How did you do it?

me and g

It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot over the last couple of weeks since Her Shadow came out. Sadly, I don’t have the luxury of sitting in a grand drawing room, swathed in a pink chiffon, with a serf to cater to my every lighting, tea and biscuit requirement while I pour my masterpiece into a typewriter. To be fair, is there anyone who does that any more? I suppose a lot of people ask me that question specifically because I have a full time job and a four-year-old daughter.

So, how did I do it? Answer: slowly.

Sorry, if you wanted a click bait “you won’t believe how she did it!” piece, you’re in the wrong place!

I am fortunate to have a very supportive and understanding partner in my wife, who understands that writing is a very important part of who I am. But even with that kind of cheer leading at home, there is life. It was John Lennon who famously said that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. There is washing up, gardening, shopping, the school run, family commitments. You know the drill.

When I wrote my first novel, Four Movements, it was in the time before we had our little girl. I committed around 45 minutes every day for 80 days to the first draft with the aim of writing 1,000 words a day. In the space of less than three months I had a first draft. Rough, in need of major rewrites, yes, but it was there. I then spent a year redrafting. Relatively speaking, a short gestation period for a first novel. Her Shadow was an entirely different task as I now had a toddler. There was no way I could guarantee a 45 minute slot every day to write in peace and quiet. I did actually try it (ok, all parents of toddlers, stop laughing now). After a frustrating few months of berating myself for just not getting anything done, I realised I had to accept that this time it was going to be very different.

Here was the plan I came up with:

  1. Set a realistic goal. Getting 1,000 words written in a day was simply no longer possible and the sooner I accepted that, the easier it would be. I dramatically revised that to 250 words. To start with, it felt almost pointless, such a small number. But the truth was, if I managed it, at the end of a week, I might have 1,750 words to my name, which would be infinitely better than none. And, who knows, I might have a spurt of productivity and get an extra 15 minutes and do some more.
  2. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes it just didn’t happen. For one reason or another – because my girl decided that bedtime was for wimps, or I was completely out of energy and needed to collapse in front of Netflix. That’s ok. If you pause, you don’t go backwards, it will all still be there tomorrow.
  3. Ask for time away from home as a ‘gift’. Ok, so it wasn’t gift wrapped, but often at a weekend, my wife would be very happy for me to escape to a coffee shop for an hour to write undisturbed (while hopefully looking impossibly intellectual and creative to all other customers).
  4. Just get on with it. Once I stopped obsessing about how little I was writing, and just did it, I felt much better. Importantly, I gave up on the notion of writing when I was ‘inspired’. I think it is a truism that most writers will agree with that waiting for inspiration is a great theory, but it doesn’t get the job done. You just have to put pen to paper and write. It might be rubbish, and you might edit it or delete it later on, but it might just be great.
  5. Accept it will take time. It took almost two years to complete the first draft of Her Shadow, with many stops and starts along the way. As my daughter has grown older – she is four now – it has become easier to write at home.

So, as a parent writing this at 6.25am, with a small child beside me watching My Little Pony (it’s Sunday morning, so cartoons are essential), I say to you – if you want to do it, you can. Just be real, give yourself a chance and make a start.

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