How do you find the time to write? This is a question that I am often asked. The answer is simple really: if you want to do something enough then you find the time. Everyone has a different approach to writing but, whatever that is, you need to stick to it. A set regime, be it strict or lax, is necessary, otherwise there are always things that will get in your way. The worst thief of your time these days is the internet and in particular social networking. I can be typing away merrily, involved in my new character, when ‘ping’, a message has arrived in my mailbox from Twitter or someone on Facebook wants to tell me about their day. I could ignore it, and sometimes I do, but out of the corner of my eye I can see the number of unanswered emails incrementing steadily. In the end I usually cave in and open my mailbox. Then there is the temptation of a cup of coffee. I have even been known, when things were not going well, to abandon my writing and do the ironing instead.
In order to minimise the distractions, I set myself specific times for writing. As I am a morning person I like to write from ten until two, four hours a day minimum. This leaves me a couple of hours beforehand to check emails, walk the dogs and get any other little jobs out of the way. If things are going well, or sometimes if they are going badly, I also work for a couple of hours in the late afternoon; this is when I review what I have written, checking punctuation, grammar, context etc. Sometimes I print out my morning’s work so that I can see it on paper; it’s easier to pick up the mistakes that way.
Some writers calculate their output by time: Ann Victoria Roberts, author of The Master’s Tale, writes from ten until six, a full day’s work; J G Harlond, author of the historical novel, The Chosen Man, has this to say about how she tackles her work:
Writing, for me, is a job – a wonderful job, but a full-time occupation nevertheless. I put my computer on first thing in the morning, get emails out of the way then work through until lunch. After a longish lunch and siesta (because I need to rest my eyes and I live in Spain), I start again and work through until I run out of steam or can’t see the screen anymore. To loosen tension in shoulders and neck I sometimes go for a swim, and most days I have to clean out a couple of stables – which is a great way to keep the airy-fairy side creativity in perspective. There are, however, occasional (very occasional) days when I don’t do much writing; this depends on deadlines of course, but I do need time off now and again. Often, it’s during these time-out mornings or afternoons that I get my best ideas, or come across something unexpected that can be used either in one of the school textbooks I working on or the next novel. Was it E.M. Forster that used George Moore’s words – ‘everything connects’ as a preface? I’m not sure about the quote but I do know it is true: inspiration lies tucked away in the oddest places. Inspiration though, butters no bread! Meeting deadlines is crucial in this business. Even when I’m working on a first draft I set myself a deadline. So, my advice to would-be writers or people still on a first draft is create a schedule – that way you will treat your writing more seriously, and people around you will learn to respect your ‘working hours’.
Other writers will tell you that they write 2,000 words a day. Personally I like to use a word count to gauge my progress but I don’t find it helpful to aim for a minimum number of words as a guide to daily output. My work is as much about re-writing as it is about writing; the 2,000 words written on Monday morning may have to be edited, reviewed and re-written ten times before I am happy with them.
So it all comes down to the individual and what’s comfortable for you. Some people just write and write, regardless of punctuation and grammar, until they have the whole book in a draft form; then they edit it. Others, like me, like to edit as they go along. It is just a question of preference. What matters is that it is done and that the finished book fulfils your objectives.
The editing and reviewing process is very important, too important to be left to an editor. The author must remain in control of the story because only they know where the story is leading. A good editor, however, can help the writer to see the wood amongst a forest of trees, help them clarify their objectives. Here are some of the questions that writers need to ask when editing their work:
‘What is the book trying to achieve?’
‘Who are your readers?’
‘Is the genre of the book clear? Does it sit comfortably in that genre?’
‘Is the language appropriate for the designated reader?’
‘Who is telling the story?’
Choose your preferred writing style and stick to it. Plan your work and make yourself a writing schedule. You will be amazed at what you can achieve.