25 April 2011

Take stock and think ahead when you get extra time to write

For most of us, it’s the Easter holidays. If like me, you live in the UK, there’s also another bank holiday next week, for the Royal Wedding. If like me again, you’ve taken the days inbetween off work too, you’re looking at a nice chunk of time away from reality.

What are you going to do with that time?

I’m doing two things. First, I’m going to spend approximately 80-90 per cent of my holiday preparing for my impending wedding, including building a path, raking grass and causing myself untold backache. The rest of the time, I plan to write.

Quick correction. I plan to plan to write.

Take your time

When you have an extended period of free time, it’s tempting to dive straight in and write frantically. I know it is for me.

Because I have a full-time job, I have to work my fiction (and blogging) around my free time. When a big chunk of it comes along, I sometimes get excited and rush to the keyboard.

And yet, I know that this isn’t always the best use of my time. Rarely am I able to simply sit down and write for long periods without an element of planning up front.

When the opportunity arises, it’s natural for us writers to worry less about preparation and want to get cracking – to actually produce some work.

But actually, it’s far more important for us to make sure that we use that time effectively. To make sure that we squeeze every ounce of usefulness out of having more writing time available than usual.

Take stock and prosper

Planning isn’t always about planning, not in the typical sense of the word. For me, planning is as much about what’s gone before as it is about what’s to come. It’s about checking in and taking stock.

Instead of using your extra holiday time to plough ahead, try taking a step back and asking a couple of questions. Like, what exactly is it that I am writing? And more importantly, where the hell am I with it?

The first of these questions might sound a bit stupid – a bit obvious. But writing projects change over time and can sometimes morph into something quite unexpected. And while that’s a great thing, you need to be aware of it happening. You need to stay in control of your work.

The second question is one that you should try and ask on a regular basis, but there’s no better time than when you’ve got a few days spare. For me, it’s about going back and looking at what my original goals were. What did I set out to write and am I still on track? Do I need to reassess or am I okay to keep treading the same creative path?

None of this is especially revelatory. However, by tackling these questions at the outset, you’re more likely to use your available time to its full potential.

My theory is that you’ll have to tackle them at some point, so don’t run the risk of wasting time and writing without direction.

Getting real

You can also use the start of your free time to make a few physical, more tangible assessments. Like, what’s your word count? How many days until your deadline? That type of thing.

Most writing is done in your brainbox, naturally. But there are plenty of external pressures that influence your work and it’s vital that they’re kept in check too.

Worst case scenario? You’ve got three days to complete your work and you’re 10,000 words over your limit. And you had no idea.

It sounds proverbial, but the more time you can spend planning at the start of a project, and then again whenever you get a good chunk of spare time to write, the more likely you are to keep on top of your work.

In summary, take stock and think ahead. When you find yourself with time to spare, don’t dive in, stop and look around you. Observe and make plans.

Note: I realise this may have come a little late for some of you holiday makers. See paragraph three for an explanation!

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder! I find that I need to use any free time I have to write for the future [i.e. I've been a naughty blogger and haven't posted since March ~ eek!] so that I can just pull articles and essays in a pinch, polish them up a bit and post them with little fuss. Now I just to need to plan THAT! ;)

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Yup, that’s a good point too. There’s nothing like being prepared. For example, I know that the week leading up to my wedding day there isn’t a vchance in heck of me updating Write for Your Life. But I feel I should still do so. My options are to explain and do nothing, or to write in advance and future publish. I’ll probably go for the latter, but with fewer posts. Tricky though!

      • Do you find that readers are understanding if you explain your radio silence ahead of time? Or even after the fact? Or do you it IS better to write in advance and future publish?

  2. Really good post Iain. I find this especially relevant as I have four young children and feel I need to dive in to my writing whenever I get the chance. However I know that both for short stories and novels that you need that in-between incubation time to make associations and, as you’ve pointed out, as yourself some very important questions about your work, such as WHY?! and WHAT? and WHAT ELSE? I’ve just had a few days away visiting relatives and a break from the house (and the internet) gave me down time to muse. I haven’t written anything extra down but I can feel the cogs turning on the subject matter of my novel, new suggestions that will enhance and layer the piece.

  3. Jarvis

    I honestly feel like one of the hardest parts of writing is the open-ended timeline for the project. It could take a few months for 10 years…and then you make excuses, procrastinate. Yes, being patient is key, but setting goals keeps you honest.

  4. asmaadnan

    writing is a good skill a superior ability . every person has few thougts but those who can polish them are few in number  it can be an inborn abiliyt but still i feel that  it can be inculcated in some persons who lack in only few aspects but although their knowledge is adequate  so they may create things experimentation with yet insufficient knowledge to convert it to huge can be achieved with practise

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