(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.
As an English teacher I had loved the swirling joy of words and their impact on the children in my classes. I had especially thrilled at the transition from ‘I hate reading’ or ‘Oh no not poetry!’ to ‘What are we doing today Miss? Can we do some more…’. Pure magic.
But when I was asked what I really wanted to do, if I could do absolutely anything in the world, I was surprised to hear myself say ‘I’d write.’
I didn’t know what it would be about, but the idea thrilled me and somehow it took hold. So, as many of you know, I stopped teaching, said some very sad goodbyes and decided to at least ‘have a go’.
It isn’t easy, in fact in some ways it’s harder doing it full-time than squeezing writing in around a job – there’s just more pressure I suppose, you’re somehow expected to produce more and get noticed faster! Honestly, it was completely miserable some days, but I don’t want to talk about that here. I think all writers could spend volumes talking about that part and I’m trying to stay positive. No. I wanted to write about the one thing no one ever mentioned – on all the forums, in the ‘how to write’ books, when I spoke to other people in the industry – no one ever mentioned… the waiting.
We are told to build a name for ourselves by any means possible. Perhaps you begin with short story competitions. You find the inspiration, splurge the words onto the page, stroke it, hone it, perfect it, maybe even bravely show someone, and then you send it off… And wait.
Perhaps you start a blog, post some snippets of your day, your work, images from your life. You upload carefully… And wait.
Why not make some money as the book slowly develops? Crafted pitches for feature/article ideas are e-mailed to editors, and what follows? That’s right… you wait!
Enter an online forum for feedback and reviews on your early novel chapters – brilliant idea! The biography is completed, a blurb entered, chapters uploaded. You’ve done your reviews, the points are in the bank, there’s nothing else to do… but wait.
And then there are the agents and the publishers. That’s waiting on a whole other level!
Plus there are the nibbles, now they’re dreadful. Perhaps an editor responds with some initial interest requesting a little more information, so – being a lowly freelancer – you scrabble about getting everything together as instantly as possible. And guess what follows? Oh yes indeed, more waiting!
And what makes the waiting a million times worse is the dark and dreadful presence of The Nothing. There is endless potential for The Nothing to get writers. You see, it seems entirely accepted that as a mere wannabe, you should wait. If you nag or chase or follow up too much they get cross and just ignore you. It is simple expected that you will wait until they deign to contact you. And of course a good chunk of the time that may very well be never. No one needs to worry that writers will ever get big headed – believe me, every single day you are given a great big helping of humble pie. There’s really Nothing worse! The lack of response just leaves you hanging, wondering if you were close or miles away, or if you even registered on their day at all.
And then, just when you think you are worthless and all your efforts are mere pretention, you have killed your babies (a writer’s term not to be taken literally – it means cutting out chunks of text) and tried to please everyone whilst very effectively pleasing no one… there it is… out of The Nothing, comes – Something.
This week it’s been an article commission, last month it was getting placed in the Top Ten Final on YouWriteOn. Whatever it is, it’s that little ray of hope that keeps you going. The problem is that every time you get one you think it’s all alright now. You’ve made it. It’s a done deal! Haven’t you heard of me? No?
Oh, that’s right, it’s just another step along the way. There is more work, and more waiting to be done.
At first I was disappointed, but then I realized something. If every step feels as great as the ones so far have when I finally get up thm, and if every step pushes me as hard as the last few months’ worth have, then perhaps it’s pretty fantastic after all. And in between the waiting, I will work – just to fill the time, you know!