Saturday, November 10, 2007
Findaboo - Grappling with Time
This week our columnist, Annie West, confronts that issue which makes so many writers tear their hair out – TIME – and how it can (sometimes) work for us.
Time. It’s in short supply. It’s always precious. We’re often up against it, especially if there’s a deadline looming. We never have enough of it and other people want us to give them ours. Family, friends, net buddies, the day job, editors – they all demand it. Here are some tips that have helped me. Perhaps you’ve got some hints you’d like to share too!
Time can be your friend. When you’ve finished your manuscript, let time pass. Don’t send it straight away. If you have no deadline then wait and get on with the next project. Come back to your ‘finished’ manuscript after weeks or even months. You’ll see your story in a fresh light and notice ways to tighten the writing. Inconsistencies will leap out at you. This makes polishing the story so much easier. Take the time to make the story the best you can.
When do you write best? For many it’s early morning and late afternoon. For some it’s the midnight hours. Being perverse, I often find it’s when I’m supposed to be cooking dinner! If it’s possible to set aside those most productive times for your writing, then do it! If you know certain activities stimulate your imagination – like a hot shower or a long walk or even weeding the garden, try to schedule your time so you do that before you sit down to write.
Don’t give up if inspiration doesn’t strike. Write, even if it feels like you’re pulling teeth rather than writing great prose. If you don’t make the effort to write in the time you’ve set aside for it, you will not produce that book. If you persevere it will usually get easier!
Write often. If you go a few weeks then say you just didn’t seem to find the time or you weren’t inspired, then stop and listen to the warning bells. You’re making excuses. It’s time to ask yourself how serious you are about writing.
Writing can be easier if you set aside specific time for it. If twenty minutes at lunchtime is all you have, then use it. Beware if you hear yourself say ‘I can’t get started because I need x hours alone on this’. X number of hours may be a luxury you don’t have. Be realistic about what time is available to you and make the most of it.
Don’t think that the only time you have to write is when you are alone, without background noise, at your desk. (Sighing wistfully here at that delightful picture). Many of us have dead time: commuting by train or bus, waiting for children at sport or music lessons, or for appointments. Use those times. Jot down some dialogue or points about a future scene.
Beware of the internet! How much do you spend on ‘research’ and ‘networking’? Limit your time on email or browsing sites. Maybe only access the web after you’ve written. It may make the difference between being a writer and talking about being a writer.
Which brings us to time and bribery. If you have trouble sticking at your writing, try a timer. Set it for say 45 minutes and write (without wandering off to watch the kettle boil) until the timer rings. Then give yourself a treat (a couple of pages of a book you’re dying to read, chocolate, a walk in the sun, whatever). Acknowledging that time writing can be difficult is not a sin. If the “time writing = I deserve a treat” system works, then go for it! You will get into the habit of writing and will produce words on the page.
How much research do you need before you write? Many books need research but remember, some can be done as you write or after you have a draft down. Don’t use it as a tactic to delay the work of writing!
Take breaks! Don’t sit at the computer for long stints without getting up and moving about. Not unless you want RSI, a sore back, blurred vision and regular visits to the chiropractor. Take time for regular exercise too – you’ll feel better and more energetic.
Plan your time. Set your goals for the next year. Think about your goals (eg. Finish the next 4 chapters and write an outline for a linked story) and how much time it will take to achieve them. This will help concentrate your mind on how you’re going to make them happen.
Allow yourself time out! Time away from your writing is necessary to give your brain a chance to catch up, and to refill the imaginative well. Don’t feel guilty about it. (But make sure your well refilling isn’t more time consuming than your writing!)
Create a deadline. If that’s what it takes to get you moving, but you don’t have an editor breathing down your neck, make your own. Find a contest you want to enter and aim to finish by the due date.
Remember to factor in time for your ‘other life’. We all get absorbed in our current story, but remember to come out of the cave from time to time and smile nicely at those who’ve (hopefully) let you work.
What are your tips on time? How do you manage to juggle it to suit you and everyone else in your life?
Annie still struggles to manage her time to fit in everything she’s supposed to do. She hasn’t given up yet though sometimes it’s tempting. Her new year release for Harlequin Mills and Boon is ‘THE GREEK TYCOON'S UNEXPECTED WIFE’. You can read an excerpt on her website.