Monday, May 2nd, 2016
By Paul Maunder
We’re all too busy. It’s a symptom of the modern age. In fact I’m too busy to write this, and you’re probably too busy to read it. So I’ll keep it brief.
When friends learn that I’ve written a novel, whilst holding down a respectable full-time job, with two young children, the first question is usually where do you find the time?
While there are glib answers (I just sleep less) or martyred answers (I have zero social life), the reality is that I’ve learnt to fit writing in around a busy schedule. And slowly, almost invisibly, the work gets done. It can be frustrating and tiring, but it enables me to keep moving towards my ambitions. And in a more abstract sense, it keeps me in touch with who I am.
So, here are my top tips for anyone who wants to write but finds their time curtailed by work, family or belligerent TV detectives.
- Learn to write in cafes. You’ll spend a fortune on coffee, but cafes are great for twenty minute writing sessions. You only need a pen and a notebook. The most important thing is to have a think beforehand about what you’re going to write. A long queue at the till is handy for this. In the time it takes to drink a grande latte you can write two hundred words. Then you get to walk out feeling smugly artistic.
- Write on your phone. Most smartphones have some kind of notes function, meaning that you can write notes, ideas or snippets of prose anywhere. For a while it felt very wrong to be writing prose on a phone, but once I’d got over myself I found it liberating. Just don’t get distracted by all those other more shiny apps…
- Lunch is for normal people. Most people have a lunch-break, and seem to squander it on shopping and talking to other human beings. For a writer this is a precious opportunity. Grab a sandwich, or ideally make one in advance, find a quiet spot and get a page of prose down. The challenge here is finding the quiet spot. My favourite is a church near my office. It’s always cold, always empty and the pews are ascetic. Perfect.
- This is mainly for people with spouses, and particularly for people with spouses and small children. Disappearing into your study for hours on end can be a tricky move when the children are covered in yoghurt and screaming. The solution is to negotiate pockets of time in advance, with suitable trade-offs. I’ve found that one hour of writing equals one and a half hours of yoga, or two 5am starts with a teething baby.
- Give up telly. And that includes those box-sets. No matter how addictive the latest Scandinavian detective series, no matter how ‘instructive’ the storytelling, you’ve got to give it up. Your evenings will become as blank pieces of paper …
- Sugar is better than caffeine. Maybe this is a personal thing, but whilst I love coffee almost as much as my own children, I find that sugar is better for keeping me awake into the night. Sit down at your desk with a pot of coffee and a bag of jelly babies and you’ll write long into the small hours. Kerouac only used Benzedrine because he couldn’t get jelly babies in New York.
- Peppa Pig is your friend. Another one for those with small children. Persuade yourself of the educational value of a tablet. The little darlings are learning so much, they’re in touch with technology, and they’re so quiet. Meanwhile you’re scribbling away. A win-win scenario.
- Finally, go with the flow. There will be good days and bad days. You might find three hours miraculously opening up before you, or you may only find ten minutes in a quiet spot and then discover that your phone is out of battery. Any kind of routine is very hard to achieve. But you’ll soon see the pages start to multiply, and that should be all the encouragement you need to keep going. It almost becomes a game – find the writing slot. And if you’re writing something every day then, irrespective of who pays the bills, you are a writer. Hang on to that. It’s important. You are a writer.
Paul Maunder is a novelist and freelance journalist. With a full-time job and two children covered in yoghurt. @pmaunderpaul.