Finding the time and the energy to write and keep writing!
The most common complaint I hear from other writers, is that they do not have the time or the energy to write as much as they know they should. They face numerous challenges in completing a project, often hitting brick walls where they do not write for days. Before they know it, days have turned to weeks, and it is very scary how quickly weeks can turn into months. Life takes over. Tiredness takes over. Feeling guilty takes over. And the end result is a writer who cannot write, who wants to write, but is coming up with excuse after excuse for why they cannot write. Not having enough time or energy, and real life getting in the way appear to be the three top reasons writers give for being unproductive, or for giving up on a project. So what do we do about this? How do we avoid falling into this extremely common trap? Because believe me, once you have fallen out of the writing habit, it can take years to get back into it again. Here are a few tips to help you find the time and energy to write, and keep writing!
Carry a notebook everywhere.
Do this for multiple reasons. It will stop you forgetting ideas, as you can jot them down as soon as they pop into your head. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to hold onto an awesome idea, that slips away from you by the time you get back home! Always write it down. Use the notebook to record things you see, hear, smell and touch. Use it to write down impressions of people, snippets of conversation and anything you experience or witness in your day to day life. The more you do this, the more observant you will become. Taking notes put you in the practice of noticing things, and the more you begin to notice, the more notable ordinary things become. Observing and noting down as much as possible will enable you to become better at communicating your experiences into words. There will be things you observe that you may never have noticed before. Don’t forget, that stories can grow from the tiniest seeds. Inevitably you will start seeing stories everywhere. Once it is written down, it takes on its own creative life, and becomes part of the reflective process. One idea will spark off another. Unconnected ideas will reach out and link arms. Like tiny spiders webs or brainstorms, connections will be made, relationships forged, and stories will merge with others and grow into something entirely new. Becoming more observant makes life, and in turn writing more extraordinary. It makes you realize that there aren’t any ordinary or mundane moments, if you get into the practice of noticing them.
Read. Write. Repeat.
To begin, I suggest sticking to this formula as rigorously as you can, but in time, once you are in the habit of doing both, it will become more about quality than quantity. Reading makes us better writers. There is no getting around this. Think back to when you first knew you wanted to be a writer. Think back to the first time you put pen to paper and explored a story you’d kept in your head until that moment. Wasn’t it the same feeling you had when you fell in love with a book for the first time? That need to make it last, to savor it, to understand it and think about it. That longing for a sequel, or a prequel, that need to read it again as soon as you finish. Feeling like you know the characters, like you can laugh and cry with them, be yourself with them and understand what they are going through. Aren’t these the same reasons you want to write? You have to read to understand writing. If you enjoyed a book, then question why? If you didn’t enjoy a book, then ask why? Break it down and work it out. Was it the pace or the plotting, the dialogue or the characters, or the overall themes? What was it that didn’t convince you? Use great books and less than great books to help you become a better writer. This is not about copying, but it is about learning the craft. And as for writing itself, it needs to become a habit. Get used to the simple act of doing it every day, or at least nearly every day, and you will always be better than you were the day before.
Be patient in finding your voice.
This only happens if you put in the work and practice your craft. One of the reasons writers get frustrated and give up on projects, is that they are fearful of sounding like someone else. To begin with, you probably will. Undoubtedly you have your favorite books and authors, and you will have your preferred styles and genres too. There is nothing wrong with that. If you are writing, and worrying about sounding like someone else,don’t worry, just keep going. Just like everything else we learn to do in life, you learn from someone else first. Eventually, what is truly you will come to the surface. This will come with confidence and time, and confidence will only kick in once you have dedicated enough time to the craft, so don’t give up! Finding your voice is just one of the many struggles you will face as a writer, and like all of the others, you have to write through it. Just write, write, write. It does not matter if it all gets thrown away or dismissed or deleted. You are learning all the time.
Beat the first draft fears.
First drafts are emotional hell. To begin with, it is terrifying. Literally putting those first few words down can be the hardest thing you ever do. It is all there waiting for you. Blank pages. A story waiting impatiently to be told. It’s there in your head, but will your writing ever live up to what your mind imagines? You will never know if you don’t get going. Get it done. Accept the clunky, clumsy, ugly writing. Accept the inevitable plot holes and unrealistic dialogue. Just get it done, and do it every day, until it is done. There will be times when it feels euphoric. When it is all flowing perfectly and beautifully, all unfolding in front of you with barely an effort. There are days you can’t be dragged away from it. Nights when it occupies your mind and keeps you awake. And then, you will hit a slump. Or a wall. Whatever you wish to call it, it will feel impossible to get past. It’s not going right. It’s boring you. It’s gone flat but you can’t pinpoint why. You don’t know what you are doing. You take a day off. And then another. You tell yourself you have writer’s block. Not true, just get back to it! It will slow down, and it will be harder, but write yourself over that slump and through that wall. Just write it, even if it’s even more terrible than what went before. Just get it done and accept it’s rubbish. Embrace it’s rubbishness! Tell yourself you will fix it later, because you will. Dedicate a certain number of words or pages a day, and get it done.
Don’t make excuses. Don’t watch TV. Don’t be a slacker.
Okay, if you have a busy, tiring job, then of course I have sympathy for you. But you must have spare time, right? There must therefore be things you do in that spare time? Reading? Watching TV? Going out for drinks? Okay, so you need to ask yourself, which is more important? Watching TV and eating snacks? Or writing that story? Becoming a writer? Realizing your dream? Get up early. Go to bed late. Squeeze it in. Make notes in your notebook when you are cooking the dinner, or walking the dog, or taking your lunch break. If you have kids, I also have sympathy. I have four. I had three of them very close together and those were the years where my writing just stopped. I told myself I didn’t have the time or the energy. But guess what? Once they were in bed, I did have the time and the energy to watch reality TV or to read magazines. The truth was, I was out of the habit, scared and full of doubt. Since the youngest one came along, I guard my writing time fiercely. I write whenever I can, which is mostly once the youngest is in bed. I cannot do it any other way. It will not get done any other way. The truth is this; writing needs to become the thing you cannot do, and not writing needs to become impossible.
All of these things helped me find the time and the energy to write and keep writing. Through all the ups and downs, slumps and walls, blocks and self-doubts, the most important thing to remember is keep going until it becomes an addiction. Then you will know you are on the right path, and nothing will get in your way.