the scene, and at least that way you’ve accomplished something, even if it’s only a small goal.
8. Get rid of distractions! This is so obvious but so hard. I’m always on social media or my phone, and the only way I can get lots of writing done is to put it in another room. Similarly, my work emails will pop up in the corner of the screen and I will start replying to them, so it’s better to turn everything off temporarily, then you can check in a break. If you’re someone who enjoys social media like me, that’s actually quite nice! I used to always go write in the British Library on a Sunday because the internet there is terrible – it was so frustrating trying to connect to it that in the end I didn’t bother, and after a while I had a finished manuscript. If you can find a place you like without an internet connection, try going there on your way home. If you do that, then once you get home, the work is already done and you can let yourself relax.
If you have any time management tips, I would love to hear from you! It is an ongoing thing to which there is no right answer – it’s all about finding what works best for you and being open to trying new routines.
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