We’ve all seen the lists of writing tips – things to do to develop as a writer – e.g. read widely, experience life, research etc. . .
Chief on the list is often to write every day. This has always been a tall order for me, balancing work and family and running two businesses on the side. In the periods where I have managed it there has certainly been a beautiful flow in my expression and effortless connection to the work, but this has (for me) unfortunately come at the cost of connection to the people in my life.
On the other side of the coin, there are periods in life when it is legitimately impossible to write anything. For sanity and the sake of not taking the skin off my back via self-flagellation, this was an import thing for me to acknowledge. It might be work, family bereavement, illness. . . a host of things. I guess I believe that if you were stamped at birth with the hidden sigil that marks you as a writer, after the dust settles you will always gravitate back to the written word when you are capable of doing so.
But for that middle zone, when you are trying to live a life and squeeze writing into the cracks and gaps, how do you manage it?
One of the best pieces of advice that I had was ‘do it first’. I guess that generally works well for me as more of a morning person, but the general gist is to try and get some runs on the board with the writing (sorry Cricket term there) before the other ‘urgent’ things in life take over – like paying the bills and eating.
One of the useful things I have discovered is that my laptop works fine on the bus. This gives me up to an hour a day during the week, and it all goes surprisingly well (when the battery does not run out). I remember one story about a British Thriller writer who managed to have a whole career and publish a dozen novels while doing his writing commuting on the train (1 hour each way) to his office job as an accountant in London. I guess a predisposition for travel sickness might knock that one on the head.
Carry a notepad: I used to do this religiously, and ended up with about twenty of these stuffed full of ideas for stories. Many were penned in the middle of industrial plants while wearing full PPE — ear muffs, steel-capped boots, hardhats etc. A writer friend of mine also filled up notepads with ideas – that and writing in the emergency stairwell during his half-an-hour lunch with pen and paper were all he could manage between work and a sick wife for well over a year. He went on to win awards and break through into mainstream publishing as a novelist.
Unplug the TV set: Well, here is where I don’t take my own advice. I am a bit of a movie and video addict – although I limit myself pretty well – and I don’t watch live-to-air. I record and watch the programs at night before bed as a wind down when I would not be physically capable of even sitting at a computer terminal.
Use Auto-pilot: Use the mundane tasks of the day as brainstorming time – doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, ironing, painting, handyman stuff etc
By the Pets a Toy: OK. I don’t have pets, but I guess you could include spouses in the general idea – get them a hobby? I went to a workshop with Zoran Zivcovik here in Brisbane a few years ago (this is where the anthologies Devil in Brisbane and Fantastical Journeys to Brisbane emerged from), and he told a story about his cat, who every morning sat on his keyboard and would not move without a dedicated 10 minutes of petting. After that he had to learn how to type one-handed, as the cat required him to continue stroking with one hand while he worked.
How do you squeeze your writing into the gaps?