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This Writing Life: Dealing With Too Much Writing Time

10 February, 2011

In my last post, I talked about making a routine out of limited time, and the need to get that to work before pushing yourself to write in every spare moment. Today though, I want to talk about the opposite problem: having too much writing time.

This seems entirely counter-intuitive. The classic dream of the amateur writer (and a great number of professional writers) is to be able to make enough money to give up their day-job. To be able to spend all day writing, not cram three hundred words into their commute and the half hour before going to bed. It sounds utterly idyllic and, having done it (whilst unemployed and skint, which made it a bit less idyllic), it is.

There’s a problem though, particularly for people who suddenly find themselves thrust into the full-time writing life, usually having left their job either intentionally or through redundancy. Having all day, every day stretching before you sounds wonderful, but it’s actually incredibly overwhelming. Two feelings war with each other. There’s the complete lack of deadlines and pressure (at least if you’re unpublished), which gives you the feeling of freedom, but in reality means you end up playing computer games or watching TV. There’s also, conversely, a self-imposed pressure, telling you that you must make this work, which can be utterly paralysing. So paralysing, in fact, that you’re too scared of failure to even begin working.

I’ve been through both of these feelings. In fact, they’re things I deal with nearly every day, and certainly every week. Both can be exhausting (strangely, there’s nothing more tiring than a day of having absolutely nothing to do) and both prevent you from actually getting work done. At which point you feel like a failure and wonder why you’re bothering, which again prevents you from working. This turns into something a downward spiral; it’s no wonder that depression is so common amongst writers.

Rather than end on this negative note, I’m going to give a few tips that have worked for me, for dealing with having more time than you know what to do with.

  • Think small. Don’t keep fretting over how much of your novel is left to write, or how many long, empty months it will be before you’ll be ready to submit to agents. Instead, focus on writing a certain number of words a day, or editing a certain number of pages. Meeting these small goals gives a powerful sense of achievement, which in turn makes it easier to get to work the next day.
  • Find a support network. This might be friends or family (the fact that my partner asks me every evening what I’ve been doing during the day is a powerful motivator to actually do some work to tell him about). It could be a writing group. It could be an online group. I’ve even found that the simple act of listening to writing podcasts and reading writing blogs gives me a sense that I’m part of a wider community, filled with people who are going through exactly what I’m going through.
  • Think positive. This is probably the most important point of all. Yes, you can put pressure on yourself to meet goals and work hard. It’s good to do so. But if you’ve been working solidly for three weeks and all you want to do today is read a book and eat ice cream, then do it. The less stressed you are and the more you’re enjoying your working life, the easier it’ll be to keep writing.

The fact that this blog post is longer than most of the ones I write has shown me just how important a topic this is to me, and it’s one that I may revist in the future. For now though, what are your tips for and experiences of having writing as your main commitment?

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