Finding the Time

A book is a mammoth effort – usually 60,000 to 100,000 words. Of course, if you participate in Nanowrimo during November and manage to reach the 50,000 word goal, you could, in theory, knock off a good chunk of your first draft in thirty quick days.

However, if you’re a busy person with a job and a life, with friends and children and parents and umpteen commitments to meet every day, then reaching a target like this might not be possible. Stephen King, a writer who I greatly admire, says, in his biography “On Writing”, that he writes every single day of his life. Which is all very well for Stephen King, because that’s all he does. I know that’s not all I do, and I bet it’s not all you do, either.

I have found a better solution to be something like this:

Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two here or there. Fretting about not writing won’t get your story finished. And forcing yourself to write two pages of junk or gobbledeygook or excuses isn’t very constructive either – not if you’re tired or stressed or you’ve had a really bad day. It’s far better, in my opinion, to relax in a hot bath, have a nice dinner, read a few pages of a good book that doesn’t interfere with your writing mojo, and let those reserves of ideas and words build up again.

Having said that, you do need to set goals and I’ve found the best targets to achieve are weekly ones. That way if you’ve had a busy week, you can set aside the weekend to catch up. And if you have a full weekend ahead, then you know in advance you’d better knuckle down and get that writing done before Friday afternoon rolls around. Taking a day or two away from a book will still mean the story stays fresh in your mind, and the momentum is there. Skip a couple of weeks and you may find it much harder to reconnect with your story and carry on where you left off.

Don’t set yourself overambitious targets as far as wordcount goes, because if you don’t meet the targets regularly then you’ll be demoralised, but if you exceed them regularly then you’ll feel like you’re the most prolific writer in the world, and it’ll give you a nice ego boost.

A good target for a busy person might be to write 4,000 words a week. That equates to 500 words a day, which is roughly two average double-spaced 12-point MS Word pages. If you’re having an “on” day, then the pages will fly by and you’ll be well ahead before you know it. If you’re having an “off” day it is still possible to toil through 500 words without feeling as if it is an insurmountable barrier. And if you skip a day, writing three or four pages the next time you sit in front of your computer won’t kill you.

Choose a time that suits you best and will allow you to focus without distraction for a reasonable period. I like writing when I wake up in the morning because that first cup of strong coffee does wonders for the speed of the imagination and the fingers. I personally try not to write just before going to sleep. If I do, the minute I close my eyes thousands of ideas descend on me like flocks of hungry mosquitos and I end up opening my laptop in the dark and blistering my retinas in the screen’s terrible glow. Plus, I find that if I get really into my writing I get quite jumpy, so as soon as the light’s turned off I lie there quaking in terror and imagining – no, knowing – that a group of heavily armed burglars is prising my gate open and heading for the front door. (I’m not sure if this would still happen if I wrote chick-lit instead of thrillers!)

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