‘How To Novel’. Pt 1: Time

Carrying on from my previous post about how I “finished” the first draft of my novel, I’ve decided to chronicle the process that worked for me. I have absolutely no idea how many posts will be in ‘How to Novel’. Like the first draft of my book, I’ll know when it’s done.

Before I begin, I’m going to issue a caveat with each of these posts:

This is the process that worked for me. It may not work for you; it may not be workable to your circumstances. Take from it what you think might be achievable, tweak it to fit, or ignore completely! (Also, there will be swearing.)

Right, let’s do this!

The first thing I want to talk about is TIME. You know, that thing of which you never have enough. *shakes fist at Chronos*

TIME is a huge part of writing anything. Being able to sit uninterrupted (apparently this is a thing, being uninterrupted) and devote the time and mental space to create, to fire up the imagination is often a luxury many of us either struggle with or just plain don’t have. Or, when you do, you’re just too buggered to engage the mind to make word-babies.

I run a successful editing business, and I love my what I do. I also have the joy of working from home (pants optional). I also have a partner and children, which means my days need to be as structured as they can be if I’m to achieve all that needs achieving. Life, of course, often gives me the finger – there’s much in my day that needs doing. Trying to fit writing time into that has been a serious struggle for the last couple of years, so while story ideas and characters percolated, they never quite made it to the page.

My writing partner, the storytelling-gifted Devin Madson, kept on about MAKING TIME to write. You’ve probably heard the same from others, and while it sounds incredibly simple, actioning it was difficult especially when weighed against my business. <– See that there? I used ‘against’ because that’s how I viewed it. An either/or situation when it wasn’t the case. It was a mind-shift moment. My business and my writing weren’t in opposition, they just had to share the space.

Tangles of Time by Oli-86

Tangles of Time by Oli-86

So I took a week to figure out where I was more productive when it came to writing, as editing I can do any time of the day or night (yes, a lot of the time I pull long hours at the desk). It was morning that came out the clear winner on the writing/creativity front. That was where my time needed to be eked out. I started small – gave myself an hour each morning, and… I sucked at it.

The thing is, it’s not just about making time, it’s about GUARDING TIME. I was checking emails, doing laundry… shit, I forgot to feed the fish… that kind of thing. And I was wholly unproductive and I hated myself for it. What I wrote in those first two weeks gave me no joy. Everything about it was just… wrong.

So I reset. I guarded that time. Nothing but writing. No interruptions. No fucking social media, time-stealer that it is. And I explained it to my family, too. From this time to this time, I’m writing. I will not answer questions, I will not help you find your shoes, you know where the spare toilet rolls are kept, dammit. I trunked that last attempt at the novel, and opened a new page. One hour each morning, and I guarded that time like Heimdell guards Asgard. Was it easy? No. The pull of ‘other things’ was strong, and that required another mind-shift: it’s an hour, other things can wait an hour. And they could.

Was the writing easy? Hell no. I needed to get past the pressure that I had to write ‘x’ amount of words. And here’s a tip: you need to be kind to yourself while guarding that time. Some days I’d write a couple of hundred words, other days a couple of thousand. But you know what became easier? Guarding that time. And once I did, once I got past the guilt (fuck guilt with the power of a thousand suns), the words came. The story flowed. Yet I think the story-flow had a lot more to do with the percolating and that I was ready to write the novel. TIME gave me the opportunity to do so.

One hour a day was my minimum writing time. I upped it to two hours a couple of weeks in, and was mindful of the editing projects I had. That extra hour writing time in the morning meant I worked later into the evening on editing projects. And this is where my privilege comes in. I’m lucky that I work from home (and I work damn hard at my job, no question), but that means I can take that time. I also have a super supportive partner who loves to cook, and while one of my kids is still at school, both are older and can look after themselves. I’m fully aware not everyone is in my boat.

This is where the ‘tweaking’ comes in. If you don’t have an hour, try half an hour. Hell, take five or ten minutes and ‘sprint’ words. Set a timer, write like a demon until that bell rings. Guard that time like Heimdell. Up the time if and when you can. But form that habit. From ‘x’ time to ‘x’ time is nothing but writing time. It’s not about word count, it’s about TIME. Time to do the thing that soothes the soul.

We’re all busy. Life’s like that. And there’ll be times when you don’t feel like writing, that there are other things that need to take precedence. It’s happened to me, and I took five minutes one day as it was really all I had, but it was more to keep the habit. Once it’s a habit, it does become easier. You look forward to it, and it makes you all the more keen to ensure you do make the time. And those days you just don’t have it? Well, you just don’t have it. Be kind to yourself. Just try to not make the ‘I don’t have the time’ become the habit because it’s easy as hell to slip into it.

If you don’t have the time every day, then set aside time on the weekend if you can. Just one day. See what happens.

As I said at the beginning of this post, how I worked through writing the first draft may not work for you, but if there’s something in here you can work with, that you can tweak to your lifestyle, to all the many things you’re juggling, especially in these Covid Times, then take it and run with it, my friend. We all need more books, all need more stories to immerse ourselves in. Why not let it be your tale?

 

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