Guest blog by GILLIAN MCALLISTER
As an author with a full-time job, one of the things I am asked most about is how I find time to write. Here are my tips:
1. Get a portable laptop
This is not really a tip, and of course not everybody can afford a small and portable laptop, but having a laptop I can carry with me and open whenever I have a spare moment in my free time – on my commute, while waiting for a delayed train, while waiting to meet a friend – has had the single biggest effect on my output. I only have a fifteen-minute train journey and yet yesterday morning I managed to read and edit 2,000 words (there and back), which was 2,000 I didn’t have to do when I got home.
2. Learn to be in the zone wherever you can
Possibly because I wrote a literary-style blog for ten years, or possibly just because it’s the way I am, I find it relatively easy to be in the zone as soon as my laptop is open. At least part of this is due to planning: if I know which scene I’m writing that day (I have a spreadsheet), and I know what it should achieve and who should be in it, then I will be more equipped to write in those spare ten-minute slots I sometimes have after work (mostly in the train station). Don’t listen to the voice that tells you things written quickly are poor: quite the opposite is true, for me. Those are the bits – where I was typing as fast as my fingers would allow – that I hardly have to edit.
3. Bump it up the list
I spent much of my twenties – probably about seven years, in total, writing quite often but never finishing anything. It all changed for me when I – very luckily – had some agent interest. It became second on my list (work is top). And so, after I have done my work, I have to do my writing, and everything else falls behind it. There are some days where social stuff crops up, or whatever, but generally that’s a priority system I work within. Similarly, I set myself word count targets when writing a first draft and editing targets when editing. So I won’t go to bed until they’re done, and it works because I don’t often let myself off the hook. Otherwise, I’d simply think, ‘I’ll do that tomorrow
!’ which was pretty much what I did with writing during my twenties. It finds a way through, when you put it nearer the top of the list, and you know it simply has
to be done, more important than stacking the dishwasher or watching that new Netflix drama. I have never looked back on this system with regret, because at the end of every year, I have had a novel (and I just watch Netflix after I’ve hit my word count, anyway).
Similar to the above, I think part of becoming a writer with a job is simply learning to accept that a sacrifice has to be made. There will be television you miss out on, exercise you don’t do, sleep you don’t snatch (though I personally only cut into sleep time when very pushed by deadlines). But where there is sacrifice, there are gains, too. Writing is incredibly enjoyable, and enjoyable in that deep satisfying, way that reading is (and scrolling through the internet is NOT). Sure, it’s easier to do other things but writing brings about a real, complete sense of fulfillment, for me. Likewise, you may be tired and otherwise hobby-less, you may have a messier house, but at the end of a chunk of time you will have a novel. It’s all about putting the long-term ahead of the short-term goals. If you can do that, you’re on your way.
5. Accept some degree of rubbish-ness in your writing
Sometimes I think that lots of people can’t make time to write because, when they do, they sit down and write rubbish (like we all do). And then they think, well, I sacrificed X, Y and Z for this and now I am writing rubbish! But the fact is, there will be many days (every day, for me, of a first draft) where rubbish is written, but if you make the time to write rubbish (which will feel stupid and weird and pointless), then you can make the time to edit rubbish, too.