Finding a voice as a writer is unfortunately dependent to a large degree on writing lots and lots and lots until a clear, individual voice emerges.
And you can’t write lots and lots and lots until you escape the inertia of your current circumstances and have time to write.
So it looks like a Catch-22.
But it’s possible to get past this by looking at things another way.
I’ve said that there are seven levels in the ladder from where a writer is bogged into current circumstances and unable to write all the way up to having a writing-centric life.
Level 1 is the oblivion of losing the plot entirely and giving up on the goal to be a writer, in one way or another.
Level 2 is becoming aware of one’s need to be a writer and struggling to find any time at all - while battling with procrastination as well.
Level 3 is when a writer manages to use some suggested remedies to find some time to write, perhaps in blocks each week, or by using a gadget to record thoughts between meetings or on journeys to scribble down notes, and so on.
You are probably somewhere around Level 2 or Level 3 because you’re reading this with some interest.
Level 4 is the point where serious action needs to occur - the writer must here begin to make moves to rearrange his or her life and rebuild it around writing. You are probably reading this in the hope that it will help you to do just that.
But what are the other three levels?
Level 5 is when a writer is emerging from an old lifestyle and moving into a new condition, where new things are possible.
Level 6 is ‘play time’. Logistics have all been dealt with: there is now time to do as one wishes, and even to indulge in a little procrastination without placing everything in jeopardy.
Level 7, the ultimate level, is when all of the above have been achieved and surpassed and the writer now has a substantial career as a writer, a career that pays and is self-supporting, leaving plenty of time to write more.
How do you escape the Catch-22 of needing more time to write in order to find your voice which will energise you to find more time to write? How can you move up this ladder?
You have to flip this all backwards.
You have to look at the whole series of levels in another way.
You are meant to be a writer. If you weren’t, apart from anything else, you probably wouldn’t have read these articles this far. Something is driving you to be who you are meant to be. So let’s take that as a given and use it as a lens through which to look at the bigger picture.
If you are meant to be a writer, what is it that is pulling you off that purpose? What is it that is twisting your life so that you can’t seem to reach the goal of writing full-time? What is hindering, impeding, distracting you?
This is a pretty ruthless look at things, so if you don’t like brutal truths, turn away now.
If you are supposed to be a writer and you’re not writing, something has dragged you away from your innermost truth.
Even deeper? You have permitted something to drag you away.
Effectively, you have betrayed yourself.
Don’t panic, it doesn’t get much grimmer than that - and there is a pathway out.
Firstly, you have to recognise that you really are a writer - that writing is the thing that is closest to your heart. Of course, you may have family and friends and all kinds of things that are also close to your heart - this isn’t meant to devalue them. But in terms of a life purpose, in terms of something that you should be doing, you must decide or realise that that is writing.
The trick is not to just arrive at this theoretically. Make a statement about it, if only to yourself. Those great writers who have written autobiographically about this kind of moment also make it clear that it wasn’t just all in their heads - they acted upon their decision. They consciously changed something in their lives - not everything, not all at once, just something - that then made the goal of being a writer more real to them.
Perhaps they gave up something that was consuming their time; perhaps they adopted a schedule outside their normal working hours, and stuck to it; perhaps they simply wrote ‘I Am A Writer’ and stuck it up on their wall or mirror.
Life has a habit of dragging such intentions down, back into the whirlpool of habit. So what follows is a series of steps designed to make sure that that primary intention which you have declared does not get swamped but moves forward and builds momentum.
Do these - don’t just read them and then stare at them. Act.
1. Establish contact with other writers.
Writing can be a lonely business. But it doesn’t have to be, especially in today’s high tech, social media world. You can join groups of writers all over the planet who are in similar positions to yourself. You can also easily find writers who have overcome some obstacles and get advice from them.
Join a selection of writers’ groups. Not the huge tedious groups full of people asking ‘How do I get published?’ or ‘When do I use an apostrophe?’ but the small-to-medium-sized groups which have in them professional writers or writers in similar circumstances to you. You’ll soon find out which ones are the most productive for you. Announce that you’re there, but rather than dumping your problems on other group members, find out what they are running into and what others are suggesting that they do about it. You won’t be alone in your difficulties and will soon make friends.
This is important. It’s difficult to escape the gravity of habit without the sense that others are making the same journey.
2. Do something effective.
Though you might not yet be in a position to totally destroy Lack of Time and Procrastination, you can do something in the short term. Orgainise a block of time - a weekend, at least, or preferably a week or two - and set them aside totally for writing. Set yourself writing goals for this time and accomplish them.
Sit down with your partner or family and explain that you want to make some changes and that you are starting with a serious commitment to writing. Get their cooperation as much as possible. As a corollary you might want to ponder that anyone who isn’t at least a bit flexible when it comes to helping you achieve your innermost goals probably needs to be reassessed as far as their place in your life goes.
Perhaps they also have deep purposes and goals which you can help them with. Work this out. You’ll be amazed at not only how much you will get done but also at the positive effect that it has on your relationships with these people.
Truth begets truth.
3. Repair any damage.
‘Damage’? You might think that is too strong a word, but if you are still looking at all this through the lens of Being A Writer, then whatever else you have been doing has probably not been doing you much good.
What have you been doing? Watching pointless television? Playing video games? Wasting time reading newspapers or sleeping in? They are obvious bad habits which obviously you will need to cut out. But these anti-writer things can be much more subtle than that.
Look for ‘advice’ you’ve been taking which has been leading you astray; look for influences upon you which have caused you to doubt yourself; look for mistaken beliefs or ideas which have led to you feeling inadequate or unable.
Get rid of all or even some of those things and you will start to feel ‘repaired’.
You are now in Level 4, addressing and changing the central things in your life which are preventing you from living your dream to be a writer full-time. This isn't going to be easy: if it were easy, you would probably have done all this by now. Some tough choices and challenges are involved. Discipline is required.
If you can't face those choices and challenges, what happens? If you don't discipline yourself enough, what are the consequences?
You will not perish in a ball of fire, let's face it. But you will not move up the ladder. And inevitably, Life being what it is, the gravity of the levels below will slowly pull you back down into the Vortex of Not Writing. Lack of Time and Procrastination will capture you again.
What does the new lifestyle promised by Level 5 look like and what should you be wary of?