This week I met a deadline I made for myself: to send my first three chapters to some wonderful readers who have offered to give feedback. This deadline allows me plenty of time to wait for feedback then edit again before I need to send the chapters off to the Richell Prize (eeek!)
Finding the time to do this
Besides meeting this not overly complicated or onerous-sounding deadline, I went to work all week (8-4ish) including an extra two hour meeting one evening, made it to pilates, visited my mum and aunt, walked the dog, planned lessons, did marking, cooked dinner, spent time with my partner and etc, etc. In other words, like many, many writers, I fit writing around all the other things I have to do.
My day begins at 5.15am (or earlier if the dog wakes me up before then). I try to get up as soon after that alarm as possible (it is so cold and dark now!!). I make a cup of tea, turn my study heater on and sit down at the computer. I try not to look at Facebook (usually I’ve had a peek at it in bed before getting up) and open the document I’m working on. I write (or try to write) until about 6.40am when I stop and feed the dog and put my breakfast in the oven (baked eggs – yummy!) then back to the computer until 7am when I have to drag myself away to shower, dress, get lunch ready and get out the door by 7.35am. I don’t think about my writing again until the next morning when I do it all again. I do this every day of the week (yes, including weekends). I don’t do any writing in the evenings. I have been doing this consistently and seriously for more than two years now (it might be closer to three).
Just quickly, I don’t think about my writing during the day because 1) I can’t – I’m too busy using my brain for teaching and 2) My ideas fall out of my head if I think about them when I’m not ready to write (I’ve tried notebooks but they don’t really work for me). So I keep this part of my brain closed until the early morning when I open up the door and step into my writing world.
I’m not always writing my novel all morning. Sometimes I’m reading blogs or articles about writing. Sometimes I’m catching up with writing people on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes I’m doing stuff for or chatting to people in my writing groups. Sometimes I’m emailing writerly people or organising the KSP meetings (more on this in another blog post). Sometimes, when I can’t write much on my novel, I write something for this blog. But most of every morning, I’m writing my novel.
There is no way to know how many words I’ve written in this way. I have two abandoned novels and many, many words written and unwritten and moved to ‘deleted scenes’ folders. Perhaps it is about 150,000 by now but it could be a lot more. And I’m a long way from a completed manuscript.
How I find the will to do this day in day out?
First, I often remind myself about James Kelman’s article ‘I’ll die at the desk. So what? Where’s the coffee.’. I was already writing in this way before he published the article but he put what I do into words. The thing he says that resonates most with me is that we should not sell our most productive hours to our employer. My most productive hours are between 5am and 11am. I would love to work for a salary from lunchtime onwards but I can’t right now so I take those parts of that productive time that I can. If I could be a less committed teacher I would take another hour and stay at the desk until 8am. But I don’t and I’ll explain why in a moment.
So, I remind myself every morning that if I do not get up and write I will lose those most productive, most precious hours to the universe and I won’t get them back. And I get out of the warm, warm bed and make my cup of tea and sit at the computer and generally I’m surprised that the sky has lightened and the day begun when I finally look up.
Secondly, I’m a serious Upholder. If you haven’t done Gretchen Rubin’s quiz and read Better than Before, you should. I haven’t read her most recent book, mostly because I haven’t had time! An upholder “respond[s] readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations”. This means I do everything anyone expects of me AND I do what I expect of myself.
This is why I stop writing at 7am and go to work instead of writing to 8am and still getting to work on time. The thing that makes me get up and write and meet my inner expectations is the same thing that makes me go to work earlier than I actually need to in order to ensure I meet the outer expectations I have.
I have to make a serious commitment to myself in order to access this tendency. I can’t just think something sounds like a good thing to do and then I do it. I need to decide it is worth my time and effort, that I will get something I really want out of it, that it will improve my life and move me forward somehow. There are plenty of things I’d like to do or be that I do not follow through on. But writing is a commitment I’ve made to myself and, because I’m an Upholder, I have an iron will about my writing (and a few other things in my life).
I don’t think it matters how anyone does their writing. Some writers I know write on the bus on the way to and from work or around caring for children or elderly parents or late into the night or only during the week or only on the weekends or during the one day of the week they have managed to save from the relentless drive to earn money. I have school holidays to write of course, but I don’t find them particularly productive usually, or at least not any more significantly productive than term time (mostly because like many teachers, holidays are for doing all the things I don’t have time to do – in life and work – during term time).
The thing is working out how to make writing happen, if you want it to happen.
Writers write, so, write.
PS. This routine I’ve carved out is balanced upon one small yet significant detail: I go to bed at 9pm. Last night I was convinced to stay up and watch another episode of Hinterland (current TV obsession) and went to bed at 10pm. This morning I didn’t wake up until 6 and haven’t written anything yet. Hours sacrificed to the universe…..
PPS. If you want to see what happens when I have a whole seven days just for writing, check out my post: How a week away saved my novel (and me).