Admittedly, the title of this blog sounds as if I have a magic answer that will apply to everyone, but the truth is, most of my advice is based on my own personal experience. Your own experience will be very different to mine and you may disagree completely with what I am about to say. I’m going to start with when to write.
When To Write – Wait For The Muse Or Go Ahead Without Them?
You may be one of these writers who thinks that they can only write when they feel inspired, and if that works for you, that’s awesome. I have a cousin who dips into poetry whenever the mood takes her and swears blind this is the only way to work. I don’t know much about poetry but if you’re writing a substantial work of fiction, I’d say anything of 5,000 words or more, it is best to write little and often.
Last year my tutor at university recommended that we spend much more time on the editing than on the writing and that this is the mark of a good writer. I would say set aside three times as much editing time as writing time. So, if you have two hours to spare, spend half an hour on drafting a piece and just getting some words on the screen, or paper if you’re old school. Then spend the rest of the time editing it. This, of course, does not apply to NaNoWriMo, when you spend zero time on editing, but that’s a story for another blog.
As for the hour of the day to choose, I think this varies from person to person. I personally do my best writing in the middle of the night. It’s not very practical or healthy for that matter, but it certainly explains why I was at my most productive in the years when Luke was a baby and going through autism-fuelled insomnia. Now that we have figured out a way to get him sleeping through the night, I am much less productive.
It should be noted that I do not recommend trying this time of day for writing. The majority of people will produce terrible work when tired and it would affect their confidence. You know how Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober” and we all idolise him and take his advice? Well, I don’t drink, so writing when I was delirious from exhaustion was my version of writing drunk.
Whatever time of day you choose, make it part of your daily routine. You might get up and write for half an hour before breakfast when your mind is fresh. You might make it a lunchtime thing. Or you might decide to do it while your kids are watching TV after dinner – the dishes can wait. But whatever time you choose, stick to it and make it a part of your life that you would miss if you didn’t do it. That is the best way to ensure you keep moving forward and you don’t get stuck in a block.
The times when you might struggle will be holidays and vacations. Despite being a British-English speaker and faithful to my British spellings, I do love the word vacation, because it’s so much more accurate than holiday. On vacation you vacate your life. What a gorgeous idea!
So, if you’re on vacation and are away from home you might not have your laptop with you. You might be in a different routine. And you’re going to think that you can’t still write but for me, it’s the opposite. I still write, but I do it in a different way. Being amongst different cultures and meeting new people is the most inspiring thing to me. I make a big deal of buying a notebook and pen when I’m gone, or borrowing a pen from whoever works behind the hotel bar and writing notes on napkins. As long as you keep writing something that is still work. You could even write postcards to yourself, telling yourself things that happened but in a really creative way. Or even telling yourself things that didn’t happen and giving the postman a thrill!
Embrace The Distractions or Avoid Them?
Again, it’s different for everyone, but I have now tried both writing alone with no distractions and writing out in the open with thousands of people around me. I think what you have to ask yourself if why that way of writing appeals to you. Until last year I would have said I need silence and peace from distractions to write anything of quality. But then I remembered that I wrote the first five Leger stories, which sold pretty well and were enjoyed by thousands, with Luke in the room and the TV on. That was my phase of writing after dinner when he was watching the CBeebies Bedtime Hour.
Really, I had developed this idea of perfection. I had to have a tidy office. It had to have no noise. I had to be alone. But I had already proved it not to be true. I could write perfectly well in a messy living room with the laptop on my knees, Upsy Daisy dancing around on a screen in front of me and my son jumping around mimicking everything he saw. I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. It was my own hang-up that was getting in the way of me continuing to write. I had to get out of my own way.
That’s not to say that everyone will be able to write in a variety of different settings. If you write as a hobby, you can definitely afford the luxury of only writing in the absolute correct setting. But my livelihood depends on my writing income. As a full-time writer, I can’t afford to be picky. That’s why I had to figure out why I couldn’t work in a certain place and make peace with that.
I can imagine the hate that I will get for what I just wrote, all from writers who will complain that they just can’t do it in a place that doesn’t suit them. I believe that I wanted it bad enough, so I found a way to work anywhere. If writing in a coffee shop is distracting and makes you feel edgy and irritated, wait until you have to write a scene where the protagonist feels on edge. Write it there. If you need to get deep and meaningful, sit somewhere quiet where you can really tap into those emotions. Use the way different settings make you feel to your advantage, but please don’t let it stop you from writing.
Editing is another matter. I would definitely recommend choosing somewhere you won’t be disturbed when you edit. You’ll need to concentrate on perfecting the choice of words, the grammar used and cutting unnecessary passages.
I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on where is best for them and why in the comments below!