First of all: you don’t have to. Writers beat themselves up all the time about not writing enough, not being prolific enough or not living the kind of life we all imagine writers live. This article isn’t one more stick to beat yourself with. There are times in life when writing fades into the background – and that’s okay. But, equally, maybe you’re super-busy raising a family – with no end in sight – and you’re craving the opportunity to write, or to write a little more than you’re managing currently. Is it possible to get a novel written with a newborn baby sleeping down the hall? I’m going to tell you that it is – if that’s what you really need to do!
Timing is everything
Most writers discover there is a time in the day when they write most easily. For me, it’s the mornings. The earlier the better. For other writers it simply has to be the evening, or even the middle of the night.
Preferences matter, and it’s good to be aware of them. But we have to be flexible if we’re bringing up children. If mornings are our best time for writing but we have toddlers who are up at 4.30am, then we’re faced with a tough choice! Do we set our alarm at 3.30am in order to write? Probably not! Our job is to know ourselves, and to make the best of our situation.
Ask yourself: Is it possible to find an hour a day to write? Can I carve out a routine for myself if I really put my mind to it?
I wrote my first novel during maternity leave with my second child. Generally she didn’t wake until about 6.30am, so I set my alarm for 5.30 and I spent an hour writing before she woke.
An hour a day, for 365 days, can be all you need to write that novel
If someone else is around then maybe you can sneak away during bath or bedtime. Perhaps you can find an hour in the car as you wait for karate, or swimming or cubs to finish. Or it might be that you have to wait until everyone is tucked up in bed.
However exhausted you are it’s possible to create a new habit of writing, if only for a short amount of time each day. It’s a choice. We may have to leave the dishes dirty, or the washing overflowing. But it’s possible, if you really want it, to make that choice. Do you really want it?
Negotiating the support of your loved ones is important to make this work. Don’t expect a partner to understand if you just slip away without explaining what you’re up to, or land it on them with no discussion. Broach the subject. Tell them what it means to you. Offer something in return.
Once it’s happening make sure everyone in your household knows not to disturb you during that ONE HOUR. Promise your attention afterwards, or before. But during that ONE HOUR they must learn to do without you. Create this new habit and you might be surprised to see how quickly people adapt to it, including yourself!
Sacrifice is essential
If you really want to write that book then you must be willing to sacrifice. The detail of this will be up to you. It might be that you have to give up watching those box sets that you love so much. Or you may have to be less sociable. You might have to exercise a little less, or read a little less. It might be that you have to be less nice.
This can be hard to stomach. But I bet that life feels pretty full already? We tend to fill our days and weeks to capacity. So if you’re serious about writing you will have to sacrifice something that, at some point in your past, you decided was important.
I have sacrificed watching television. I have also sacrificed certain kinds of socialising. It’s been a hard thing to manage, and it’s taken me a number of years to feel comfortable with it. I’m sure that some people will wince to read this because it can sound so selfish! But I made the decision to only spend time with people that I really love to be around. I’ve made sure that my friendships and family really matter, and I make time with them really count. I simply wouldn’t get my writing done if I did it differently.
We’ll entertain all manner of excuses about how it isn’t possible to write when our children are young: I’m too tired! I’m uninspired! My children need me! I shouldn’t ask my partner to make sacrifices! It’s selfish! But this is BS. Be honest about it at least. It’s perfectly possible to write when our children are young. But we choose not to. It’s a choice. You’re not alone in making the choice to collapse onto the sofa at the end of a long day and watch some trash. We all do it. But you need to choose something else if you want to get that book written.
Here’s a good question for you: If you knew that in twelve months’ time you would have the first draft of a novel under your belt, would you find an hour a day? I bet you would! That’s the thing – often we make excuses because in our heart of hearts we don’t really believe that it’ll work out.
But I have a secret to tell you: anyone can write a novel. The people who manage it are the people who decide it’s possible and commit themselves to getting the words onto the page. One at a time.
We’ll also make all sorts of excuses about why we can’t sacrifice anything from our lives. But, again, you have to be clear about what it is you’re doing. You are choosing one activity over another. It really is as simple as that. It feels more complicated because humans are creatures of habit. Habitual behaviours can work to our advantage. But when we’re wanting to be creative, or establish new routines, our habit-forming tendencies can be downright inconvenient.
This is why you will need to be tough. You will need to remind yourself that every action is a choice. Every time you choose one thing, you are not choosing another thing. So ask yourself: Am I comfortable with the choices I’m making? If it seems a bit murky, and you’re not sure, think about it from a different angle. In ten years’ time, which activity will you wish you had chosen?
I don’t buy into the idea that writing (or any form of creativity) need be painful. I think it can be hugely pleasurable, exciting, joyful and rewarding. Yes, it has its ups and downs and the creative path is never straightforward. There are inevitable doubts and insecurities – but these are all part of the process and completely normal. You wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t sometimes detest the idea of sitting down to write. But sit down you must! Because putting in the hard work, children or not, is what is required of you.
And sometimes we need to be kind. You will need to let yourself off the hook. You will need to curl beneath your duvet and eat a whole packet of custard creams while the baby sleeps. Or you will need to take a bath, or clean the house because you really, really, really can’t stand it any longer. You MUST be kind to your creative spirit. This will sometimes mean accepting that writing today just isn’t going to happen.
It also means, at other times, taking a walk, or having a long hot bath, or asking for help. Do not starve your inner writer. She wants to work with you. But she needs energy, Make sure you remember to feed her.
Knowing when to be tough and when to be kind is a difficult one. It’s actually why I believe in creating a routine for writing in the first place. If you show up, day after day, doing the work, having carved out your hour a day, having made some sacrifices, then you are going to be in a good position to know whether you need to be kind to yourself. You will use your intuition, and make the right call. Because you don’t do excuses. Not any more.
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