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May 20, 2016

Have You Got The Write Time?

by Byddi Lee

I’d just immigrated to America. I knew no-one and my husband worked all day, leaving me home alone to write. Pretty ideal conditions, I discovered, to write a novel. As I networked, joined writing groups and integrated into my new life, the population of people I knew rose. I’m immensely grateful for that, even though it’s a challenge to get down to writing now. Emigrating again, though effective, would probably be overkill.

Most of us juggle a job, a family and the demands of a busy life. Once you find the time to write, there’s still the challenge of finding the energy to write. And yes, you do need energy to write. Whilst you may be sitting still and the only thing moving is, hopefully, your fingers, your brain is working hard. While writing cannot be considered as part of your fitness regime, your brain takes up to 20% of the energy your body uses.

Some believe in inviting the muse, while others insist that a successful writer must sit down every day and force themselves to commit something, anything to paper.

I find that I employ both strategies, the later lending itself to better productivity and keeps me on target. Were I to rely solely on waiting for the muse to arrive, I’d probably never have finished a single manuscript, so I try to write every day.

However, I do succumb to the muse when I can. Right now, I’m writing this on an airplane, a long-haul flight from Ireland to California. Why? One reason is guilt – I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and I’ve found it hard to keep to my writing routine. Another is deadlines – I know I’ll be jet lagged on the other side, and right now I feel energized. I want to capitalize on that. Though the biggest reason, by far, is that when I began thinking about what I would write for this post, I began composing it in my head. That’s the muse striking. It is like having an itch and writing scratches it.

The muse is not to be scoffed at. It can be very powerful, invading the night and keeping a writer awake in the wee hours. I’ve learned to keep a pen and notepad by the bed, beside “my spot” on the sofa, on the kitchen island, and in my handbag. I’ve stopped short at having a pen and pad in the bathroom only because the paper would get wet in the shower, which is, irritatingly, where I get many rushes of inspiration. I’ve often composed great prose there, then rushed to towel off, trying to write down the words before they slide through the mesh of my brain and down the plughole.

The night, or rather morning, very early morning, I wrote my first ever blog post, I had been lying wake for hours with words bouncing off the insides of my skull driving me crazy. Eventually, I got up and wrote…and after an hour I’d written a post called “A blog to a Muse”… and a blog was born.
When the muse strikes, I find can sit anywhere and write on anything – a laptop and note book, the back of an envelope, anywhere I can trap and tie down that prose as it races around in my head. The muse can be a flaky friend and may not visit of her own free will for long stretches of time. Sometimes she needs to be coaxed in and that is where the regular routine comes in.

Some people like to write at particular times of day. Steven King writes in the morning, using the afternoon for naps and writing letters, keeping the evenings for family and leisure time. Rudyard Kipling was an afternoon guy, while John O’Hara wrote during the night and slept late into the afternoon. There are morning birds and night owls. Figuring out which you are will help you set your writing schedule.

For many it is hard to simply carve time out of a busy life to write. For others, the time is tauntingly there, but the motivation to sit down to write is elusive.

One source of motivation for me is my writing group meetings. I like to submit for each meeting, held once every two weeks. As a submission is 15 pages, that means I’ll create at least 30 fresh pages every month for my work in progress, not including short pieces and blogs.

Our writing group uses social media to encourage each other also. We have a group on messenger and post the number of minutes we write each day. By committing to sit down and write for a minimum of 30 minutes we discovered that we often continued to write for longer every day. It was just a matter of building up our writing “muscles.” We also realized that we could squeeze that initial 30 minutes slot into each day more often that we’d at first thought.

Some people recommend writing a set amount of words every day.  Steven King writes 2000 words a day, every day. He claims that if he misses a day, his characters tend to go stale. This works really well when working on a first draft but not so well for rewriting. Another writer I know writes 1000 words or 2pm, meaning that she if she writes 1000 words in one day she will stop then or else keep going until 2pm, at which time she needs to stop due to family commitments.

This is fine for full time writers. People who squeeze writing between a job and family commitments may find this off-putting. What matters is that we figure out what works for us as individuals. The important thing is to keep writing.

Many of us need the carrots in life to keep on pushing that pen. Chocolate, or wine make great carrots, but at the end of the day the fulfillment of writing is in its own way one of the largest carrots we have.

Byddi Lee, features writer. Byddi grew up in Armagh, Ireland, and moved to Belfast to study Biology at Queen’s University when she was 18. She made Belfast her home for twenty-one years, teaching science and writing for pleasure. In 2002 she took a sabbatical from teaching and traveled round the world for two years, writing blogs about her adventures as she went. She returned to Ireland in 2004 and resumed teaching. In 2008 she and her husband moved to San Jose, California where she made writing a full-time career. After the publication of her short story, Death of a Seannachai, she decided it was time to write, March to November. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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  1. Great article, Byddi. I love the muse too, but she's a fickle mistress, so I too write at least something everyday, to keep the juices flowing and practice the craft. And I'm a morning writer, when I have my druthers. Keep Writing!

    1. Thanks Michael. And I also get the most writing done in the morning, though when it is really hot out, I can settle to do it in the afternoon.

  2. Great post, Byddi. I'm at a crossroads. Experience has taught me that I must write every day or my creative muscles go into atrophy. BUT, I find my creative writing side interferes with my inner editor when I have a project that needs editing.

    Tomorrow is another day and once again, the muse and I will spar in the morning, while my inner editor attempts to gain traction as the day progresses. Two separate projects, two separate deadlines, and both vying for my attention.

    I wish I knew how Stephen King handles it...

    1. I find I have problem with juggling the mechanics of writing such as marketing, querying etc with actually producing words and sentences.

      I've so much awe and respect for Stephen King!

  3. I write full time but from home and that way I get a lot of distractions. So I get up at stupid o'clock to get the writing done, else, something else is always taking precedent over writing

    1. Wow - that's commitment. Good for you. I do get us a stupid o'clock to write too but it's usually when the muse is shaking my brain awake and kicking me out of bed.

  4. My schedule bounces all over the place. For a while it was mornings, then afternoons, now it seems to be evenings when the kids go to bed. Funny how things evolve over time.

    1. It changes for me as the seasons change and I write when it is uncomfortable to be outside. Saying that, perhaps I should move to Antarctica (or next best thing back to Ireland!) and I'd get much more writing done.

  5. I'm a slave to the muse, always chasing her.