|Time for Everything - Image by Janet Cameron|
Most people make time for what they really want to do, but somehow writing’s different. You want to write. Ideas are sizzling in your head like overdone bacon.
But there’s that sense of guilt about taking time off from urgent tasks to do something that pays little or nothing. There’s also the spare room to paint, the bank statements to check and the cooker’s begging for a damn good clean. There are two issues here, the first is practical, the second abstract. (a) Careful planning to garner those extra few hours every week to pursue your creative urges to a fruitful climax. (b) Overcoming mental blocks that stop you finishing what you’ve started.
Create Time to Write and to Finish your Project?Many people don’t like lists because they see them as a series of rules, a kind of literary straitjacket. But a list of things to do is liberating. Those tasks aren’t going to disappear – and listing them removes them from your overloaded brain to be saved till you’re ready to tackle them. (Like after you’ve finished your writing.) Everything must go on the list. It doesn’t matter if writing is mixed up with domestic and work matters because life is a combination of all three. Of course, you can still assign priority to urgent items. Just make sure that writing is one of them.
What’s really good about lists is the sense of achievement as you tick off completed items. A highlighter is good for seeing immediately what’s been done. The important thing is to include on your list, along with ‘Run Ollie to the dentist’ and ‘Get the summer curtains down from the loft’, another equally important item: ‘Writing slot, 5pm-6pm’. Give your talent a space among all the other aspects of your life. There’s a strange law about lists – once something is written down it becomes more real, rather like an item on a manifesto, and you’re more likely to stick to it. Also, you are freed from the anxiety of forgetting.
A Synopsis can be a Series of Steps or ObjectivesMany writers are fine at beginnings but lose steam after a few pages. It might help not to view the task ahead in its entirety but divide it into manageable chunks. This is where a synopsis helps. Synopses can be flexible and you can change your material to incorporate better ideas as you go along. What a synopsis does is take the pressure off, just like the list you’ve just done. You have a direction and that’s very freeing. Concentrate on the next part of your work, trusting that Chapter 20 will be fine because you know what’s going to happen then – unless, of course, you come up with something even better.
Thinking TimeNever underestimate thinking time. You are working – whether staring out the window, walking through woods, talking things over with a friend or reading. A word or phrase may spark you off in a new direction. (Like the Alice Munro story quotation that inspired this article.) It’s all genuine, concentrated mental effort, like any other form of academic pursuit.
If you have children, you can negotiate some sort of trade-off with a friend. You look after their children for two hours while they do their thing – then they do the same for you while you get your head down. Older children can be bargained with directly. ‘Let me have an hour to myself in my study, then we’ll all go swimming.’ (Yes, I know it’s bribery and by implication, corruption - but they’ll still grow up into decent, responsible adults – and you may finish writing a whole story.)
Mental Blocks – How do you Justify Time Wasted on Writing?Writing doesn’t make you perspire from exertion – well, not normally. It just helps keep your brain buzzing. Like muscles, it’s as young as the last time you used it. The brain needs to be worked to make efficient connections and that’s useful in all areas of life.
Do you feel it’s hard to make enough money to justify the time you spent writing? The same goes for amateur sport and talking to friends, although, like writing, both benefit your health physically and mentally. Writing’s an antidote to feeling bored or miserable, and that’s reason enough to make time for it. (Anyhow, you can make some useful extra cash if you learn your craft well and persevere.)
Finally, you need to find another verb to replace ‘wasted’. Over to you!
- Munro, Alice, "Powers," Runaway, Vintage Books, 2006.