Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ali Luke.
Back before I had kids, I had a clear idea of how best to write fiction.
Ideally, I liked having a solid chunk of writing time — enough for a full creative block, and often a whole morning.
This worked … up to a point. There’d be weeks or even months when I got busy with other projects and failed to write any fiction.
Then the kids came along!
While I’ve always had some childcare (my husband was a stay-at-home dad for a while, and now we have a part-time nanny), my working hours need to be focused on things that bring money in — primarily freelance work, my ebooks, and my membership site.
Fiction has to fit in around the edges. And I no longer have the luxury of “catching up” with my fiction every Saturday morning (after a lie in) — we’re inevitably up with the kids at 6:30 a.m.
Maybe you’re going through a similarly busy spell. It might be a hectic day job, the need to hustle hard with your freelancing, or caring responsibilities for kids or elderly parents.
I absolutely get how hard it can be. How frustrating and discouraging it is not to have time for your creative work — the thing that makes you feel most alive! (And I know how many murky, guilty feelings can get thrown up: when I’ve talked to other parent-writers, there’s a lot of guilt associated with taking time away from the family to write … and guilt about not writing, too.)
There’s no easy answer. When your life involves a lot of commitments, you’re never going to have as much time available as someone without a partner and kids, or without a day job. You may have to accept (however reluctantly) that you can’t move forward as fast as you’d like with your projects.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t move forward at all. (Tweet this.)
Squeezing Your Creative Work into Short Sessions
While this isn’t ideal, it’s a lot better than nothing. If the reality of your life is that it’s really not practical to write for an hour or more at a time (either because of a packed schedule or because you simply don’t have the energy), try writing in shorter sessions.
That might mean 15 minutes when the baby is napping. It might mean getting up 20 minutes earlier so you can write before work. It might mean 30 minutes of fiction-writing in the evening when your partner is home to take care of the kids (that’s my current set-up).
It’s easy to feel that 15 or 30 minutes is hardly worth doing at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to skip my planned writing sessions. And sometimes I have skipped them! But generally, I’ve stuck with it — and those short sessions have really added up.
But … it can be draining and frustrating to constantly cram your creative work into little snatches of time. Where it’s possible, plan ahead so you can have an occasional creative binge.
Here’s what that might look like …
How I Started Binge-Writing (and Loved It)
Over a year ago, I went away to a local hotel, overnight, without my husband and kids. I checked in at 2:00 p.m. and sat at the desk in my room and wrote, and wrote.
(I also had a very nice burger and fries, without anyone interrupting me, and read a book, and got a full night’s sleep.)
It was brilliant! I was able to immerse myself in my work, knowing that I wouldn’t have to suddenly stop and do something else. I didn’t have all the usual distractions of home: my hotel room was clean and tidy (quite unlike our house!) and there was nothing to do except write. My rather feeble laptop couldn’t even connect to the weak hotel wifi.
Since then, I’ve been away another four times. Each time, I’ve written a lot of words — usually between 8,000 and 10,000. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve hugely enjoyed it: I’ve felt reconnected to my writing, and I’ve been more motivated to stick to my daily 30 minute sessions.
An overnight retreat like this doesn’t take up a huge chunk of family time, either. I normally go away from 2:00 p.m. Saturday to 11:00 a.m. Sunday (meaning that I still have more than half the weekend with my kids and husband).
Do I still have writers’ guilt? I don’t feel bad about leaving the kids for such a brief time. They did cry the very first time I went away, but now they’re used to it. My husband travels for work, from time to time, and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t do the same.
Could Binge-Writing Work for You?
First, let’s clear up a common worry about binge-writing: that writing fast inevitably means writing badly.
Shouldn’t a book take, say, a year or two to complete?
Maybe it needs that amount of time. But if “a year or two” involve sporadic writing and long periods of not-writing, working on that book over a few very focused weekends might be just as productive. In fact, without dragging the process out, you may find that your writing flows better and you’re less likely to forget things or repeat yourself.
Plenty of excellent, literary writers have used binge-writing for at least the drafting stage of their work. Kasuo Ishiguro, who’s just won the Nobel Prize for literature, is just one example: he drafted The Remains of the Day during four very focused weeks.
Perhaps getting away to a hotel isn’t affordable for you … but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a writing retreat.
- Go to your local library (or a coffee shop) for a full day. If you have kids, your partner could take care of them — or rope in a family member. If that’s not possible, you might need to budget for childcare.
- Clear a full evening to write. This can be trickier as you may well be tired at the end of the day, but if you can get ahead with (or ignore!) the housework and spend three or four hours writing, you’ll see some significant progress.
- Book onto a local day retreat. Before I did overnight retreats, I went on a day retreat (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) run by my friend and editor Lorna Fergusson. It was a wonderful chance to immerse myself in my writing alongside other writers.
Keep in mind that the further you plan ahead, the easier this will be. Yes, it might be next to impossible to go away this weekend … but what if you plan for a weekend in six weeks’ time?
Preparing for a Writing Binge
Once you’ve figured out how and where you’ll be writing, it’s worth going into it as well-prepared as possible.
If you’re getting away:
- Ideally, have a clear idea of what you’re going to be working on. Make sure you’ve gathered any notes or materials that you’ll need with you.
- Take headphones and music to listen to. Your retreat environment probably won’t be completely silent (unless you’re going to an actual retreat centre, in which case it may be) and intrusive noise can be very distracting. Many writers find music helps them focus; you may want to experiment to figure out what works best for you.
- Take your favourite snacks/drinks (if appropriate). Make writing feel like a treat rather than a chore.
- Accept that it may take you a while to settle into writing — and that doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong! I always find it hard to get into flow for the first hour or so, as I readjust to the hotel environment and let myself get lost in my work.
If you’re going to be working at home, but much more intensely than usual:
- Have critical conversations with your partner (and/or other family members) well in advance. It may be that they’ll need to take on more around the house — or simply that you need them to respect your need for peace and quiet.
- Streamline your duties at home (and, where you can, lower your standards a bit). Even if you normally cook from scratch every night, you might want to rely on takeout or ready-prepared meals for a week, to reduce the time spent preparing food and clearing up.
- Clear a suitable space to use for writing. You need somewhere you can leave any necessary books and papers around, so you’re not constantly having to clear up and set up your workspace.
Do you tend to write steadily, or are you a binge writer, too? What sort of writing schedule could work around the reality of your life right now? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.