Saturday, June 13, 2009

Do Writers Have A Weekend?

PHS Columnist Kate Walker looks at the importance for writers of taking a weekend - no matter what day of the week you actually do it.

When I first started writing, my son was small. My first submission was written in the couple of hours I had to spare between delivering him to playgroup and then collecting him again, three times a week. My first actual published book came out just before his 6th birthday and the rest of the ones I wrote while he was still at home were fitted in around the commitments of being a wife and mother, looking after the house, cooking, washing and ironing etc. I never seemed to have enough time, there was always something extra to do – and there was always, always a book to write.

Not a deadline – or as I called them, dreadlines. We weren’t given specific delivery dates then, just ‘when the book is ready’. But without computers and emails and with books having to be delivered in manuscript form, assessed, revisions – and the whole typescript – sent back again by Royal Mail – everything took so much longer. It would have been so tempting to spend as long as possible just working, writing or rewriting, or correcting proofs. But one thing I always determined on was that the weekend was for family time. The weekend was when first the typewriter was never brought out and then later the computer wasn’t switched on – at least for writing purposes – and we did things as a family. To me it was important that we always had some time when we were away from work – even if my work was sitting in another room behind closed doors, just waiting for me. I might not have an official weekend like someone with a normal working week, but I was determined that the weekend – as a mood, a getting together with family – a relaxation – was going to happen.

Things aren’t anything like that now. The Offspring has grown up and moved out to his own home, my husband the babe Magnet is no longer a full time teacher but part-time a writer in residence in a women’s prison, a university lecturer other days and a freelance writer himself, writing books on history of crime, local history - well anything historical that grabs his interest. We could sit in our separate rooms every day – all week – and write. We don’t have any set hours, no timetable – dreadlines yes but we set our own hours to work towards those. We don’t have to have specific days to have off, we don’t have the traditional forms of weekends

But that weekend mood?

Well, that’s become even more important. Time to connect, to talk, to look back at what we’ve done- ahead to what we’ve got coming up. Time to take stock and plan - but also time to switch off a bit, relax the tension. It almost didn’t happen like that. The problem with being a writer is that you need to strike when the iron is hot - work when the inspiration is there. If a book is going well you can’t always just leave it and take the time to do something else. The story fizzes in your head. The characters nag at you, telling you to come and write their story, tell everyone what’s happened to them . . .

. . . or sometimes they do. Because one thing I’ve learned over the 25 years (yes – I can’t quite believe it myself ) 25 years of being published is that if you push and push and write and write and don’t give yourself a moment to draw breath, let your shoulders down – you can burn yourself out, drain the well of imagination so that one day when you go to try and draw up a bucket of nice fresh ideas there’s nothing there - only a few grains of sand and perhaps a pebble or two. I’ve seen this happen to so many people recently as the speed of production of books, the increase in demand, makes them want to write and write and write. And people outside the business don’t help – ‘How long does it take you to knock out one of those?’ they ask. Or ‘are you still churning out those books?’ The story that there is a computer programmed to create endless category romances is of course a major myth – but sometimes you’d think that editorial, marketing, and the demanding audience think that the computer really is inside their authors’ heads, just needing to be switched on and go.

When my son was small I used to have long periods of frustration when I couldn’t get to my desk. Times when I was cooking, cleaning, washing ironing, playing Cluedo or Scrabble – or whatever. Times when I was acting as nurse, helping with homework - kept from writing as a result. Then when my time was all my own I thought it would be so wonderful – nothing to stop me, nothing to come between me and the words . . . until I realised that I was struggling to get the words out. I was sitting at my desk staring into space- or playing Bookworm, or something similar. Waiting to get going. I missed the thinking time that those hours away from the screen had given me. I needed a break to let the story settle and then grow inside my head.

So what’s this got to do with weekends? I’m not saying that if you find the inspiration is boiling up inside you you should ignore it and risk losing some really great writing time. Nor am I saying that you must take Friday night till Monday morning without fail and sit around doing nothing – even when you have a dreadline not just looming up on the horizon but bearing down on you fast and threatening to swamp you. And for some of us the weekend is the only time we get a little break with another adult around to take care of the kids and give us some writing space. The Babe Magnet and I are often teaching at a weekend too – these days being the only time that most not-yet-published writers can get away for the longer, residential courses we’re involved in.

