7 Best Tips to Stay Writing in Busy Times
I will not attempt to explain what 2021 did to my creativity as a writer or blogger. It has been, again, a difficult year for all of us. Not only has the pandemic proven that it’s not yet over, and I’ve had to deal with a life-threatening situation for the first time in my life, I have also started working in full-time employment, as if I thought I had a time-turner like Hermione Granger or something. It is, alas, all too common a quest that has to be followed by so many writers who cannot quite live from their own writing. Comparing different book markets in the world, I think my royalties are quite generous, but they don’t amount to J.K. Rowling’s salary unfortunately. You think you’ve heard it all. There are so many busy writer-bees who hold down a job and a novel at the same time, so why shouldn’t I be able to do it? The answer is, I am able to do it, just a whole lot slower, because I haven’t got a time-turner. Still hoping for one to be delivered by owl, though. You can never give up hope in magic as a writer or it won’t happen for you. And this is why I have now decided to write down the best advice from the last months of working full time, in a pandemic, and being a writer at the same time. It’s basically three jobs all at once, but don’t we all know some hero who fought three battles at once? Here are my 7 best tips for staying writing, whatever [insert swearword here] life may throw at you.
1) Stay connected to other writers, and make new connections
You don’t have to be a solitary Romantic poet to call yourself a writer. Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein in a whole clutch of writerly genius. Over the last year, I, for one, have joined my local group in the Society of Authors and Richie Billing’s Community of Readers and Writers, both of which have been incredibly helpful and inspiring to me .There are so many benefits of seeking connection with other people who fight a similar beast as you do.
Firstly, it’s just inspiring to hear other writers talk about their projects and what their creative process looks like. We writers so often find ourselves locked into our own heads and our own worlds that we forget other people trying to do the same thing, having the same problems or coming up with brilliant solutions. It makes me want to write to hear how passionate other writers are about their craft. It gives me hope to hear how they overcome problems. It’s all very personal, of course, and one solution for one book, might not be a solution for another; one writer’s time management might not work for another. Still, even just trying out what other people have done can help to find the path you need to see yourself off to. And it gets you into the right mindset to be thinking about writing when you’re not actually doing it.
All too often in everyday life the hardest thing is not to write, but to switch into a mode where you can let go of everything else that needs to be done and to focus just on your own little world. Besides this, it can help you and them immensely to be talking about your own project. A book is written for readers outside of your own head, so if other people like your ideas, it helps not only your confidence but also the quality of your own writing.
Accountability is quite a big factor as well, and simply writing with someone else on Zoom or even in the same room can make it so much easier to get something down on the page. And lastly, all writers need help in spreading the word about their works, getting reviews and growing their audience. The writing community knows your struggles. Let them help you.
2) Try out different writing strategies
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard about plotters and pantsers. Those who plan out everything about the book in advance and those who don’t. Maybe you’ve even heard that those two are extreme ends of a spectrum and that many writers find themselves somewhere in between. We all have bits of both in us, and that means we can often adjust to different writing strategies more easily than we think. A pantser might well find themselves stuck in a hard place with their characters and have no idea how the story might continue after that.
Zooming out and using a bird’s eye view can help spying plot points in the future of the story that might help with the plot point at hand. Hearing different approaches or creative practices from other writers, you might find something that sounds like it would work for you, even if you hadn’t considered it before, and for that reason I really enjoy listening to podcasts like Emma Dhesi’s Turning Readers into Writers and Richie Billing’s Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed. Sometimes telling the story to a friend, or a fellow writer as mentioned before, can help you see what flaws might be in it, where you misjudged a character, or just point out the solution to a riddle you haven’t come up with yet. And trying out different time management strategies – which is, incidentally what I’m going to try and do now – can help you find the time you need for writing, even without a time-turner.
