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.
When she was a child, they told her to always have a Plan B. A back-up. Making up stories, putting down words; it was not enough to get by on. It was all right now, they said, as a hobby or a pastime, but as you get older, you will need more than that to survive.
She was never much good at anything else. Her mind wasn’t on it. They called her a dreamer and a book worm. Her mind wandered, wouldn’t settle or steady. So she flitted about, whilst they let her, from the real world and the world of her own construction. As she passed through her teenage years, she dare not tell anyone that she had a head full of voices. That they came to her at night, nudging her awake. They spoke to her in the daytime too. Their words and lives constantly interrupting her own. For this reason, she found it hard to communicate with real people, because the made-up ones were always butting in. Conversations grew too noisy and overcrowded, so she started to retreat.
Writing was her addiction, and she was a slave to it in those days. She would rush home from school, up to her room, to safety and to everything that was hers. Nothing else ever seemed as real to her as the stories she made up. In her twenties, with drink in hand, she wrote more than she had ever written before. She didn’t think about showing anyone anything, because it was all for her. She gave herself to it entirely, let it devour her completely. But this could not last, because real life was getting louder now, keeping her up and destroying her sleep.
You need to pay the bills, they told her, sort yourself out and get your head out of the clouds. No more messing about.
The woman grew up, as they asked her to do, but she never really felt comfortable in adult clothing. It always felt a bit like playing dressing up. But she played along, and played the role, and she wrote less and less, and started to believe what they told her; that it was pointless, a waste of her time.
A sense of quiet relief fell over her when the writing ended. She realised she had left it all behind now, and she was able to give herself to office duties, and court shoes, pencil skirts and handbags. The job and the home and the husband and the children and it was all a sort of happy, busy, merry-go-round. Years became nothing, time was fading out behind her, and the treadmill ran faster as the grey hairs crept in, and the lines on her face deepened.
Everything was fine in this life, in this world. She didn’t have time for writing because everyone knew there was not much time. Life was short and there was a lot to do and a short time to do it in. Because bills had to be paid, and beds had to be made, and children had to be ferried here and there, and husbands had to be fed and listened to, and dogs had to be walked, and shopping had to be bought and put away again inside the cupboards, and cobwebs had to be knocked down, and clothes had to be hung out to dry. She sounded just like everyone else when she joked about how much there was to do, how there was not enough time in the day, how a woman’s work was never done…
The only time she floundered, paused, breathed, and broke, was when an old friend or family member remembered her mad writing and asked her; whatever happened to all that? Oh and how that hurt and knocked her sideways, but anyway, life went on regardless, nights turned into days, and days ended too soon, and she was always too tired to think about anything else.
Until the day she was bored, and picked up a book instead of a celebrity magazine, and she took it to bed with her and read it, instead of watching a celebrity reality show. She couldn’t put it down, and then it came back to her, the words, the glorious, wonderful, beautiful words, the putting together of letters, the making of sentences, the evoking of feeling and thought, the making sense of this terrible, angry, pointless world.
She felt left out, left behind, shut out of her own mind, clawing and desperate to catch up. She picked up a notepad and pen the very next day and before she had even written a word, they were all there. The old stories, the people, the lives she had invented, they were all still there, itching and swelling to be heard. She thought, maybe, just maybe, it won’t hurt anyone, will it?
Still, she hid the pen and paper under the mattress and told no one what she had let loose. In time, the untold stories built up, woke up and pressed forward harder and harder, shouting out indignantly; how could you forget about us? She was writing more and more, and telling people too, and though they still scorned and dismissed, she did not care. She only listened now to the stories inside her head, begging to finally be released and set free. The pressure was magnificent and terrifying in its enormity and intensity.
But she wrote them, and emptied herself again and again, and her husband got cross and neglected, so she told him when I am done, you can have me back again.
But she did not know that it couldn’t be turned off now that it had been switched on again. The off switch was broken. The voices, the stories, the lies, fears and loves could not be shut up or holed up again, and when she was done, she was not done. For more stories came to take their place, more thoughts and ideas filled her head, and soon she was taking days off work and staying up late into the night, and writing more and more and more.
She was living and breathing it, and her husband grumbled that she was addicted, and that he would be off soon if the cobwebs got any bigger. But she didn’t care. She could barely see him or hear him now. The children had grown up and left home, and moved on, and she didn’t need to run them here and there anymore. She didn’t need to iron their school clothes on a Sunday night, or pack their lunchboxes every evening. She felt free.
But with freedom, came terror, as she realised that no matter how long she lived, there would never be enough time in life to write all of the books, to tell all of the stories. She had picked open an old wound that would now never heal. She had submitted to a hunger that could now never be satisfied. The more she wrote, the more she wanted to write, the more she needed to write. It became an agony to be away from her work. It was torture to enter real life, the real world and she flashed through it as quickly as she could, before rushing back to her stories.
The husband left one night in a fit of rage. She did not hear the door slam. She carried on writing long into the night. She slept less and less, because sleeping was time away from writing. She ate less and less, because eating was time away from writing. She didn’t pay the bills anymore, so they came to take away her things. She didn’t bat an eye when they carried out the items that now meant nothing to her. She barely reacted, burying herself in books and pens and paper.
They removed her from the house one cold and sunny day. She was wild-haired and wide-eyed and blinking at the sky. She wandered away with her notepad and pen, leaving everything behind her, feeling nothing except the desire to get the next words down. She wandered down to the beach and made a shelter there to write in.
One day she ran out of paper and pens and had no money left to buy more. By now she was lost to everyone, except herself and her words.
Her husband, taking pity, went to see her one day. He stood up on the cliff and tried to spot her down below on the sand. Finally, catching movement, he saw her there. Her hair was down to her backside, flaming in the sun, wild and scraggy, like the clothes she wore. He started to come down the steps towards her, keeping his eyes on her, wondering what she was doing out there on the sand.
As he got closer, he could finally see. The writer woman had a long stick in her hands. The writer woman was writing in the sand. Every time the waves washed up and onto the shore, the words were washed away, but she did not react, she merely wrote more.
(Author’s note; I wrote this in response to my husband’s joke that I am addicted to writing. He said why don’t you write a story about a woman that is driven mad by her need to write?)