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This Writing Life: Writing Through Chaos

15 September, 2014

It’s fair to say that my life has been fairly turbulent recently. First there was quitting my job, then moving house, then renovating said house and opening a B&B. For a while, I thought I’d be able to keep writing consistently, just as I have done for the past few years, with an aim of at least 200,000 words a year across multiples novels, novellas and short stories. I had good intentions, in other words, but when your life turns upside down, it’s difficult to stick to them.

Today, then, I want to share a few of the tips and habits I’ve learnt for trying to combine writing with every other aspect of a chaotic life. First of all, I’ve discovered it’s important not to be too hard on yourself. I spent weeks agonising over not getting enough words down, whilst trying to manage a burgeoning business and not go completely insane in the process. In the end, I realised all my stress about word counts and time spent in front of the PC wasn’t getting me anywhere – I was worrying about writing instead of actually doing it. At the moment, then, I’m cutting myself some slack and only aiming for 500 words a day (still 180,000+ words over the course of a year, I was amazed to work out). As I tend to plan several scenes (at least) in advance, I can easily hammer out that number of words in 20-30 minutes, meaning I’m both making slow, steady progress, and not beating myself up over missing my targets.

However, that 500 words a day is only my target for now. Life comes in fits and starts; sometimes you can predict them and sometimes you can’t. I know in advance that my winters are likely to be far quieter business-wise than my summers (which comes with the tourism territory, in the UK at least), which means I’m already planning to take part in NaNoWriMo and, if I can, write an entire novel between November and, say, February of next year. There might also come lulls I didn’t anticipate, though, such as weekends with fewer guests than usual, or cancellations. Whilst it can be a bit of a shock to the system to change plans at short notice, I’ll need to be able to take advantage of these breaks and put them to good writing use.

Tangentially related to my first point, there are also times when I have to acknowledge I just can’t write. Maybe because I’m exhausted, maybe because I can’t get more than five straight minutes at the keyboard. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t fit in something writing-related. Time spent waiting for guests to arrive can easily be spent reading, for example, whilst even when I’m scrubbing bathrooms, I can be musing on plot points and world-building. Again, this is all about taking advantage of your time however you can, although it does sometimes require a fair amount of mental gymnastics.

I’m not going to tell you to write in every spare minute, or give up every other hobby so you can produce more words. Plenty of writers do both, of course, but I find that kind of single-minded focus can be counter-productive and, frankly, exhausting. I want my writing time to be enjoyable, something I look forward to (because when it’s not, I think that really shows in the work), and fitting it naturally into the rest of my day is the best way to achieve that. However, by making the most of my time, by being prepared to write at the drop of a hat, and by setting myself small, realistic word count goals, I’ve found I can keep writing even when the rest of my life has exploded around me. I hope you can too.

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