I’ve completed the National Novel Writing Challenge (50,000 words in a month) several times resulting in the comedy novel with a sci-fi slant that is Housewife with a Half-Life and some literary novels under submission and revision. My first foray into the world of NaNoWriMo was when I had four children under the age of ten and some of the best posts come from that time of madness and perseverance. Like much in life there is no ‘right’ answer. There are pros and cons to the intensity of NaNoWriMo. On the plus side a regular routine and burgeoning wordcount, on the minus side, desperation may lead to writing that’s impossible to decipher after the fact, sentences that don’t actually make any sense and material that needs a good untangle. Other more structured and organised minds have found it a great way to produce whole series of novels. I’ve collated some of my posts below to give you some tips on whether NaNoWriMo is right for you, how to keep motivated and to give an insight into the reality of writing for your life for 30 days straight. The best of luck to all who endeavour either at this pace or more sedately over the course of time.
Most people’s lives are busy. For me it’s juggling the demands of four children under the age of twelve, and it’s true to say that there’s little time for quiet contemplation or courting the writing muse. But all would be writers are juggling, whether it’s college, full time work, caring for children, sick or the elderly there are very few that can dedicate full days to the endeavor of writing, especially when starting out.
So how is it possible to fit in writing around our lives? I started writing again when my youngest child was a newborn, I wrote around his naps. Then followed a period when all the children were tiny so I wrote when friends and family offered a babysitting hour. In the last few years in particular though, I’ve been more methodical in how I create writing time and since 2009 I’ve managed to complete a shot story collection, and 2.5 novels as well as many standalone flash fiction pieces.
These are some of the ways you can create opportunities for writing.
1) Create a quiet, dedicated writing space/time:. Whether it’s in a spare room or shed, the library or a coffee shop, it helps to move away from your normal space and its distractions. In my case I also need to find a time when it’s quiet and I don’t have interruptions from family. I’m an early bird so I choose to get up at 5am and write for 1 or 2 hours then, others prefer to write into the night.
2) Take part in writing challenges: The bulk of Housewife with a Half-Life was written during Nanowrimo, the 50,000 words in a month writing challenge. It a) allowed me to state my aim to my friends and family and b) claim writing time for this special challenge. They were happy to rally round to help me achieve the word count. I also discovered that by making myself write 1667 words per day no matter what, some of the material (if not all!) was very useable and even on a very busy day I could squeeze in writing time, either with early starts, while waiting for the kids at an activity for example, or even in ten minute bursts through the day.
3) Join an online or real world writing group. I joined a weekly peer review flash fiction writing hashtag on Twitter called #fridayflash. This is a group who post regular flash fiction and link to it on Fridays. While there’s no obligation to post every week, being part of a community makes me want to participate and keep involved and I’ve produced many pieces that would never otherwise exist, some of which can be developed further. I even won a short story competition by joining up some of the pieces I wrote for this meme. I’m also a member of a Dublin writing group, the feedback on pieces I write is invaluable.
4) Integrate musing time into your regular schedule. Walking is wonderful. John Boyne discovered the plot to The Absolutionist during a 1 hour walk. Bestselling author Murakami runs every day. Each time I go for a walk I find phrases and ideas arrive naturally without having to search for them. Spending time on other activities such as reading (of course), movies, art galleries and so on is feeding the imagination & helping make interesting associations that you can use in your writing. The late Ray Bradbury suggested that reading a short story every night and reading an interesting article was a great way of feeding passion and imagination necessary for writing well about the thing you love.
5) Get away from it all. After I had built up some short story publications and successes I applied to a writing retreat centre and was successful. I had my first uninterrupted week of writing ever in July. The arts council in Ireland and local authorities provide grants for people to go to retreat centres such as the Tyrone Gutherie Centre and Anam Cara once you can show evidence of your writing development.
Finding the time to write is not about finding great swathes of time (although it’s great when it happens). It’s about creating opportunities for inspiration and building up your wordcount consistently and incrementally. A daily wordcount challenge of even 500 words can help you accomplish that. The kind of writing that will come from these endeavours will be more considered and of higher quality.
Related to this article and talking about whether it’s the quantity of time or how you use it that’s important is this one on writing retreats.