Tuesday, 30 September 2014

How Not to Waste Time as a Writer

Using my Little Red Book
to organise  my time.

I can’t count the times that  promising writer says to me -

‘If only I had the time I could really focus on this novel/article/poem/short story.

A Weird Situation

For a writer the only answer to this dilemma is to take time, to take control of your time. In doing this you will create dedicated time for you to imagine and for you to write afresh.

Writing creatively is often viewed as an inchoate, random, uncontrollable act -weirdly beyond the writer’s control based on the notion that all writers are dreamers. How does this compare with the expressive arts? Contrast this frenzied image with an artist going into her or his studio or a musician turning up at her or his rehearsal room.

Contrast this also with the reputation of highly successful present day and earlier writers -  part of whose success is built on their ability to organise their time to ensure systematic daily, weekly and monthly blocks of time to devote purely to their imagining and their writing.

Perhaps to be so successful and productive, needs the quality of what the world calls ‘selfish’. (We need a new word for this quality …) I sometimes feel that – because of their cultural brainwashing - women writers are worse at this ‘selfish’ thing than male writers.

I have often said that making time to write creatively is ‘my first priority after the safety of my children – before the house, the table, the call of friends. And these days,  surfing the Internet, tweeting. Even blogging (Though I have to say that does have its creative element.)

I have become used to to the faintly judgemental looks when I make this statement. The disbelief or disapproval comes equally from men and women of my acquaintance. But still I get my head down and write my stories, my novels and articles.

My Theory Is Based On Blocks Of Time

These blocks of time evolved during the time I was teaching full time -  first in schools then in higher education and wrote and had accepted for publication several stories and three Young Adult Novels.

This Is How My Method Evolved.

 My life in school and then college was keyed around the academic year: three terms and three longish holidays. This gave me six blocks of time  to attend to my writing as an important part not just of my time but my of identity.           Of course my preparation and my teaching also had to be properly  planned in. My teaching  commitments trained me to focus intently on a major creative  task (teaching)  and meet  deadlines (for preparation and marking).
           During the holidays I would use these skills in the free-lance way to research and write first short stories then novels which were accepted for publication. And during term times I would work spasmodically on my creations, close editing prose and developing characters and listing, brainstorming new ideas for new ideas.
        After that when I moved into writing full time I knew how to make time to write and went on write a book a year for twenty years – not ‘churning them out’ but giving them special time and space in my life to ensure quality, credibility and qualitative development.

So I thought I’d share with you my idiosyncratic views on how to make proper time in your life for your writing.

(This is not a recipe for everyone but perhaps  aninvitation to look at your own time-control more objectively as a writer and develop it systematically and – most important – give it priority in your life – first after the safety of your household perhaps.)

First you need to consider your own creative approach

Look back and estimate the light and shade of your normal practice as a writer. Estimate when you are in  a good mood and in full flow, how much writing you can do in a morning, an afternoon, a day in the week. Grahame Greene did this and aimed for and achieved 800 words a day – about five thousand words a week.  This adds up.Work out how many days in a week you can make your writing your absoluter priority. This can be as little as one our two but if you build it into your life you will be surprised how productive you become. 

When – during ‘holidays’ or purposeful breaks you increase this to four or five days you have practices in place which will ensure that you go straight into creative mode. If you have it in you’re a fine novel will grow out of this process.

Here We Go!

Make dates with yourself to  write.

1.      Choose  a block of time

           - a week, a month or several months.

In this block of time draw a line through whole days (or mornings, or afternoons),  in your diary and scrawl Writing  right across it, just as you might do if you were away on holiday. NB By ‘writing’ I don’t mean sitting at a desk, emailing, internet surfing, blogging, catching up with phone calls. You can block other times in your day(s) for those things.

2.      Choose  a space.

Chooses a space or spaces where you regularly write – a particular room in your house, a carrel in the library, a deep chair in the loungs of a favourite hotel, a corner tabe=le in a café, a car parked on the moors. (I have chosen all these places in my time…) You need to have a dedicated space for a big project.        If you draft by hand this could be a big bound notebook and  a tray on a shelf that you take time when you want to work on. Or it could be the big notebook in a rucksack ready to take to the library/bar/café/hotel of your choice.         If you are transcribing and editing, or writing directly onto the screen then you should create a folder with the generic novel title. Inside the folder should be your main manuscript and perhaps relevant informational research files, query files and any correspondence to do with this project.Perhaps you could include (my favourite) inspirational images     Always save the story file with the last date you worked on it. (The date is the best code. Easy to lose track)          

       If you are working on the computer at home it may be difficult to cultivate your 'dome of silence.' (See Below …) If so, pop your laptop into your rucksack and  make for that library carrel. If no laptop, copy the folder to a USB stick, pop that in your pocket and make for the library or any other place where you can gain private access to a computer.

3.    Cultivate your Glass Dome of Silence.

Once you develop it this approach can work in even a crowded place. They key is to become blind and deaf to everyone who is around you. It is possible. I do it. When you get this skill,  by some magic it increases your focus on your story.

(This does not, however, work in a crowded family room – children, spouses crash through the glass with ease,). In your home you need a separate space ro raise your dome – smallest room, corner of a bedroom or bathroom  works quite well, If this is not possible get out of the house into the café/library etc.

4.   Keep a Little Red Book.

Well, mine’s red. Yours could be green, pink, blue….I would say avoid black, but I don’t know why I’m saying that.
         In the front of the book brief yourself to write that day. It might be finish the bit where Francine… Or The bit where the family car crashes. Or  They bury the body. Always small scenes which are accessible enough for you to fall into them to write and start writing. 

        At first your mind will wander to other things – necessary emails, phone callse,bits of research.. If this happens turn to the back of your little red book and list them. The write down a time at least four hours ahead when you will allow yourself to deal with them. In your little red book you can list research tasks that need doing, Necessary phone calls and emails, research.

Remember on your chosen writing days such things are not as important as your story. Give your story priority on your writing days. Such task should not count as ‘Writing time’. On other days you can tweet, tickle, lunch, surf to your heart’s content.

Try all this for a year.

However weird this is, you will be surprised how you fall into a fruitful writing  rhythm when you deliberately create the time and space  for your own creativity to blossom and develop into a fresh, original story which will satisfy yourself and your readers. Perhaps even agents and publishers even in this dire climate.

TO REMIND YOU . If you are a writer anxious to complete your novel , my book The Romancer might get you going again on the road to completion,.. In The Romancer you will find my much praised Forty Day Plan For Writing a Novel which is about you as a writer organising your time on a large scale.

Happy Writing!



No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...