Very soon now, my new FREE book Your Biggest Challenge as a Writer - and What To Do About It will be released, containing radical new advice about how to establish yourself as a writer for real. Here's part of it for those of you struggling to find more time to write:
In my course How to Write Stories That Work - and Get Them Published, I argue that the central reason why you’re not being a writer right now is that you don’t place enough importance on it, and that’s true. But that alone, as a statement, doesn’t quite give you the whole picture.
The reason why you’re not placing enough importance on writing - given that your heart burns to write - is that you are giving importance to other things.
Those ‘other things’ fall into two categories: those things which you distract yourself with when you know better; and those things which Life forces upon you, like family obligations and the need for food and shelter, which you can’t quickly rearrange.
This checklist is based on material in my course and will help you to clarify which activity is which and what importance they take in your life.
Rank the following things in order of importance, where 10 is Vitally Important and 1 is Not That Significant At All. Be as honest as you can, and actually look at how you do spend your time rather than imagining how it is spent. For example, you might want to answer ‘1’ to the item ‘Time spent watching television’ below, but on actual examination you might discover that you’re spending more hours doing so than writing.
Your job (or source or income)
Your romantic relationship(s)
Your family (including your parents)
Your sleeping patterns
Your existing daily and weekly routines
Your other commitments (religious, educational, sporting etc)
Any other demand on your life and time
Time spent on social media
Time spent watching television
Time spent engaged in activities which might be described as ‘idle’
Your writing life
There may be other things too, not covered by this list.
You’ll see by your own ranking that other things are probably taking precedence over your writing life. That’s understandable and ‘normal’, but unless something changes, you probably won’t get enough writing done to move forward.
So what steps can you take on an immediate basis to move from Level 2 on the Ladder to Success to Level 3, ‘Islands of Time’?
Here they are, taken from my course How to Write Stories That Work - and Get Them Published:
1. 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.
And so the wannabes get trampled into apathy by the demands of the world around them, their families, their jobs, their lives, as above.
2. Expand on that timetable.
Examine your daily and weekly 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.
3. 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.
Interruptions are your prime enemy at this point, so work out who is interrupting you the most and get their agreement not to do so, at least at certain times.
4. Expand slightly more on your writing timetable.
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. I once wrote a 300,000 word epic fantasy in three months, by locking myself in an office, working flat-out 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.
Yes, interrupting yourself...
5. Stop interrupting yourself.
If the primary enemy of a writer in the early stages of establishing a writing career is interruptions, the most guilty party is usually the writer himself or herself.
Devise a schedule that keeps these to a minimum, and stop interrupting yourself. 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’.
Put distractions aside and get to the keyboard, or desk, or whatever you use.
6. Get 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.
7. Use said device at every opportunity.
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.
8. When you have the time set aside to write, 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.
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 operating at Level 3 of the Ladder to Success. You will have built islands of time in which to write.
To go further than that will take a bigger programme.
That's in my forthcoming book...