Slow. When my daytime job becomes intense, writing steps back. Jaysin’s Song has only grown by 5,000 words in a fortnight, and only by pinch-hitting paragraphs at a time.
I’ve been asked over the years how I manage to sustain writing against the background of everything else, especially in the early 2000s when I was teaching and working part-time for the IBO, undertaking a PhD, coaching and playing volleyball and completing projects for HarperCollins. Long nights, very little sleep, and not many of the simple pleasures people do to fill their leisure time. It was ultimately unsustainable. I dropped the PhD when HarperCollins offered the Amber Legacy contract, and eventually dropped the IBO work. Nevertheless, anyone who has worked in education knows education roles in themselves, done well, are 60+ hours a week employment commitment and mentally exhausting, so sustaining writing in that environment is challenging enough. How do I manage it?
First, I do plan a novel’s structure and story arc. In the early years, learning the craft, I would meticulously plan the sequence of chapters from start to finish so that I had a journey map to follow. This meant that whenever other matters intruded or required more time, I could step out of writing and step back in knowing where I was at in a project. In recent times, I map with less detail, but I do retain an overview of key moments to make the story work – a rough plot guide basically. For example, in the current project, although I haven’t reached these points yet, I know Jaysin does have to be challenged in prison, he does have to reach the Empress, he does have to establish his own identity, he does have to make a choice between family or the Empire and power etc etc (without giving away too much here). I also know, as written in previous blogs, that I have to manage this within thirty chapters or around 100,000 words.
Second, if I am writing and I need to break for sleep, work, functions and events, travel, visitors and so on, I stop the writing either at the start, or in the middle, of a significant story event. This might be a confrontation, a fight or battle (action of any kind), a conversation, and sometimes a chapter opening. The reasoning is simple. For me, it’s much easier to slip back into the mood and intent of a piece if it has an established dynamic. There is also less for me to re-read to re-ignite the writing moment. Instead of trawling back through perhaps an entire chapter to remember what I was doing, or wading through notes, I can get straight into writing and the bonus is the interrupted scene is completed and I get some immediate personal satisfaction.
Third, reflection. Just as many people have worries and concerns and hopes and challenges swirling in their heads during every day – as I do – I also have writing doing the same in my head. It’s like having a music track playing in the background as you do something else. My music background is writing. It churns away, formulating, considering possibilities, even as I go about daily work and other activities. The only time it intrudes without invitation is if I walk into a bookshop. Then it explodes and all I want to do is get home and get on with my projects. Basically, I rarely stop thinking about the project I’m working on.
Fourth – and the hardest – is being ruthless with everyone else about writing moments. For example, as I’m writing this blog, my partner, her mum and a neighbour are sitting in the garden, in the sun, drinking coffee, eating cake, laughing and enjoying the moment. And I’m here, writing. I have to discipline myself to be at the keyboard, and – as weird or wrong as it might sound – I have to discipline those around me to let me do this. Writing does mean choosing when to write and when to play, because it is much easier to have the coffee, read the book, watch the tv show, go for a drive and so on. Weekends, I demand an equivalent of a day to write. If we socialise throughout Saturday, then Sunday for me is for writing. If we split socialisation across both days, then the morning of one and maybe the afternoon of the other is for writing. During the week, the evenings are divided accordingly. Life is full of changes and inconstancies, and so I can’t have inflexible writing times (as much as I would like to), but I do have to be demanding about having writing time some time in the week.
Way back in 1993, I took three months off work and wrote The Last Wizard. The same length sequel last year in Chasse’s Song took most of seven months to complete the first draft. This year, Jaysin’s Song, has taken three months to reach a third of its planned length, so the process has slowed significantly because of interrupted time. Hopefully, the strategies I’ve employed over the years will enable me to have this draft done by October in readiness to begin the fourth book.
Blog done. I have writing to do!
Writing is my passion. Ideas, opinions, beliefs, experiences expressed through language - through words and images - pervade and create my life. Writing is my voice, my soul, my self. My dream is one day writing will sustain my life...