3) Take time to find inspiration
Especially after not being able to travel much during the pandemic, it can be very hard to come up with ideas. No output without input. Of course, there are films, and TV shows and books (oh yes, those do exist also), but it takes focus to use those as inspiration, to let details inspire you or to be amazed by other people’s craft. It takes focus and energy, but if you give yourself the time for it, maybe even just before writing, it may just get you in the right headspace. Don’t always expect your brain to produce a certain word count. Sometimes, it is better to just gather experience and it might just help you write something you couldn’t have written without it. Listen to music, go for a walk, think of ways to describe what you can see, or remember old holidays and have those memories spark some words on the page.
4) Working on your writing doesn’t have to be actual writing
Like just mentioned before, it’s well worth your time to gather input before you ask your brain for output, but that isn’t the only thing that counts as working on your written piece. There’s a lot of planning that can help getting words down later on the page. Whether you like plotting or not, taking some time to fill in a characterisation sheet for one of your characters, sketching out some more back story or simply writing down what you think they would say to you if they were sitting next to you, can really help get you into the flow and it makes everything you write later on so much more real. If you’re writing about a different world, or a fictional place, you could draw maps to help you set your scenes, design a new type of creature or come up with games that exist in your world. Character development, world building and (attempts at) plotting can be such helpful experiments that will make you more confident in writing later on, no matter whether you actually adhere to your maps, plots or characterisations or not. And last, but not least, research into the topics you’re writing about is necessary, but can also be inspiring. I know some writers love researching as much as writing, but even if you’re not that type of person, see it as a mystery about your world that you need to uncover in order to do it justice. Make it a quest for yourself and you might very well end up with answers to your questions that have actual influence on your characters and plot, so research can really help you get writing done as well.
5) Trust yourself
Now, you may think I’m insinuating you need to be doing all those exercises and research in order to gain trust in yourself and then write well. Not true. These things can help you get your confidence back when all those nagging little voices in your head have been criticising you for too long. Trust me, we’ve all been there. I don’t think you need to do anything to trust yourself, though. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given was just, ‘When you just sit down and write, you always end up finding your voice somehow and some good writing will come out of it.’ When I got that piece of advice I hadn’t written a word in weeks and I was absolutely sure I could not just sit down and write. But simply because someone believed in me, I thought, why not try and assume they are right? So I sat down, and actually wrote something I was happy about. It doesn’t have to be great writing, but just showing yourself that you can do it can make the world of difference. You can do it!
6) Trust your characters
If you’ve spent some significant amount of time with your characters (and if you haven’t, you might want to start doing that…) then you should have a gut sense of what they are and aren’t likely to do. You are probably writing about them, because you are interested in them, so they must have some quality of seeking out interesting pathways in your plot. So when you’re stuck for ideas, it is more than worth it to just imagine them in the situation with complete disregard for your own plans and see what they come up with. Chances are, they will make your story better. You can always write the same scene again, but at the end of the day, it’s their book, so they will want to help you out. This happened to me as well when I was writing Spiral Mind, so I wrote down a little bit about how my characters helped me in my previous blog, The Mystery of the Second Alias.
7) Remember how much you loved writing when you started it
Most of the people I know who would call themselves writers, and most of the people I have heard speaking about writing in professional workshops or interviews will tell you that they started writing when they were kids. In fact, the same goes for me, and probably for many of you. And when you start out with the craft, you see so many possibilities, you’ve got so many ideas buzzing in your head waiting to be released and you don’t think about the horrible process of submission & rejection, earning a living or writing a really bad first draft.
When I was little, I loved every process of writing, even editing and talking about writing and researching a meaningless thing in the middle of the scene to make sure I didn’t claim a tree was blooming in the wrong month. But as life goes on, you get worn down by other things in your life, disillusioned by how difficult it is to get your writing read by anyone or even publishing it, and over time, maybe writing doesn’t feel like it’s so much fun. But the fact of the matter is, while you might want to submit your text to publishers, and that is a good thing, none of that shebang really matters. What matters, is that you write and enjoy it, like when you were little. It will make your writing and your life so much better, and maybe that spark will one day reach someone.