Last week, in Finding Time To Write – Part One, the Prime Writers looked at finding and protecting time to write amidst the commitments of work and family. It was generally agreed that finding time isn’t easy for anyone and that self-discipline and motivation are essential.
One distraction that often prompts groans when discussing time is technology. New authors are often instructed by publishers to get busy on social media at least six months before launch date. Then, just as the pressure builds to write a follow-up, working hours are eaten up by social media. Graeme Shimmin, author of A Kill in the Morning suggests that while your phone has hundreds of useful functions, from photography and maps to recording notes on the go, it’s wise to take control:
‘One thing some people can do is downgrade to a basic phone that doesn’t distract them. The main thing is to delete any games and social media apps from the phone, and turn off distracting push notifications. Believe me, after a couple of days’ withdrawal, it’s actually a relief not to be checking your phone every few minutes.’
At some point, Graeme advises, your computer also needs a web-blocking application, to stop the constant drift into checking of emails or succumbing to the addiction of checking Amazon ratings: ‘I set a schedule where social media websites and games are blocked from 9am to 8pm. It’s a relief not to be tempted when I’m working.’
Setting controls over interruptions from the phone and incoming emails is also at the core of Louisa Treger‘s (The Lodger) writing day:
‘ I don’t take phone calls, try not to get lost on the internet, put off all chores, and generally let everything else pile up around me. Around lunchtime, I emerge blinking, and deal with the rest of life. And any time I get later in the day for writing and editing is a bonus.’
Yet for all its power to distract, new technology does bring countless benefits. Author of How To Be Brave, Louise Beech, describes it as a double-edged sword:
‘It’s marvellous how easily we can communicate and promote and connect using social media, and certainly it’s a huge advantage when research is quite literally at our fingertips. But then it can all be overly stimulating and disruptive when we need to just sit down and actually write. I can’t bear hearing all the ping pongs of alerts and messages while writing. So I tend to devote set amounts of time in the day that is purely to connect with readers/bloggers/writers on social media, or to research some necessary topic. When I need to actually write, I love that ‘Off’ button. And I NEVER have my phone/computer on after 10pm. That’s my little rule so that I switch off and sleep well.’
Martine Bailey, author of An Appetite for Violets and The Penny Heart, has set out to harness technology to save time. She also compartmentalizes her day into tech and non-tech time.
‘I can remember when research meant driving to libraries and standing over the photocopier! So I’m not knocking technology when I have access to sites like Google Books, Gutenberg and Old Bailey Online. Last year I also moved to speech recognition software so I just put my wireless mic in my ear and dictate new scenes really fast. It’s not perfect but it does save time. In non-writing time I listen to books on MP3 and catch up on history and literary programs on iPlayer. That way, when I’m driving, cooking or walking, I can choose to stay in the zone of my novel.’
When Claire Fuller was writing Our Endless Numbered Days, she worked full-time in marketing and had two teenage children at home. ‘I had to fit writing in wherever I could – ten minutes here, half an hour there. Now that I’m lucky enough to be able to write full-time I still find myself writing in very short bursts, and it’s the Internet, social media and reading other people’s books that I break that time up with. Somehow I still get the words down.
As well as using the Internet for research, I find Twitter really helpful – not just for having a chat with other writers, but also for finding answers you can’t get anywhere else. If for example, you want to discover what other people thought about those charity collection boxes in the shape of life-sized children (did they find them as creepy as I did?) then there’s no better place than Twitter for a quick answer. (It was a resounding, yes.)’
Because fiction needs lots of time to gestate, as well as typing time, it begs the question whether much of the real work of writing can’t sometimes happen away from the desk?
A number of Prime Writers agreed that it’s this thinking and musing over a book that lies at the heart of the creative process. Rachael Lucas, author of Sealed With A Kiss, says:
‘The months I spend thinking, planning, plotting and writing in my head tend to go unnoticed, which means people think I write my books very quickly. I’ve only recently acknowledged to myself that the walks, the musings in the shower, and the doodlings which take me ages are actually valid uses of my time.’
Author of A Dream of Lights, Kerry Drewery, agrees: ‘The mind-wandering times are absolutely vital for me. I walk the dog every day and that’s often when the ideas run through my head and things make sense. I strongly believe in this refuelling thing – like we’re sponges and the more you ‘create’ the more wrung out you become. I think creative people need time to absorb from other things such as TV, art, film, books, even news, and take inspiration from things’.
Coming back full circle, it’s time to remember that all those books published by the Prime Writers only came about after hundreds of hours of actually getting the words on the page. Sarah Jasmon sums up the difficulties of grasping for time in a busy life while writing her debut, The Summer of Secrets:
‘It’s all about grabbing time when it turns up, rather than waiting for the ideal opportunity. I find that, if I schedule a particular time, I take all day to get around to beginning. If, on the other hand, I don’t build it up into something special, I can just sit down and have half an hour of getting on with it. A deadline helps; it’s amazing what I can fit in when I’m up against it!’
Finally, Rebecca Mascull (The Visitors and Song of the Sea Maid) reminds us that there have to be serious bouts of focused work snatched whenever other responsibilities allow. ‘I write around my daughter’s school days, so the drafting takes place between school runs. Any other spare time I can grab I use for research reading and for planning. I get all my chapter planning done in advance so that when I finally get the precious time to write, I know exactly which chapter I have to get done that day and what’s supposed to happen by the end of it.’
And this is what Rebecca’s novel looked like, chapter by chapter, month after month:
We hope that hearing about how real writers have coped with the challenge of securing time to write – with or without the aid of technology – has been helpful. And if you are about to begin that first novel, whatever your age or ambition, we wish you the gift of time to achieve your dream.