One of the most common questions I’m asked about my writing is, “How do you find the time?”
A busy job
My day job as an Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon comes with considerable physical and mental responsibilities, and most of my waking hours are dedicated to my work. When I’m not working, I either need to do something constructive, but very different from work, or recharge with something that requires virtually no brain power.
Could I even write?
They say everyone has a book in them, we just need to find it, commit to it, and pen it. I have to admit, I never thought that the book I’d write would end up being a sci-fi novel. I never thought I was capable. I don’t think my “O Level” English teacher, Mr Faucet, would have thought so either! But then English Language was taught in such a mechanical way in those days. I don’t think we ever had a class that focussed on the techniques of creative writing – we were simply asked to write stories that were given a mark and returned to us with red pen comments correcting our grammar and spelling. Top of the list of instructional tuition was the formal etiquette of letter writing, and the correct position of the apostrophe…
Space Taxis was originally meant to be a comic book, but in the end I decided it was better in novel form. The story Harriet and I had developed was so strong, that it was probably best told as a novel or screenplay. By this time, Harriet had taken her English exams, and that had included quite a bit about what makes great writing. It seemed attainable. I therefore went against my long-held notions of self-doubt and decided to put words to the story.
Get your Ti-Mandi Window in shape
According to time management theory (see the Ti-Mandi window), we are in danger of wasting half, or even more than half of our time on so-called ‘urgent’ tasks that actually aren’t that important, and not making enough time for the “neglected essentials”, which in this case is writing your novel. I find this diagram useful when trying to find time for doing important things that tend to be “left till tomorrow”. Having said that, for many of us, the lockdown period has been an ideal time to address these things.
Goofing off – don’t feel guilty
We feel guilty when we think we are wasting time (goofing off) and having fun. You might think this is the time to cut out. Well, I certainly can’t. Actually, if we don’t have some down time, then we never have time to recharge, to actually allow a bit of subconscious processing of our thoughts.
On some of my weekdays, I hold evening clinics. When I return late, there’s almost no chance of writing anything useful, so I don’t even try. My pac-man, battlezone and phoenix arcade game days are in the distant past and I don’t regret any of the time I spent getting good at them (although my mum will have never agreed). Nowadays, my wife forces me to watch EastEnders (did I just admit to something?), which I find is both therapeutic and instructional from a storytelling point of view. Say what you like about the plots, the characterisations and the acting is of extremely high quality. I also enjoy a great action thriller like the Israeli series, Fauda, and I’m a sucker for a great Kung Fu movie. And of course, Sci-Fi will always have a special place in my heart. I’m certain my mind relaxes most when I feel stimulated. Does that sound counter-intuitive?
The advantage of age, and coffee
One good thing about getting a bit older is that a lot of us, myself included, lose that power so many teenagers have to sleep in at the weekends. A coffee and breakfast cereal would adorn the desk next to my computer screen and I would write my next instalment and not stop writing until lunchtime. By the time the rest of the household was awake, I’d already written another chapter.
“I find the period between 5 and 7pm is ‘dead time'”
I find the period between 5 and 7pm is “dead time”. I’m sure we each experience dead time throughout the day, where it’s a tween state between finishing work and having an evening to yourself. My advice to you is that writing can fill that time perfectly.
I do a lot of evening clinics, but on the days I finish work at a reasonable time, I take the opportunity to write for 1-2 hours before I relax into the evening. Just carve out the time, shut the door. Young parents might find the time after “bed-time” the best – find the best time for you, reserve it, and commit to it. Each 1 hour slot adds up.
5 minutes to spare?
We all have busy lives and multiple responsibilities. Whether it be work, household chores, children, relatives or friends in need of help, or simply looking after our pets. Not everyone will be able to find those magical few hours spare. In this scenario, think short stories, or start with notes about your story idea. Use your mobile phone notes app to write ideas down as you think of them during your busy schedule. There are various apps that can help in this regard to build your story. I’ll cover story generation in another blog, so stay tuned.
When the time is ready for you to tell your story, work out your best way of finding time for it. If you’ve got that story in you, then it’s not about why you should write, but why you shouldn’t.
I’d be interested in hearing how you have found time to write – or do something interesting or extraordinary, whilst being busy with work or other commitments. Please use the comments box for your hints and tips, or to tell me about what you have managed to find time to do.
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