There were many things I didn't expect to gain from being published. I didn't expect riches. I didn't expect to become famous or to get invited to glitzy parties. I didn't expect life to become perfect – in fact, I didn't expect it to change much at all. I can't, however, be smug about this lack of X-Factor-style delusion, because I must confess that there was one thing I thought would be different.
I expected publication to legitimise my writing. No longer would it be a self-indulgent little hobby clutched at during lunch hours and evenings. As a real writer, I would be able to assert my right to have time to do my job.
It didn't work out like that. A year after publication, while trying to balance gainful employment with toddler care, I'm running out of spare moments to devote to what those around me still regard as an eccentric hobby. I'm sure the same is true for many writers, published and unpublished, so I thought I'd set out how I'm trying to grasp at brief moments of opportunity.
1. Don't be a mug.
I used to be very conscientious, wanting to get involved with stuff and help people out. But not any more. I've given up all voluntary activities. I've ditched my mobile phone and I don't answer the landline without checking caller display. I don't get back to anyone who only ever contacts me when they want something. Emails might have to wait several days for an answer. The possible downside to this is that people stop liking me when I'm not sorting out their stupid crap for free. Oh dear. How sad. Never mind!
2. Seize every opportunity.
It's very easy for me to feel that because I only have three minutes free, it's not worth starting anything. But that could be three minutes of writing. Even at a modest 40wpm typing speed, that's still 120 words. 800 lots of three minutes, and that's a book! I've given up the need to get my bearings and settle in to a writing session by reading over what I did last time – now I just jump in and get on with it.
3. Always keep some writing handy.
I use Dropbox so that I can access my files from any computer – so if I'm at work and have a chance at lunchtime, I can go straight into my novel without the hassle of emailing different versions to myself. This also syncs with my iPod Touch so I can have a quick read-over of scenes wherever I am.
4. Write or Die.
For first drafts, the Write or Die software is brilliant. By promising dire consequences if you stop writing, it makes you concentrate on getting words down – and I don't know about you, but my writing is no worse when rushed than it is when agonised over. Write or Die helped me finish the first draft of my WIP. It's less obviously useful for the next stage – chopping and changing, sacking redundant characters, scrapping cool but pointless scenes – but I still find it helpful to maintain a Write or Die mentality. Setting a timer for, say, 10 minutes has made me focus on the importance of that 10 minutes – often there'll be interruptions, but it's amazing how much it's possible to do in that space of time.
What I've discovered is that these tiny pockets of time really add up. It's easy to despair that other people are keeping me from writing, but that's a cop-out. It's up to me to take responsibility and make the most of every second of writing time. If that means I haven't answered your email about something you could have Googled in five seconds – well, tough!