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Finding Time


There are two different approaches to getting more time to write: finding time and making time.

Finding time is the lesser of the two. It implies that you have a set schedule and routine, perhaps because you’re working or have a family life or are involved in other important activities. Your job as a writer is to find the time between those activities for your writing. In this set of circumstances, you must get your schedule in front of you and simply timetable yourself into the writing chair.

This sounds obvious, but almost all the wannabe writers I’ve ever spoken to have the same problem: they are expecting Life to somehow open up a window of a few weeks so that they can ‘write the book they want to write’. Life doesn’t usually respond on its own.

If you feel trampled into apathy by the demands of the world around you, your family, your job, you will feel as though the biggest barrier to your writing is Time.

This is what you have to do regarding timetabling:

i) Take a look at your weekly schedule; examine your commitments; work out at least 3 hours a week, preferably contiguous but not vitally so, and block that out for writing. Nothing else - just writing your fiction. Don’t include ‘checking emails’ or ‘answering letters’ or even ‘making notes’. Just the actual task of writing.

ii) Get everyone’s agreement. Easier said than done, but unless you do, your little timetable won’t be worth the screen it’s probably written on.

iii) Ideally, pick times that are interruption-free, or at least when you are less likely to be in demand. It’s possible to construct a schedule so that you are writing in the early hours of the morning - or even through the night, as long as you get sleep some other time- and to get a 300,000 word epic fantasy written in three months. I did it once, locking myself in an office and working between 2:00 am and 7:00 am and going home as the sun rose. But that’s an extreme. One long evening each week, or a weekend afternoon, or something like that, and, if you stick to it, you’ll find that in a few weeks you have made significant progress - provided you also apply the rest of the advice in this section and don’t keep interrupting yourself.

Fundamentally, though, you have to concentrate on stopping yourself doing something: you have to stop interrupting yourself.

The primary enemy of a writer is interruptions. So devise a schedule that keeps these to a minimum, and stop interrupting yourself. (We’ll assume that you dealt with interruptions from others by getting their agreement above.)

Self-interruptions range from ‘I’ll just check my email’ to ‘I’ll get a coffee’ to ‘There’s no way I can write this scene that takes place in front of a fireplace until I’ve read this three-volume History of Fireplaces in the Seventeenth Century so that I can be convincingly authentic’.

The other big thing you have to do, apart from timetabling , is to get yourself an iPhone or other gadget that you carry around with you.

I mention iPhones because that’s what I use, but any such gadget will do. You need something that you will actually carry around with you, though. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to have the capacity for keeping notes. There are plenty of free apps for this. You don’t need anything super-duper or complex: you just need something that you can write into and save. Apple’s ‘Notes’ app is fine - you can write up to any length and then email it to yourself.

Better to have it on your phone, because you will tend to carry your phone around with you at all times, whereas you might forget to bring a device dedicated to writing with you, and that’s half the problem. The iPhone 6 has the added advantage of extra battery power so you won’t burn up your phone energy.

Now use it.

Every time you find yourself at a loose end, start writing. Waiting for a bus? Write. Sat on a train? Write. In between meetings? Write. Write notes, write ideas, write chapter headings, write insights. Write whole chapters if you get a chance. It’s possible to write the basis for entire novels in this way, chapter by chapter, in the time that you didn’t even realise was ‘spare’. Try it. You’ll be amazed. And your writing morale will start to go up and up. You won’t forget those flashes of genius you had on the way home before you get to your laptop; you won’t forget that you even had a flash of genius. It will all be there in some form on your device. Apart from recording stuff, the notes on your gadget will begin to give you confidence that you can actually write. You’ll get practice, in small doses.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something? Well, then, over the last eight years or so you’ve probably let 10,000 hours slip through your fingers literally by not having something to hand upon which to record your thoughts and ideas in these ‘invisible gaps’ in your life.

If you’re trapped by some kind of inertia from rising from your chair, wherever you are, then write right there, wherever you are stuck. But watch out for the interruptions, subtle or not-so-subtle, and just get on with it.

Third Big Piece of Finding Time Advice: Write until you drop - don’t stop, don’t auto-correct.

Now all of this advice is important and every point here is worth its weight in cyber-gold, but this is one suggestion which can make or break you as a writer.

On those occasions when you and a laptop share enough time for you to get somewhere, don’t waste time by ‘going over’ what you wrote last time, picking out spelling errors, grammar problems, things you’d like to ‘tweak a little’.

Just hit the keyboard and write.

Don’t stop until your head hits the space bar with exhaustion. Set yourself high word targets per hour if that works for you. Whatever you do, don’t stop - don’t even pause - for any editing or ‘re-drafting’ or even basic corrections until you reach 200 pages of writing.

Why?

For several reasons:

i) firstly, and probably most importantly, getting 200 pages written is a tremendous morale-booster. You know that it’s far from perfect, you know it will take major editing work, but there it is: 200 pages of your very own writing. That’s a decent-sized book, right there. Think of the shopping analogy above: writing your first draft is the first step in making a cake - you’ve been to the shops and bought the ingredients. There they are in the pages in front of you. The second step, re-writing, is making the cake. But until you have the ingredients, making the cake is just a fantasy.

ii) writing flat-out like this will teach you a few things about yourself as a writer. When you read it over, you’ll see patterns, strengths and weaknesses, places where you falter and places where you demonstrate real skill. It’s a training programme for writers, getting your writing muscles fitter for the real thing: the next draft.

iii) you avoid the counter-productive ‘pottering around’ that happens if you do it any other way: write a page, stop and think, change some things, correct spelling, maybe alter the while way the page works, wonder if you could have done better, and so forth. This tortuous pattern has produced one or two successful works, but at the cost of so many more that could have been written in the same time with less bother.

Apply all of the above and before long, you’ll be a writer.

That deals with ‘finding time’. To address the question of Making Time - by far more important - you’ll need to wait for part two…

#Writing

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