There’s this battle that writers face.
It starts off with school. While you’re there, it seems like nothing in the world eats time like school. You spend all day there, you come home, then there’s a stack of homework and study waiting, demanding to be fed time in a loud growl, like a pet monster you never asked for. Then university, which isn’t much different, except the stack of homework and study is a bit harder, a bit more time consuming. The time-eating monster grows.
Then there's the whole ‘being a grown up’ thing, having a house which needs to be cleaned and meals that need to be cooked and rent that needs to be paid – usually through a job which eats up time and energy like you never thought possible. And don't forget the people, the family members, the partners, the friends, who all like to be spoken to and fed and stroked. Wait, that’s cats. I haven’t even started on pets.
And that thing, what’s it called? Sleep? That thing, that knowledgeable people always go on about, not to mention your mother and some old lady in the street who claims to know you. Everyone thinks that you should get a full night’s sleep, or else something ghastly will no doubt happen. Your brain will slowly and quietly slide out of your ears. That sort of something.
And there’s also that mythical thing, called relaxing, where you’re supposed to, you know, forget all your worries and watch all the waves on a beach for a while. Or whatever. I don’t know relaxing particularly well, because, let’s face it, relaxing is generally time spent with this low mutter going on at the back of my head. Something like, I should be writing, I should be sitting at my desk right now, and I really really should be writing, and did I mention how I should be writing and instead I’m doing nothing? Because I actually should be writing.
Here in New Zealand, there’s this cheese advertisement which involves an old man with a deep voice talking about how ‘good things take time’. I’d really rather not think about how that relates to cheese, but it does, however, relate to writing for a lot of us. The fact is, writing needs a lot of time to be good*. And the other fact is, life doesn’t provide a lot of time. And that’s true for all of us, even incredibly successful writers. I recently came across a brief interview with Stephanie Meyer where she talked about how she’s had frustratingly little time to write in the last year or so.
The battle against time is a lifelong one, people. It doesn’t go away. It just finds new ways to be complicated. It’s an innovative monster. People often talk about time management, but to be honest, I have no idea what time management actually means. Every time I try to manage time, life happens. In my experience, the battle against time is often a battle best won by stealth.
Being creative with where and when you write is a good start. Last year, when I was working on a first draft, I decided I’d take any time I could get during my working day. No matter how pathetically short, no matter how odd. I wrote during lunch breaks, sitting at the bus stop, on the bus. A lot of writers mess with their sleep schedule. Anthony Trollope wrote massive novels, and famously used to write from 5am to 8am every morning before work. If he finished something before the time was up, he’d immediately start something new. And when NZ author Margaret Mahy was juggling her job as a librarian and parenting her two young daughters, her writing time often started at midnight and went until 4am. She also happened to be known among her co-workers for being a librarian who often fell asleep at work.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s not necessarily about the quantity of time. It’s also about the quality. For me, three hours of uninterrupted writing at a cafe works way better than six hours of sort of writing, and sort of checking the internet, and also sort of watching tv. It can be a lot easier to schedule a block of intense devoted writing time, where you go to the library, or a cafe, or unplug the internet and close the study door** than to schedule something longer, and potentially more easily sidetracked.
And you know, that relaxation time is actually important too. In order to be able to keep going and keep coming up with new ideas, it’s important to stop every now and then and read a good book, watch TV or defeat family members on playstation. Having some time out isn't something to feel guilty over. I would also recommend a full night’s sleep, but coming from me it would probably be the most hypocritical advice in the world. Instead, imagine that advice coming from a world class expert, or your mother, or one of your pets. They probably have more authority on the subject.
Also, don’t angst over how long or short a length of time it takes to write a novel. It can take days to write a novel, it can take years, it can take decades. There is no right length of time. I'll repeat that. There is no right length of time. And um, yeah. That’s also possibly slightly hypocritical advice coming from me as well, because I don’t think anyone in the world worries about finishing things the way I do. Definitely imagine your cat saying it.
How do you fight the time monster?
ETA: Make sure you read the comments! People have been saying interesting stuff!
*I do know of some awesome exceptions to that rule, who can write utterly stunning novels, in, like, two days or whatever. CoughHannahMoskowitzCough. I regard that sort of thing as rare and wonderful. If you’re one of those writers, chances are I would rather like to swap brains with you.
**One of my life ambitions is to actually have a study. With a door that I can close. Bliss.