Want to write a novel, but juggling a day job, commute and other such commitments? I’ve written novels and screenplays while shuttling back and forth to London, and here are five tips that helped me make the most of my limited time…
Hello, folks, Mark Stay here. I am a full time writer now. I’m very lucky to be so. Hasn’t always been that way. In fact, the book I’ve got coming in February, the Crow Folk, the first draft of that was written while I had a full time job, and a commute, and all that kind of palaver. So I thought you might find it handy to have five tips that worked for me for writing around a day job.
Tip number one: spot and schedule. Find gaps in your day. Doesn’t have to be long. Can be 10, 15, 20 minutes. Find those little gaps in the day where you can write, and schedule them. Put them in your diary, your electronic diary, paper diary, put them in there, make them a fixed point in time, and stick to them. There’s a temptation to be flexible with these times because it’s “not a proper job”. I’m very protective of these slots and I treat them with the same weight that I would with the same appointments that I made with my day job. So, find a slot. Book it. Stick to it.
Tip number two: shut down distractions. You know, if you’ve only got 10, 15, 20 minutes in which to write during the day… any kind of interruption is just going to gobble into that time in no time at all. So you need to shut things out. If you’re in an office, move away from your desk. If possible, find another place to write, put on headphones to cut out the noise. You’ve got those nice noise-canceling headphones or you can get something like this, like three quid from, you know, from a hardware store. I would have — if I was sitting at my desk — I did have people come up to me and say, you know, ask me a work question. So I ended up putting stickers like this on my headphones and they actually worked. They thought I was mental, but it did actually work. I also found apps that play nature noises… very, very useful. Particularly when I was on the train. It just shut out all of that extraneous noise. Some people use playlists. I’m kind of too old. I get too distracted by the music these days for playlists. But woodland noises, nature noises, they really, really work for me. So yes, find a quiet spot, shut the door, make it clear to your loved ones and colleagues that you are not to be disturbed. I have a theory that Stephen King’s The Shining is really just about a guy just trying to make his daily word count, but keeps getting interrupted.
Tip number three; Finish mid-sentence. There’s nothing more likely to gobble up your writing time than you staring into space thinking, er, what do I write next? So I’ve got into the habit of finishing in midsentence, particularly when my train was just pulling into the station. That meant next time I started writing, I knew exactly where to start. I just finished that sentence and before I knew it, my fingers are clacking on the keys and I’m writing and I’m off and I’ve got the momentum going. Momentum is everything.
Tip number four: Always be thinking. So you might not be able to write all the time, but you should be able to engage your brain for some good, solid thinking as often as possible. Five minutes on your hand? Just skip back to where you last got stuck. What were the problems? What are you writing next? And then jot them down. Just jot those little notes down. Send them to yourself as little email memos, as audio memos, scraps of paper on a Post-it note, whatever, because… Write them down, because if you’re anything like me, within five minutes, you’ll have completely forgotten it again.
Tip number five: Write early, edit late. Now, this is a personal one, perhaps more to do with me being middle-aged and sluggish. But I found that when I worked on new stuff in the morning, I was bright and breezy, full of energy. After a day at work, I was completely tired and sluggish, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t write. What I would usually do was just edit the stuff that I’d written that morning. So, you know, all the energy and inventiveness and creative energy went into the morning stuff. And on the journey home, I was just basically fixing stuff as I went along. That actually leads to a pretty clean first edit.
The other method I talk about is a thing I call “Be kind, rewind.” So whenever I get stuck, I go back and edit the thing that I just wrote. I go back and fix it and make changes and that just gets the fingers tapping at the keys. And then when you get to the moment where you are blocked, where you were stuck, WHOOSH, you just crashed right through it.
There you go, folks. Five tips for working around a day job. That’s what worked for me. Anyway, I find the little and often approach really, really works. It’s something we use over on the podcast. The Bestseller Experiment podcast. We have this thing, the 200 word day challenge, where all you have to do is write 200 words a day. You can do that in that ten, fifteen, twenty minutes and then you are done. You can stop and then go about your day.
I appreciate it’s going to be difficult for some people, particularly in lockdown times. You know, if you’re in a small house and you’ve got all your family crammed in there with you, it is hard. But if you can let them know what you’re doing, you know, hopefully they can they can help you and you can all help each other. But yeah, little and often. And that’s what worked for me. What works for you? Let me know. Pop something in the comments below and get a conversation going.