Writing when there's no time to write

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 I'm sure the same is true for many writers, published and unpublished, so I thought I'd set out how I'm trying to grasp at brief moments of opportunity.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!


Debs Riccio said...

Oooh - fierce, Caroline! But also fair and funny - I SO empathise with all that you say and I just wish I had the discipline to be that...erm.. disciplined - full of admiration of your 'go-gettem' attitude! And long may those grabbed minutes continue to add up to more books!

Caroline Green said...

It's the only way, sometimes. I'm completely unable to demonstrate your admirable ruthlessness re messages, Caro, but am with you all the way when it comes to those little pockets of time. I think of it as knitting a scarf a few rows at a time...all adds up!

Sarah Hilary said...

Absolutely with you on this, Caro. I've been working on a first draft for a month now, being ruthless about getting it down, knowing that when time gets tight again I'll be into the redrafting/improving stage, with this skeleton in place to make things less daunting. Oh and thanks for linking to Dropbox, as I've heard good things about that.

Gillian McDade said...

I must check out Dropbox!

I always have to answer an e-mail though asap, if only to say 'ok, thanks' or something.

A dictaphone is also handy for recording random thoughts at inappropriate moments!

Words A Day said...

i secretly harbour the illusion that when my novel is published I will suddenly be writing full time in a room of my own! Reality is sinking in, slowly...!

I agree you have to cut things out to make time for writing, have to be firm. I've given up classes and all voluntary work and tv. Next to go will be staring into space!

Fidelity said...

Interesting argument Caroline and I've come across it often but there is another side to being in touch with people. I often envy those who have lots of people around them always wanting to pour out their souls and wanting approval for their triumphs and empathy for their woes.

Look at it like this. You have oodles of time to write...the phone never rings; no one ever calls. You spend hours sitting there trying to create a lively, interesting character. What do people do, you wonder; what do they say to each other; what bothers them and makes them happ...you get my drift.

I wish people would please tell me SOMETHING about themselves! So that I could create CHARACTER.

I guess it's time to go and water the vegetables...I'm thinking of writing a book about turnip and potatoe growing in a small urban garden.

Simon Kewin said...

Marvellous post. It's so easy to find good reasons not to write isn't it. You just have to sit down and get on with it ...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I think you've achieved what an old headmaster once told me I needed to cultivate: 'iron in your soul'.
Respect. :)

Eeleen Lee said...

I love Write Or Die- providing the necessary kick to banish procrastination

Lizzie said...

Great post, Caroline.

I empathise completely. I haven't had a novel published yet but have managed somehow to find the time to write on as well as working and commuting for over two hours a day.

I've had to give up going to the gym, TV and any semblance of a social life ... but I've loved being with my characters.

Thanks for the tip about Dropbox – it's now installed at work. And Write or Die is fab.

joseph said...

Intresting post, i understand the desire to stand away from the crowd when dealing with characters. an intravert stance is offtimes what i crave to finish a chapter or as i would have it atmospheric licence to insert into the chapter, perhaps its just me but i prefer to run this way, that is if i manage to get the time.

Caroline R said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I wish I'd discovered Write or Die earlier - it's been around for ages but I only started using it a few months ago. Though I'm on to the revision stage of my current book, I still use Write or Die for my work-related writing and for blog posts like this!

Glad the Dropbox recommendation has been useful to a few of you. It's really convenient and also has the advantage of still being there even if your computer dies.

James Killick said...

Fantastically original post on a age-old and frequently blogged about issue - haven't read something this perceptive or authoritative on the subject before though - very well written and interesting post. Loved to hear about the casualties of your writing as well as how being published changes (or doesn't change) anything, and this combined with some hard practical suggestions that are new to me (write or die). Excellent stuff. Thank you.

DT said...

Well, firstly belated congratulations on getting the book published. And secondly, while it's true that you need to retain contact with the real world (whatever that is), those closest to you should also respect you as a writer and, at the very least, avoid time which you've blocked out for writing, or when you've told them you will be busy. I think we have to respect our craft as writers first and then educate everyone else!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I really wouldn't advise giving up being a mug. Firstly, associating with other people is excellent material which directly feeds into one's writing - think of it as research. And secondly, you're going to thank god for those contacts in later years, when you don't have children clinging to your ankles and writing is starting to pall (yes, it can happen).
Sure, give up an hour in the evening watching TV, but don't give up human contact. Writing just ain't worth it.

sophie x

janflora said...

So true! I have to give up the getting involved and helping thing more, but my friends and family are starting to get used to my poor communication skills :) Writers don't communicate, pshaw! ;)
I also love Write or Die, which I found through NaNo a couple years ago. It is fun for sprints and/or when I am stuck and need to stop thinking about a scene-just write!
Will be back!

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, there are times when I only put a couple hundred words down, and think "i will never finish at this rate."

But I have learned to manage my expectations - i will get this done, and by golly, i will get it published someday. Just not this year. Or maybe even next. Writing is a long-term thing, not a short sprint. And if you want it to be a career, it's the rest of your life. The only way to get there though, is to keep putting words down. Even if it's only 50 at a time. :)