Monday, 26 February 2018

Making Writing Fit into Your Life

Last week was our half-term spring holiday and all the kids were home for most of the week. Luckily I had my blog post written because I know that even if they give me a bit of peace I don't write well with others in the house. 

My kids are not quiet by a long shot and even if they're playing nicely they are shouting, singing, stomping. They demand a million cups of milk (just one child), need someone to break up disputes, to help them fix or find toys, to put on plasters and remind them to eat or clean up one mess before starting on the next. They need regular exercise and getting out of the house. Damn, they need a lot of supervision.  

I love my kids and the chaos in some ways, but I like to write in silence. I was berated recently in an online group because I said I didn't listen to music when I wrote. Really, do people need such strong opinions on everything? I don't listen to much music in general besides in the car, but even background music distracts me too much to focus on my writing, especially poetry.

Over years of writing I have developed various routines that have changed with my circumstances. I used to write on trains and buses when I was commuting a great distance for work. When I lived in Greece I woke up early and sat at the window looking out over the sea before going to teach all afternoon and some evenings. I love to write in cafes and museums when I'm at home and when I'm travelling.

I've always written in notebooks and for the last 20 years or so with the same type of pen, but have recently widened this to include a laptop for fiction. Transferring pages and pages of scribbles can be quite time-consuming and that has become the biggest problem of my life since having kids: finding time for my writing. 

I was once many moons ago granted a bursary to finish my first novel. So for a short period, I became a full-time writer, or my version of it. I went to my allotment first thing after I woke (not early though, let's be realistic) and after working there for a bit I wrote in the greenhouse or if the weather was nice in the fresh air. Then I would go home, have lunch, write some more and then type out all my pages. I would also edit earlier chapters. Then it was time to be a grown-up and sort dinner, etc. I loved it, the rhythms of my days, the amount of work I could churn out, the sense of purpose. 

Now, I average about 3 hours a day if I'm lucky and that time has to include things like cleaning the house and prepping food for meals. I write my blog, write and edit poetry, my poetry collection and novel. I also submit work to magazines. I don't have time to linger among the brassicas before writing a chapter and then spend 2 hours typing it out again when I return home. I write poems between making soup and doing laundry. I submit poetry before I pick up my son for physio. I write in the physio's waiting room. I have a regular half hour of writing practice in a gluten-free bakery's cafe while waiting for my kids to finish their music lessons. I've written a lot of rough drafts in that cafe in the 4 years my son has been learning the guitar. 

It's not my ideal, but I have to make it work. I will never get back to those heady days of being a full-time writer. I'm lucky I don't have a full-time job on top of the kids at the moment, so I can carve out those three hours here and there. 

I carry my notebook with me everywhere and sometimes even write notes on my phone. I try to be strict about my writing time, don't browse on my phone until I've done the specified time. I keep a pen and paper next to my bed as I sometimes get ideas for lines or structure while I'm drifting off.

I know what works for me. I write at the kitchen table because I'm usually having to jump up to sort something on the stove. I also like the light in that room. I write first drafts of poems in my notebook over and over again until I have a strong basic structure. Then I type it up on the computer. I don't listen to music unless I need to get the feeling or the lines of a particular song for my novel. Then I listen once before heading back to silence. I work in spurts, taking short breaks to do something else, usually cleaning or maybe check FB for five minutes. I switch a lot between what I'm working on, so can do poetry, fiction and submissions all in the same morning.

It's taken me a long time to work out my writing habits and I've had to adapt and start over several times. You have to find what works for you. Try different locations, even around your own house. You don't need a desk, but sometimes it works best. 

Try different mediums, paper, laptop, large whiteboard for plotting. Try silence, with music or telly on in the background. Try long and short blocks of time. Write while communting or in places you wouldn't think of like waiting rooms, in soft play or in bed. 

Try different times of day. You might think you are a night owl, but by the time it rolls around you are too mentally exhausted to write anything of quality. So try early-ish in the morning, before your family awakes, before work. Or try after dinner when everyone's occupied by their own things. 

Make time for it and be flexible.

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