(even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever get published)
Top tips for finding time and inspiration
I’ve read a few blogs on this subject, but they always seem to be from someone who has already published their book. That makes sense – their being published is what gives them the authority to speak – but they always refer to writing under pressure of deadlines or signing a contract with baby sick on it. They say things like ‘I got my publishing deal when I was pregnant and then wrote book two as I rocked the baby bouncer with one foot’… Ok pretty impressive… But you had the publishing deal! I’d be motivated too if I thought anyone else believed in me actually making this dream a reality.
The fact is, there’s an awful lot of us juggling kids and work and writing without any promise of success – now that’s a real challenge! (and I have no idea why people say ‘juggling’ that makes it sound like there’s some sort of order to it all. There isn’t. It’s chaos!).
I admit it’s a challenge that defeats me some days; one that brings with it guilt and questions about my priorities and leaves me wondering whether I’ll look back in ten years and be sad I wasted all those hours deluding myself that I could do this.
Some days I return from work (where I write all day), feed my 2 year old, bath him, greet my husband, read the little man a story, put him to bed, cook for us (my husband does share the chores but that doesn’t help me make my point so ignore that for now!), attempt adult conversation… and then start writing. And I haven’t mentioned the tantrums, the second toddler dinner I made as the first went to the dog by mistake, the washing, cleaning, bills and correspondence or the fact we’re all meant to be on social media constantly to promote our platforms in the hope that one day we can flog all our followers a copy (sorry followers!) – by then any teens I had following me will be too old to enjoy it so I’m confident I’m wasting my time but hey! Ooh badly structured tangent sentence alert – should probably rewrite. Nope. Too exhausted!
So yeah, it’s not easy and it’s not ideal. I mean we’d all love a week long writing retreat, or days holed up in sunlit attic writing room, but if I waited for that there’d never be a single word produced. And yet, somehow, I have 85,000 words of my first novel, 5,000 of my second, several children’s stories, a few prizewinning short stories and a pile of new ideas brewing, all since my little boy was born. It’s not because I’ve been especially organised or good, it’s more because writing is a bit of a compulsion and even when I think I probably should give up, I can’t. But I have developed a few strategies over the past couple of years and thought it may help to share them…
6 windows of time I exploit wherever possible:
- nap times – these are gold. Of course there are other jobs that need doing in this time like, housework or perhaps you have other children, but if you can manage a minimum of 20 minutes free it’s ideal writing time.
- 30 mins in the evening – either as my husband puts him to bed (which is so lovely as I can hear them giggling or discussing the bedtime story as I type) or just after I’ve done it (which is often the case as he travels a lot for work so I’m frequently a single parent – in case some of you are trying to do this alone, it is still possible).
- Plan a tv programme’s worth of writing -whatever the concentration span of your child, you’ll probably manage a minimum of 20 minutes and that’s a window of time you can work in, but you need to plan. Know what you want to achieve and as soon as they are settled – scram! (or get the laptop out and hope they don’t notice and want to ‘help’). No time for making tea or just folding the washing first. Sit down and write!
- Find a weekly activity for dad or grandparents to do with kid(s) – this pretty hit and miss in our house due to my travelling partner, but signing them up to Sunday swimming sessions definitely gained me a few clear hours about every other Sunday, so it was worth it!
- Get up early – I struggle with this one. I already have to get up at 6.30 to get my boy up and fed and ready for nursery and me all set for work, so anything much earlier is a lot like torture, but just occasionally the sacrifice is worth it.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and clear your head – this one works for me every time. I often can’t sleep for things buzzing around in my head, I just get up and write it all down (which can generate useful story or character material later) and then possibly take 20 minutes of writing time on the book as well. By the time I’m done I’m sleepy and my head is clear.
In the meantime, whilst you are actually doing the parenting stuff…
5 tips for inspiration
- use the notes section of your phone (or the voice recorder if your hands aren’t free, or a notebook if you prefer low tech) whenever inspiration strikes mid-nappy-change.
- Read your child stories and watch their favourite tv shows with them to get inspired with characters and settings and plot lines. No matter which audience you’re writing for there’s a wealth of ideas out there, plus it’s good positive parent time.
- Talk to them about your story- sometimes kids have the best ideas.
- Take them to inspiring places. It benefits you both, even if it means an hour of Prep before you go, a battle to get them into the car and a meltdown in the gift shop! If you can’t find a story in the Pitt Rivers museum or the local woods, for that matter, I’ll eat my… cliche.
- Be present – try to put the writing aside and actually play with them sometimes! Sometimes a rest is refreshing for the mind, and being childlike feeds your creative well.
Finding time to write is always tricky – so many of us have a regular job to go to, a family to take care of and friends that occasionally require attention (!) – but I don’t believe that anyone can genuinely claim not to be able to find twenty minutes in their day. Of course it’s true that no one who loves writing fiction would actually choose to produce a novel in 20 minute sections. It’s definitely not the most productive or easiest way to work, but it does get the job done if that’s the only choice you have.
Here’s a quick-look list of writerly tasks you can easily squeeze in between everything else that needs doing. Please feel to add more suggestions in the comments – I just wrote this in twenty minutes!
- draft a buzz blog
- Edit a blog
- Update/write your bio on your blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Facebook
- Make a meme and share it (try free sites like memedad.com that are super easy to use)
- Draw and label one of your characters
- Map out a section of your story
- Research (actually having a twenty minute limit can be helpful and stop you going off on tangents)
- Review/edit a chapter
- Plot a short story
- Draft a cover letter (but never send it until it’s been redrafted, edited, subbed, etc etc – you’re after perfection here)
- Work on your synopsis
- Study an agent’s submission guidelines
- Submit to an agent – if you’re ready, why not? (must take my own advice some day!)
- Make notes for your book’s thank you page (it helps to dream positively and actively prepare for print!)
- Take the time to go through each of your Social Media platforms and like, respond, comment, share – anything that actively engages in a positive way with your followers
- Just write! Even if it’s just a few paragraphs (though it could be as much as 500words when you get into it!)
Who am I to say all this? Truth? No one really, but I genuinely hope it helps and in case you need me to justify myself here’s the bio: Melissa Kay is mum to a two year old, works as a copywriter, is a sometimes single parent (due to a travelling husband) and attempts to occasionally have fun and see friends. She’s written and been published (mostly in magazines and newspapers, but also some short stories) and her YA novel opening was shortlisted for the SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2016. She’s managed to write consistently since the birth of her son and returning to work.