Starting Out #10: How to make the time to write

startingout10One question I am asked more often than any other, more than ‘do I need an agent?‘, more than ‘should I self-publish?‘, more than ‘where do you get your ideas?’, is ‘how do you find the time to write?’. Regular visitors to the Fibro will know that I don’t believe anyone ‘finds’ time to write a novel – you have to make time. But I also know that that can be easier said than done – and I am often heard to lament the fact that Ernest Hemingway probably didn’t have to take his kids to swimming lessons.
Today’s Starting Out post is written by Ros Baxter, author of Sister Pact (Harper Collins, 2012, coauthored with her sister Ali Ahearn) and Fish Out of Water (Escape, 1 April 2013), business consultant to government and private sector, teacher of professional writing skills, wife to Blair and mother to four “small but very opinionated children”. (Phew. Are you tired yet?) If anyone is qualified to share some secrets on how to make time to write novels, it’s Ros!

Keeping the muse in the groove when writing to a schedule

I once read that Capote would write lying casually on a couch (probably a chaise lounge), with a glass of sherry in one hand and a pencil in another. TS Elliot had a hideaway above Chatto & Windus, a publishing house on St Martin’s Lane. Edgar Allen Poe could only write in black; Mark Twain in white.

Me? I have no such luxury. I write at swimming lessons, while making dinner and sometimes on the loo. I write in aprons, dressing gowns and (just sometimes) smeared in other people’s dinner. I always write when the baby sleeps and the kids are at school. But sometimes he wakes up at the critical moment, and then he bounces on my knee sucking an arrowroot biscuit while I write, recalling teenage dreams of a narrow apartment in Paris, a classic old typewriter, and a skinny boy with a beret calling me cherie. Sometimes I miss him, that Parisian fantasy boy, but most of the time I’m grateful for my sunburned Australian husband who teaches me how to use Twitter and helps the kids with their homework.

I’m not unusual. Most of the writers I know multi-task to a punishing degree. They have lives – families, mortgages, responsibilities, often other jobs as well. So how do they do it?

As my sister, the greatest multi-tasker of them all, would say: It ain’t rocket surgery. My mother, The Adage Queen, had a good one, too: You want something done? Give it to a busy person. But none of that is terribly practical, so I thought I’d share a few tips, distilled from experience and the shared wisdom of other generous writers I am lucky to call friends.

1. Become a voyeur. Not all the writing happens when you’re plugged in. Watch for the raw material. The rough shard that becomes the polished diamond. The stolen glance between the cashiers at Big W; the way the principal’s throat bobs when she gets nervous at the P&C meetings; the cynical way that operator says “hold please”. It’s all fair game. Call it being a busybody. Call it plagiarism. I call it research.

2. Staple a notebook to your arse. You won’t remember that raw material if you don’t jot it down (or maybe you will, but I definitely won’t).

3. Set goals. Get to know how fast (or slow) you write and sketch a trajectory for your project. It lends momentum to what is essentially an exercise in self-motivation.

4. Make time to write every day. The muse is a jealous mistress. She needs your time, or she’s apt to feel neglected. And don’t give me that stuff about quality time, we’re not on Dr Phil here. She just wants you in place, ready to channel her. She’s egocentric like that. So find a space; make a regular date with your laptop, desktop, or sherry, chaise lounge and pencil; turn off the phone; and write. The more often you do, the quicker you’ll pick up the thread each time.

5. Set yourself a daily word count. Start easy, then build up. All words are better than no words, and editing can cure a thousand follies. Write. Just write. It helps you feel more like a writer, and less like someone who wishes they were.

6. Not feeling creative? Don’t curse the muse and settle in to watch Oprah. Work on the business instead. Update your social media, edit something, research the mating habits of fish (oops, sorry, there’s my inner mermaid creeping in). Preferably do something mind-numbing. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll locate the muse.

7. Finally, be grateful. This one’s a work-in-progress for me. Zen was never my strong suit and it’s easy to feel put-upon when the slings and arrows of the day make you hanker for the luxury of Capote’s lounge. That’s when I try to remember that no- one’s making me do this. And that when I can work really hard on points 4 and 5, it’s easier to remember why I am doing it. Because writing is, as Ken Robinson would say, my element. The thing that makes the time fly. The place that feels right. 

Ros Baxter writes fresh, funny fiction (you can tell by reading this post, right?). You’ll find her on Facebook and Twitter, or you can email her here.

If you liked this Starting Out post, you might also enjoy: Which excuses are holding you back?, You’ve signed a publishing contract, now what?, and How to build an author platform.

Are you fitting your writing in around family, work and all the … stuff? How do you make it work?