Most of my writer friends work either full time or part time and write on their days off, before work or in the evenings. The majority are women with children. Some have ageing parents they are assisting to remain in their homes or transition into nursing homes.
I’ve heard authors say even when they don’t get to the desk, they are always writing in their head. Some write scenes in notebooks on public transport or during their lunch break, others compose while doing cooking or waiting in the car at after-school pick-up. Being time poor isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a writer; it can force us to write without distraction, to make optimal use of those precious spare minutes. But, in my opinion, nothing beats sustained, deep writing time.
I was recently lucky enough to go away for a long weekend with two writer friends. For three days, we wrote all day, breaking only for lunch, a late afternoon walk, and dinner. After dinner, we shared our writing from the day and gave suggestions for improvement. I wrote more and, I believe, better, in those three days than I had in weeks, maybe months.
However, most of us don’t have long stretches of uninterrupted writing time or opportunities to spend weekends away. We have to fit our writing in wherever and whenever we can. At a recent book launch, the author told the audience he “wrote” his book in his head while long-distance driving. This is not something I could ever do. I’m someone who scribbles and revises ‘to-do’ lists every hour. I have sticky reminder notes all over my desk at work and a ‘reminder’ whiteboard on the wall in my kitchen. My head is an overworked calendar and I am incapable of remembering story ideas, let alone scenes unless I write them down as soon as possible after thinking them. Pocket-sized notepads litter my life. I keep one next to my bed, in my handbag and in the console of my car. Sometimes I type scenes into the notes function on my phone, or on the back of a bookmark. I’ve even written ideas on the inside cover of whatever novel I’m carrying to ensure I didn’t forget them.
Next week will mark the start of ten weeks long service leave for me. I have chosen to forego a lump sum at retirement because I want to take time now, to write. I am filled with both excitement and fear. I can’t wait to free my mind of work-related clutter and have more time for sustained writing, but I also worry I will squander the time, that there will be too much of it and I will fail to optimise those treasured weeks. How should I structure my writing routine? Should I leave the house each day to work from a library? Many people set a minimum number of words to write each day – will this work for me, and how many?
I’d love to hear from anyone who has taken extended leave to write. How did you organise your time? Did you meet your goals in the time taken?