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How to write a book when you're busy

Girl being too busy to write

My #apageaday initiative started so well.

By mid-January, I was 7,000 words into a story I loved. It had a plot. It had 3D characters. It had sentences I didn't hate, and the same cannot be said of previous novel attempts.

Then I got asked to pitch a load of feature ideas, and I did it a bit too well because most were commissioned.

As a freelance writer, I cannot afford, financially or professionally, to turn down work. Just in case it hadn't before, the month I had set aside to write a second book took on the air of largesse.

I knew it was a luxury but now the wolves, and my very nice newspaper editor, were at my door.

Certainly, I could have risen at 3 am to get in my words, worked a 9-6 and edited in the evening – it's a strategy most writers employ to simultaneously write and still be able to eat.

Except my early mornings were given over to HIIT work outs in preparation for an upcoming holiday, and my evenings were taken up by life admin and (occasionally) seeing my partner, and my weekends were dominated by more work and socialising...

...and the excuses piled up until my book-writing stalled and I finally got it: I didn't get work – I got busy.

How are you supposed to cram writing around life? Do you say no to every invitation, every night out, and chain yourself to your writing desk?

Do you relocate to a remote island and throw your phone into the sea?

Do you let your washing pile up, and your personal hygiene lapse, and your bills go unpaid, while you administer to your art?

Most aspiring writers will identify with at least some of the above, if they haven't tried them out. But none are realistic, not in the long-term.

So as I plonk myself back in front of my screen, and get down even a sentence by the end of the day, here are four tried-and-tested tips to help you write when you're busy.

1. Plan

This will be anathema to writers who prefer to wing it – writers much like myself, in fact. But if you only have short windows of time to write, you need to plan otherwise every session is nullified by dread about where you left off, and how you'll pick up the thread, and what's your story actually about again..?

A solid, tangible outline breaks down the task, making each section seem manageable and keeping your writing organised. A Word doc just won't cut it I'm afraid; I use Scrivener and divide chapters up into folders and sub-documents.

2. Make somewhere to write at home

My sofa is where I relax, binge on Netflix and occasionally have lazy sex – it is not a place where I feel able to write.

You never know when the muse might take you, so having somewhere that you associate with writing at home is really helpful; as soon as you sit down, the writing switch flicks on and you're away.

Lack of space is not an excuse: in my one-bed flat, I cobbled together a writing space by moving my sofa forward and assembling a desk from a laundry basket and an empty crate.

3. Say no (sometimes)

I am a woman of extremes. You say, write a second book and I think, adopt a nun-like existence in which I forego social interaction and subsist solely on Ryvita.

It's not viable, and Ryvita gets old really, really quickly. So try this instead: say no occasionally. Say yes to yoga class and Sybil's birthday party and that exhibition you're dying to see, and say no to that quick coffee with Rodriquez on Saturday and after-work drinks on Wednesday and the second yoga class that you're only attending out of guilt because you already paid the fee.

4. Take your time

Chances are that writing your book will be one of the most important things you do in your life.

You do not need to get published in the next six months, so if life gets in the way of writing for a few weeks, don't panic.

Making your book the absolute best it can be takes time, whether that's ten weeks or ten years, so give yourself a break.

Ostensibly, you should enjoy the process – so why knacker/kill/hate yourself for the sake of 1,000 words?

And just because you aren't writing, it doesn't mean you're not working on your book. Listen to conversations, look around your office, read one thing a day that makes you think – then take notes on your phone.

When you come back to your work you will have a fertile thought bank of new ideas.

If you're a writer in your bones, you're always writing, really, even if you don't have a pen in your hand.


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