I’ve been thinking a bit recently about all the things I do with my life. Starting the ‘How Do You Fit It All In?‘ series has made me realise how changeable my weeks are, even within the themed routine I set myself.
It’s been interesting as well to work out how to get back into doing everything after taking almost a year off work. I wasn’t completely idle, of course, but 2017 was a lot less productive work-wise than most of my years. And yet still I managed to publish a book.
So if you want to write a book, where do you find the time?
In reality I imagine the answer is different for everyone. Whatever your routine is, if you’re desperate to write a book you’ll probably be able to find a way to slot it in. It won’t just fit perfectly into all those reams of spare time you don’t have. You’ll need to move some stuff around, and make some sacrifices.
I’ve tried to write books in the past and I’ve found it really difficult. In 2015 I wrote a novel and it took a lot of determination. It wasn’t very good, either, and I ended up doing nothing with it. Before last year, all my experiences with trying to write books had left me similarly frustrated and procrastinatey and annoyed.
But in 2017 when I sat down to write Windows Forensics Cookbook, I found it really easy.
At the time I thought it was the subject matter.
All the books I’ve tried to write in the past have been creative endeavours. Not only was Windows Forensics Cookbook not especially creative, it also wasn’t very interesting. I hadn’t actually wanted to write it, I’d just been asked repeatedly by the publishers until they wore me down and I agreed.
The subject matter was very dry. There wasn’t much room for fun. It was all screenshots and technical detail and investigative stuff. I decided this was probably the reason why it was easy to write: since there wasn’t much room for manoeuvre, the creative process was cut down to its bare bones, and the editing was similarly stripped back.
I think that probably was part of the reason, but it wasn’t all of it, because this year I’m writing First Steps In Digital Forensics and I’m finding that much harder. Why?
- Although the subject matter is similar, it’s less technical and therefore more creative than Windows Forensics Cookbook.
- I haven’t signed a deal with a publisher yet, so all my deadlines are artificial, i.e. created by me rather than externally defined.
- I’m doing a normal amount of day job work again. Last year I could barely think through the fog of medicine, and writing the book was the one slot in every week where I made myself try to act like an intelligent human being. Once I’d done that, I went back to near-zero for the rest of the week. Having other things in my life again means I need to prioritise them and the new book around each other, and of course that makes things more complex.
But all is not lost. I am managing to write the book. How?
1. Make a time slot
Different people write best in different ways. That’s why you might not have succeeded even if you’ve tried to put someone else’s advice into action.
Also, what works for you at one point in your life might not work a year or so later. When I wrote a novel in 2015, I did my writing first thing every weekday morning. At the time it was the only bit of the day I could easily carve out, and I had too much on my plate the rest of the time to be able to spend longer than about an hour on it.
Last year I couldn’t get up in the mornings. It took me ages to get out of bed, and when I did get up I was groggy most of the time. I’d normally have at least one day per week when I was a bit less ill though, and for some reason this was often a Thursday. So Thursday afternoons became book writing afternoons.
This year I started out by trying to keep it to Thursday afternoons, but there’s too much other stuff going on in my life during the week, and I kept having to postpone it so I could do something else that required my attention. So instead I’ve switched to weekend writing days, which is currently working well.
The point of this story: there will probably be some time, somewhere in your week, where you can sacrifice what you were already doing and slot writing in there. It won’t be easy. But having a routine will help.
2. Be flexible
Having said all that… some days you just get the urge to write. Some days you happen to finish all your allocated work early and you have a couple of hours free.
Take advantage of that. But…
3. Don’t wait for the creative bug to strike
…because it won’t. Or rather it will, but it’ll strike randomly, for short periods of time, and not always on the subject you’re trying to write about.
I have brunch at the garden centre a couple of times per week, and normally I find some inspiration while I’m there, but it’s hardly ever relevant to whatever I’m writing at the time. It’s normally an idea for a new novel, or a couple of sentences that might become a blog post at some point, or – like the particular instance above – a sudden inspiration regarding how to relate Kierkegaard’s philosophy to ritual practices in modern witchcraft.
Sometimes creativity isn’t what’s needed. Sometimes what you need is to sit down and make yourself write a chapter that bores you so much you feel like you never want to write again when it’s over.
That’s why rewarding yourself afterwards is so important. For me, it’s also why it’s important to have long breaks between writing periods. I normally work on each project once a week. If I work on them more than that, I start dreading them, and that’s a position I don’t want to be in.
Again, like I said at the beginning: everyone’s different. What works for me might not work for you. But I structure my writing time by looking for a sensible-ish slot where it’ll fit into my week and forcing myself to write during that time.
How do you make writing work for you?