One of the biggest challenges I face as a writer is finding the time to write. Somehow this seems to be a different problem from finding the time to do housework, school prep' or helping my own kids with their studying.
Today I'm asking three of my fellow writers from Crooked Cat Publishing how they manage to balance writing with work and family.
Jeff Gardiner is an acclaimed author whose short work and long fiction spans and explores genre boundaries. I was surprised to discover how close Jeff's story is to my own...
"I’ve had different phases in my writing career.
Firstly, I wrote whilst holding down a full-time job as a teacher. This proved difficult as teaching is a mentally and physically draining occupation with lots of marking and preparation. I attempted to use weekends, and holidays to best effect, but it certainly limited the word-count and the scope of what I could write. I admire anyone who manages to juggle a full-time job and writing, as writing is one of those things that requires space and time. It’s very difficult to just grab ten minutes or half an hour and expect to write something of any quality – particularly if writing a novel which needs lots of headspace and room for development.
Then I went part-time with my teaching. This sounds great but it also coincided with having children. Looking after babies and trying to write didn’t really work for me. It wasn’t until they went to school that I really began to find the space and time to write properly. Writing short stories during this time worked out quite well, but longer projects just seemed out of reach.
Once they started school (my kids are now 9 and 11) I then had from 9am until 2.30pm to call my own – at first for two days a week, now for three or four days a week, depending on other work commitments. The problems with working at home are the distractions and chores I have to factor in: going to the shops; phoning insurers, mechanics, plumbers et al; clearing out the guinea pig hutch; washing up… When you work at home it’s assumed you’re free to do other tasks, or are free for a chat and a coffee. I now find that I get less work done at the weekends and during school holidays, as I want to spend quality time with my children. It’s a personal choice.
It’s difficult to set sensible targets for writing and being creative. ‘Finish novel’ is something I write on my Things To Do list. Simple, eh? Writing demands thinking time, planning, editing, rewriting, plus time to recover from feelings of failure after many rejections. And I haven’t even begun to consider marketing and publicity yet…
If you love writing you’ll find time. But it isn’t easy – whatever people might think from the outside. You also need family and friends who understand what you’re doing and who offer support and positive comments."
Sue Barnard joined Crooked Cat’s editorial team in 2013. The Ghostly Father, her first novel, was released in February 2014, followed by Nice Girls Don’t in July 2014. As if to illustrate my point Sue got back in touch to tell me that, ironically, she was struggling for time and so to help her out I sent her some questions that I wanted to know the answer to.
Do you have a specific time and place set aside for writing?
Place, yes – time, no. In the summer I set up my laptop in the conservatory, which has a lovely view of the back garden. But in the winter it’s generally too cold in there, so I move into the front room and work there. With regard to time, I can only write when I feel inspired – and that isn’t something which can keep to a strict timetable. Unfortunately.
Do you ever feel selfish when you 'close the door on the rest of the world to write'?
Yes, all the time. I always feel as though I should be doing something less self-centred. Oddly enough, I don’t get this feeling of guilt when I’m editing or critiquing work for other writers. I wonder if that’s because women are somehow programmed to always put themselves last? It would be interesting to know if male writers have the same problem…
Are the people around you understanding and encourage you to make time to write?
Oh yes. My husband (who knows full well that my current WIP has been on the go for more than a year) has always been very supportive. He said to me recently, “You really ought to do some more of your own writing”. And now that he’s retired, he’s very happy to take over some of the household tasks (cooking, shopping, cleaning etc) to let me devote more time to it.
When you're in the middle of a great piece of writing what do you allow to go by the wayside? eg, cooking, garden etc.. or perhaps you allow ideas to form when doing these mundane jobs?
A bit of both. I’m not the world’s greatest housekeeper in any case (I’ve always felt that an immaculate house is a sign of a wasted life), so non-essential housework has never been high on my list of priorities. Having said that, I find that “mundane tasks” can actually be quite helpful,,because they give my creative brain time to rest and recollect. If I leave my desk and do something else for a while, I find that inspiration can strike when I least expect it. I’ve had some of my best writing ideas when I’ve been mowing the lawn, and on one occasion a complete stanza of a poem arrived, fully-formed, when I was stuck in a traffic jam.
Jennifer C Wilson is a marine biologist, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots on childhood holidays. She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating. Jennifer's debut novel was released by Crooked Cat in October 2015.
"I suppose I’m lucky in many ways, as being a singleton, my home commitments are really just to me. But, at the moment, and for the last year really, things have been very busy at work, and I often struggle to let go of what’s been happening in the office. As a result, I tend to do what I can during the week, but for writing time, mainly focus on the weekends, where I have a little more breathing space. I do try on weekday evenings though – it’s a little bit like going to the gym. It feels a huge effort to drag myself off the sofa and towards my desk, but once I’m there, and have started, I feel great for achieving even the tiniest thing.
During the week, I use my commute home (happily on the Metro, no driving involved!) to give myself a bit of distance from the office, and usually try to clear my head by reading fiction. I also swear by lists, treating my writing life like a second job really, with ‘to do’ lists everywhere, to keep things on my agenda. The fact that these lists often get moved from week to week is a whole other matter... Thursday night is my housework night, trying to get the flat in order as much as possible, so that once Friday night comes around, I don’t have to worry so much. Having less housework guilt means I can have a free head over the weekend. If I’ve set aside time for writing at the weekend, I try to have lots of little or different things to be doing, whether looking at the work-in-progress, competition entries or blog posts, so that if I’m struggling with one thing, I can switch, and still hopefully achieve something from my time.
It’s funny, but since being published, I find it easier to make myself sit down and take the time to write – it’s like I’ve been validated, and it’s no longer "just a hobby”, and so demands to be taken more seriously."
Emma Mooney is a writer of Scottish contemporary fiction and is the author of A Beautiful Game. and Wings to Fly.