Well, my monthly contribution to the Heroines of Fantasy Blog is here again, and today I’m turning the spotlight onto something which I’m sure is of crucial importance to the vast majority of writers out there: time management, and the art of juggling a creative writing career with the day job.
I’m sure you’ve all read the kind of magazine article or blog post which extols the virtues of establishing a fixed creative writing routine, in which you (the writer) puts aside a small block of time, each and every day, and you use this time to WRITE!!! Let nothing get in your way. Make sure you reach a set target of say, 500 words, and on no account may you deviate from this goal or you may as well chuck it ‘cos you’ll never be a writer, etc.
I’m sorry, but this just doesn't work for me right now. I can’t relate to this kind of disciplined writing process. It might work if you’re lucky enough to be writing full-time, but these days, that’s a luxury most of us can’t afford. We have jobs, we have families, we have loads of stuff that gets in the way, and on top of that, we have to publicise our books and arrange live events and network, and well, you get the picture.
I’m luckier than most because I wrote the bulk of my first and second novels in periods when I was ‘resting’ between various short-term temporary contracts in archaeology. This meant that life at the time was stressful financially, but looking back on it, it’s been a godsend because it means I have a robust body of material which can sustain me over the next couple of years. And this, of course, means that I don’t have a massive sword of Damocles hanging over my head as far as churning out the next novel is concerned.
Which is just as well, because 18 months into this writing business, I have learned that finding a time and a place to write regularly is proving really, really difficult.
It’s not that I don’t have time to sit at the computer and ‘write.’ I faithfully set aside a few hours almost every night if I can (the pressures of archaeological fieldwork permitting). But there’s ‘writing’ and there’s ‘writing,’ and there’s one aspect in particular that I have real, genuine difficulty with these days and that's the moment where you take all those ideas floating around in your head and trap them on the page (or screen) for the first time.
I stressed about it at first. When I came home from work too exhausted to generate new work, and I saw my weekly or monthly word count dropping to near negligible levels, I panicked. How on earth was I meant to be a writer if I never had the strength or the energy to write anything new? And yes, getting my head around my failure with the daily quotas messed with my mind, big-time.
I had a choice. I could sit back and sulk. Or alternatively, I could footer around (good Scots word, ‘footer...’) doing less intensive bits of ‘stuff.’ Sometimes this work involved generating publicity material or writing blog posts, but more often than not I found comfort and solace in editing. I'd sit around tweaking and trimming and shifting stuff about in a sort of mindless, mechanical way until I got to the stage when I was almost doing this by feel or instinct.
To begin with, this kind of monotonous routine left me feeling I was going nowhere, doing nothing more than keeping the proverbial wolves from the door.
Now, however, when I look back over the last year, I realise that this time spent doing nothing and swimming around in circles has in fact been extremely productive. Generating new material is still very difficult – sometimes I can write new material on the weekends, but often it can take me five to seven days of time off to get back into the mood for creativity.
But when that release switch is pressed, it’s as if all that pent up energy comes flooding out and I churn out thousands rather than hundreds of new words. It’s garbled, it’s rough, it’s undisciplined, but it’s there, and that’s the main thing. I have generated the raw material I need for the return to the day job, at which point the editing can begin again, and little by little the rough edges get smoothed and prose nipped and tucked and trimmed until it’s there, just the way I want it.
Progress is much slower than I’d like, of course, but it is still progress, and that’s the main thing. So here’s my advice to you, if you find yourself in this same situation: hard though it may be, try not to stress about it. Live your writing life to a different rhythm, and don’t give in. Never waste time fretting over what can’t be changed or hurried along, just keep on with the one thing that it is in your power to do, and that is to write. It doesn't really matter how slow or how fast you are: just fix your eyes on that goal in the far, far distance which you may not even be able to make out yet and keep plodding on towards it.
Rest assured that when you look back a few months or even weeks later, you will see progress. It's progress in fits and starts rather than progress in a smooth continuum, but don't worry about that, because it's still progress, and that's all that matters, isn't it?