But we do need to make sure we take that ‘weekend’ whenever we can. It doesn’t have to be a Saturday and a Sunday – it doesn’t have to be any particular day of the week, just as long as we get into a weekend sort of mood to relax and let our minds work - our subconscious minds that will work quite nicely on a puzzle in a story while we’re doing something else. Because, as my husband is always quoting Ben Jonson to me whenever I get stressed out and tense and declare I can’t write – I’ve lost it – I’ll never write again - the mind is like a bow, the better for being unbent.

So tomorrow morning the Babe Magnet and I will go for our walk through the park and into the woods, then we’ll head down to the coffee shop and settle down with the Saturday Telegraph and the crossword puzzle. We never quite finish it but it doesn’t matter – we enjoy trying. And if we don’t get a Saturday, then we take other days in between – what I call ‘running away days’ when I leave my desk behind and get away – anywhere – just to unwind and let my brain ‘unbend.’ I’ve seen too many authors suffer burnout or breakdown or just plain lose the words, or the pleasure of writing them.

So this weekend, whatever you’re doing, I hope you have a great time. If you’re taking the weekend this Saturday and Sunday to enjoy - hopefully- a bit more sunshine before the rain comes back then I hope you have a great time. But if you’re on a dreadline (my sympathies go out to Michelle Reid, Anne McAllister . . . and many others who have no choice but to be working this time) I hope you’ll make sure that you do have a proper ‘weekend’ when you get the chance – even if it takes place in the middle of the week. You’ll feel all the better for it – and the ideas will flow all the better when you get back to your desk.

Kate has just learned that her latest novel has been accepted and scheduled as will be released as The Konstantos Marriage Demand in February 2010 Coming up is Kept For Her Baby which is to be published in August (UK) and October – in Presents Extra in America. But before that there is the reprint of At The Sheikh’s Command in the Sold to The Sheikh collection in June in the UK.You can find out more about Kate and her books on her website or for the most up to date news, visit her blog.


  1. Thanks for the post Kate. A timely reminder to guard the important down times of our lives because they can so easly get swallowed up in the franticness of the day to day routines (and deadlines).

  2. Yes, I do take time out but I do like to write every day. Of course I am on a dreadline.

  3. Wise words Kate. As always.

    I have a tendency to take too much 'weekend' time at the beginning of a book and then have to make up for it at the end, working seven days flat out for weeks to get the damn thing finished. Not good. And particularly bad with my last book. With that I got pretty close to burn out, and I was starting to dread writing and hated the characters, and nothing was working, but I was still pounding away at the keyboard day in and day out...

    Until my husband said 'For god sake get a grip woman, take the weekend off, let's do something together.' (He's not the type to quote Ben Johnson). And we did and it worked. Suddenly my kids knew what I looked like again, I was enthusiastic about the story again and able to finish it...

    So what you saying makes absolute sense to me... Better to be a few weeks late on deadline than loose the will to write.

  4. Count on me taking time, Kate, just as soon as the book is GONE! I agree that those breaks are terribly important. Otherwise the well goes dry and stays dry!

    Also I did have a couple of hour break today so that on Monday I could present this week's Male on Monday to the Pink Heart readers. Check back Monday and meet him!

  5. Lovely post Kate! I don't work weekends. Unless it's dire. But as a rule - the dh is home, the kids are off, and we do family things. I catch up on housework - watch a movie with the girls - go for a walk with the dog...but it is family time and my recharging time. Or getting on top of other chores so I don't start the workweek thinking of how messy the house is or how tall the piles of laundry.

  6. My day job is probably a bit like writing for a deadline - all work for a few weeks, including weekends and holidays, then a break to catch up with your life.
    Unfortunately those 'breaks' are also the gaps I write in, so the family still don't get a huge share of me.

    That's why I look forward to being published and (eventually) quitting the day job - then I plan to follow Donna's example and write five days a week and leave week-ends for family.

  7. This is a great post, Kate. It is so easy to be consumed by the writing and, as you say, it is always there with more characters knocking on your head and dreadlines. I almost always end up working more than I should but I'm full of good intentions!

  8. I only ever work a five day week, Kate. I did it when the children were at school and I've carried on ever since. I don't think my long-suffering husband would be happy if I worked weekends as well - and it certainly helps to recharge the batteries. I'm always eager to get going on a Monday morning.