Writing careers, like many other artistic pursuits, often come coupled with a job that allows us to sustain them. And whether or not this job is connected to writing (or topics which may inform your future work), it can be difficult to understand where writing fits in all of this. Writing can feel like a luxury, despite it being the (real) reason you get up in the morning. But, frequently, you hear the same tired lines: ‘make time’, ‘use lunch breaks’, ‘exhaustion is an attitude thing, so be more driven and write after work’, or my favourite, ‘do the bare minimum at your job so you can have some energy left to write after’ (whereby you run the danger of not doing any of the two jobs well).
And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some of these do take place. It’s hard to refute the fact that you have to put time aside (though I remain unconvinced by the notion of ‘making’ time). In my teaching job, during term this year I got to the office at 5am every day so that I would have a few hours before teaching sessions started, or before any e-mails appeared. I used to write over nights as a student – very early morning is the next best thing. It did, however, become increasingly hard to keep that momentum as the year went on. Frustrated, I asked others how they did it. Most people I asked even had, unlike me, families to look after at home. What I learnt, is that I was looking at this issue the wrong way. It’s not really ‘only’ about time but about (intellectual, emotional) space, and having enough time to provide for it. it is of no use if you have an hour or two a day to write, but you then spend it cataloguing the list of job-related problems you’ll need to solve once the hour is up. You could have a weeklong holiday and this won’t necessarily translate to more productivity than a few hours. So here are a few tips to consider.
However, it’s important to say that a lot of discussions about so-called writing strategies can easily lead to the trap of seeing writing as a rather desperate and unpleasant situation (a worry, an urgency about its ending, despite the love of it being that it never really ends). If on top of the job/writing pressures you add the frustration of not being able to produce as much work as you’d hoped, you may miss out on the tiny daily successes as your project grows (or doesn’t).
- Create new routines, especially if your day revolves mostly around a fixed-place job. In the summer, for example, I always write outside (with such long winters, it always feels like I’m breaking a rule). When at home, during heavy writing periods, I rearrange my tiny flat so that my desk is the centre of it all. Everything else suddenly outs itself as a distraction to avoid.
- Stay offline, away from emails and phone calls.
- Try to leave the start of the next day’s writing done before you finish. If you don’t have much time to write, it’s always better to write less and have a direction than to then face a blank page (and mind). It’s harder to connect with stories when faced with emptiness.
- Be tidy. Though I’m very guilty of not following my own advice on this, clutter will affect your concentration.
- Whether any of these speak to you or not, understand that you will (and you must) learn to fail. But commit to said failures. No matter how much you plan, some days you may not write as much or even at all. But these failures are also times when you work things out, when you put to practice your decisions and are able to see more clearly whether or not your previous choices have worked.
Gonzalo C. Garcia is a writer and Senior Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing in the Warwick Writing Programme. His recent novel, We Are The End is heavily influenced by his marked interest in Santiago de Chile, video games, digital culture and everyday constructions of narrative. It was nominated for the Edinburgh Festival First Novel Award 2017 and launched in October with Galley Beggar Press.
Directed by Maureen Freely and David Morley, the Warwick Writing Programme at University of Warwick prides itself in having writing staff who not only teach but are also published authors involved in the writing industry and literary scenes. It has just opened an exciting PhD programme in Creative Writing (https://goo.gl/3pdiB9) alongside its internationally recognised flagship BA and MA programmes.
For more on the Warwick Writing Programme: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/writingprog/