Time to Write

How often have we heard that worn out cliché? ‘I’d write a book, if only I had the time.’ As if that was the only reason anyone didn’t write a book. I even hear writing students, claim, ‘I can’t find the time to write!’ They’re not alone in this, nearly all writers feel that the outside world conspires to steal precious writing time from them. If only everyone would just go away and leave them alone, they’d have written a trilogy or best-selling series by now. 

Sometimes the excuse is genuine, sometimes, (often) it’s not about not having time, it’s about procrastination and it’s about fear. Today I’m not going to address ‘fear’, that’s for another time. But procrastination is another matter. 

Make procrastination your friend. By which I mean, use that desire to do anything but write, to organise your time so that you not only have the time, it is in your schedule.

If you want to write, you need to find an hour in the day, and a place to write in. Preferably a place and time without interruptions.

For me, this meant I had organise my life. Who doesn’t love a list and a system? I realised I needed to clear headspace in order to write. I didn’t want the question of, ‘What’s for dinner,’ in my head. Nor did I want to stand in front of my wardrobe worrying about what to wear. What helped with the former was finding the The Batch Lady and a day in the week that I dedicate purely to organising my life.

Sunday mornings I cook for the week. Everything from evening meals to lunchtime soups, sandwiches, cakes and treats – I will shop, cook and put in the freezer. I have now used this system to batch/organise my clothes for the week. I will work out what I’m doing and, even more importantly, what the weather is planning on doing? Then I will organise a rough base line of clothes for the week and put them together, including the underwear. Sunday afternoon, I will pull out work-day Zoom outfits, dog walking clothes, comfy writing outfit (OK, sometimes these are PJs), all lined up and ready for the week ahead. 

Lists are another tool. I learnt from the brilliant Maria McHale that lists need to be organised as well as written. Sunday evening, it is time to sit down and make a list of everything that needs doing. And I mean everything – marking, lesson planning, shopping, laundry, writing the blog, reply to emails. Then my daily word count aim– I can realistically aim for 300 words a day as a good baseline. If I do more, then that’s a bonus. Next, where am I going be during the week? Do I need to go into town at all? Am I meeting someone for coffee? Can I combine any activities? It all goes on the list.

Then I go through and number each item. 1 for urgent – this has to be done by me and/or earns money, 2 not so urgent – I should do it, could earn money in the future or is important to me, 3 – not urgent, 4 – delegate to someone else.

Writing is always a 1 or a 2 depending on what else I have on.

When I have my separate lists, then I look at the WIP. Have I stalled and am I using no time as an excuse? Do I need to do some plotting, or go back and check that there is a set up for the next bit? Is my timeline working or is my subconscious telling me I need to check I’ve not gone back in time (by mistake) or skipped Christmas or a vital event? In my schedule is some writing time allocated to checking back and sometimes dedicating that day’s session to fixing things. 

I used to think being organised was dull, that my creative brain needed room to play in order to be free. What I have discovered is that without boundaries, my creativity sits in a corner too frightened to come out. Like a child needs a fence round the garden, it needs perimeters where it can feel safe to go into some of the darker places in my head. At the moment, I am writing psychological thriller, I need to know that after a certain amount of time in the mind of a psychopath I am going to be able to come out, take a walk, make a cup of tea and re-join the world. Without the lists, the schedule, the batching and the organisation, I’m just a woman doing ironing thinking murderous thoughts. 

Published by Sara Bailey

Writer and Programme Leader for the degree in Creative Writing at University of Highlands & Islands

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