Writing a book is a huge investment in time and energy, and sometimes it’s hard to find time to dedicate to the chief principle behind it all: that is, to write.
I’m embarking on a quest to finish my first book, in at least what I deem to be a standard of completion to offer up to agencies. See my previous blog post for history on MFB, here: https://katylallanby.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/mfb/
At the moment, I’m juggling this above quest with this (somewhat neglected) blog, running my own little household, including keeping an eye on two naughty pusscats and all the scrapes they get into, and of course full-time work. You might remember, if you’re a seasoned follower of this blog (and I like to think there maybe are one or two!), that before Christmas last year I was working in Hull, working long days and coupling those with a long drive there and back. Well I work on the outskirts of York now, so the drive is much improved, and my working day is a little more flexible, so some days I can be sat at home with a brew at 4.45pm, instead of not getting back till nearly 7! Saying that, I still managed to charge through a big chunk of the first draft, so making time may be a problem, but if you’re determined, you’ll get it done.
I think I’m a quietly-driven, privately-determined sort of person – and I’m very selective about what I choose to focus on, so usually those things with a singular focus get a lot of attention and thus flourish from it! Probably why my book is charging out of control while this little blog flounders. At the same time, I find it quite easy to flip from task to task; I can write up until a point where I have to go out, for whatever reason, and when I come back in it’s usually only a matter of minutes before I can pick up where I left off (I do try to leave myself a little list of things to be done, though, just so I don’t forget).
How I fit writing into a busy schedule (and how you can too!)
Make time – this might seem obvious, but you have to make time. Writing is a long arduous task; ideas come at any given moment, and what you put down in a first draft will need to be rewritten, tweaked, pulled this way and that, and that all takes time. When I was studying for my MA, one of the Creative Writing lecturers said he got up at 5am to fit in writing before going to work. Now, that doesn’t work for me because I am lazy and love my bed, but I am a night owl, so I tend to write late on an evening. One thing I’ve been trialling, in this (hot?) summer has taken inspiration from our fellows in warmer climes: the siesta. No, wait, hear me out! After a long day at work, then confronted with a long list of jobs to do around the house, writing – while it would be my number one thing to do that night – would often fall down the priority ladder, by which point I would probably be too tired to do more than a paragraph or so. By forcing a siesta in pretty much as soon as I’m home from work, I would get an hour or forty minutes’ kip, wake up feeling rough, but after a coffee and a big glass of water, feel ready to take on the world. With this second wind, I could whizz through all my jobs with a newfound sense of efficiency, and then be able to get a good few hours of decent writing in, way past my usual bedtime. Now I appreciate that nap time isn’t for everyone, but my point is: you have to find a way to make time in your life to write if you ever seriously want to pursue it. This might mean pulling an extra couple of hours out of your day by tweaking your time, but whatever means you do to get it, make that time!
Use time efficiently – And then here’s the next one: so you’ve got that time, now you have to use it well. This can apply to everything in life: if you’re struggling to make time, then take a piece of paper and write down what you do with every hour of the day. That lunch hour? When you sit at your desk, idly flicking through work emails, or messing about on social media, or reading the Sidebar of Shame? Sit and write. That dead time between getting home from work and starting tea? Sit and write. But now that you’ve got that time, how do you use it well? Now for me, I find it easy to sit at my desk, open the last document I was working on, and slip back into the story. I tend to keep everything still on the surface of my thoughts, and often after I’ll have finished writing the story will carry on running in my head. But here are a few tips I find useful to use that time efficiently:
- Get of social media, for one! Twitter is great for connecting with people and I try to update it regularly with my progress, but it’s easy to sit and scroll and scroll and then next thing you know, twenty minutes have passed and you’ve written nothing. There are various things you can install to help with that – I used to use the Freedom app a bit, which blocks certain websites – but if you have good willpower, put it to use!
- Put on some good music. Maybe not the kind of music that gets you up and whirling around your kitchen busting some moves (ahem, I don’t do that), but often I find if the music matches the pacing of what I’m writing, it flows really well. Some people maybe like a bit of Classic FM, but we listen to that at work so I would struggle to separate the two mindsets. I will write a post on music and writing separately, as I think music is such a huge part of the writing process.
- Write shit down! Apologies for the bad language. I usually have a couple of notebooks on my desk, one in my bag and notes on my phone, so I’m never caught out if I have an amazing idea and I’m away from my computer. I’m not just working on #MFB alone: I’m working on about ten different stories, though my main focus is of course #MFB. Sometimes an idea will float across that suits a different story, or involves another character from another book, so I tend to scribble that down so I don’t forget.
- To extend that point, if you have an idea for the next bit of writing, but you just can’t get round to committing it to the sensational prose you’ve just nailed – maybe you’re too tired, it’s 2am and in 4 hours you need to get up for work, or you’re just about to run out the door for something – whatever it is, jot it down! If I have to abort a passage abruptly, I try to list the next things that will happen. It can be bullet points: Chara 1 does this, they meet Supporting Chara 3, Interesting Incident 7 happens; it can be a paragraph planning it all out. Or if it’s feeding into an over-arching theme, write that shit down too. Thoughts are like flittering fleeting birds; you think you leave them in a safe place, but when you go back there, they’ve buggered off.
Create a working space heaven – this is a biggie. In my experience, I find that you can get ever so far with a makeshift workspace. For years, as a wee bairn, I had my corner of the settee when I lived with my family, and it was one of those Ikea settees with a little coffee swivel table stuck on the side, upon which my laptop sat. I then moved on to a JML TV-dinner special, the flimsiest-looking white plastic table that did the job, until it warped a bit with the heat from my computer and went a funky colour. When we moved to Windy Farm, I took the sewing room as my little workspace, where I tried to do my work for my MA and then what writing I could get round to. Now in Casa Katy, I have my little piece of heaven, and I have to say, this working space is the best one for me, creatively. I have good lighting, a wonderful desk, close proximity to the kettle (high importance); I have a whiteboard to draw maps on, plenty of notebooks to scribble on, and even a chair next to mine so Maura can sit next to me while I work. And I think the proof is in the pudding: I’ve never written so much so quickly with such focus before.
And finally, above all else, perseverance is absolutely key – I can’t stress this enough. Without this, none of the other things will work. You can make three hours out of your day and mark them as ‘writing time’; you can create an absolutely divine workspace; you can have the ultimate writing playlist queued on Spotify, and yeah, sit for day 1, day 2, and start off Joe Bloggs’ adventures in a futuristic western, or another planet, or in the doldrums of daily life, or on a road to nowhere – but if you hit a brick wall, or a plot abyss, or if life gets in the way – as it so often does – if you don’t pick yourself up and get on with it, then that’s it. The amount of times I come home from work, shattered, after a long day dealing with various problems and issues, and maybe it’s been the drive home from hell, and maybe I’ve realised I don’t have the ingredients in to make the tea I want, and it’s all going a bit wrong, sometimes writing is the last thing on my mind. And it’s OK to have a night off. Believe me. Sometimes the writing needs it: a night off, a week off, whatever. But don’t you dare stop there! #MFB was abandoned for about a year and a half, I kid you not. But it remained present in my mind, ticking over. Perseverance is so important. Tied up in that is self-belief (not too be confused with self-importance or arrogance, as they so often are). Yeah we might not be the next JK Rowling or Lee Child or whoever. But there is a story in us, and we need to get it out. Or else, why would we write?
So these are my little life mantras! It’s been a tough writing week for me: I’ve been a bad storyteller of late. But I’ve got a week off work, so #MFB, let’s be having you!
How do you guys find time to write, and in turn, organise and optimise that time? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below.