Steph vs. Time: On time management & writing habits

Friday, August 24, 2012

When I am invited to speak at schools (which I have done a bit of these past few days, it being Book Week, which is heaps of fun), I am usually asked how I managed to balance writing my novel/becoming an author and finishing high school. If it's a girls' school, my presentation usually then devolves into a discussion of One Direction. I'm usually blather something about prioritising school work and writing a little bit every day or some such.

And this is nonsense. I am not remotely reasonable or organised or smart about balancing various aspects of my life. I'm still working it all out. I very much long to be super profesh about everything, and maybe someday I will get there, but when I was still a student, sometimes I did prioritise writing over school work. I managed to finish a novel and start a career as a result of being incredibly, crazily stuck on the idea of becoming an author. When I give writing advice, I generally say that writing lots and writing consistently are the most important things. Mad passion is very helpful. If you are crazy about something, no matter how busy you are, you will make time for it.

I think this insane level of passion is difficult to maintain long term. I think eventually you grow up or lose your mind and then it can be difficult to get motivated, and those little bits of time you do have aren't treasured and used for writing.

There never really seems to be enough time. Everything on my to-do list seems to expand to fill the amount of time available, and then some. So writing a thousand words might have taken me half an hour last year, when I was very busy, but now, with more time on my hands, it might take all day. This is mainly because I keep thinking to myself, hey! I've got plenty of time! I'll write later! Unless one is a writer who needs large amounts of time to dedicate to writing (eight hours to myself, to write in, intimidates me), I don't think taking time off from other things to focus on one's writing is a good idea. However, in my case, 'focusing on my writing' is pretty much a euphemism for watching excessive amounts of TV and thinking about what might happen after I die and pretending like this is work.

I think the secret to it is writing every day. I don't do this. I really want to. I assumed as I got older I would become more disciplined, but that has not quite happened. I was reading about S. E. Hinton getting terrible writer's block for years after all of the success of The Outsiders, and she only managed to write her second book by writing two pages a day before she went anywhere. If you write every day, I am sure it becomes a natural and easy process. Even if it's only two hundred words or however much. 'A year from now you'll wish you started today'! I have inspirational quotes memorised for every occasion.

Often I hear about novels that were written in two days or a week or a month, that later went on to win awards and be generally brilliant. And the authors of these books seem to be these really mysterious tortured artists. When I write a whole heap of words in a short period of time, they don't tend to be particularly good. But I think it is worth getting words down on the page, even if they are terrible. I'm trying not to judge things until they are done. (Sometimes I have to, though, otherwise the plot may veer off in a ridiculous direction. I have to keep myself in check.) I think if you have that mad passion, you may manage to write a book in a few days, but setting aside days and days to write a book would be too much pressure for me. Fifteen minutes a day for a year sounds a lot more manageable, a lot easier to fit into a busy life.

So, advice: write a lot, write frequently, write daily, write every chance you get, don't judge it until it's done. When you are struck with inspiration, never ignore it! Drop everything! Let's hope your crazy passion for writing continues forever. I think a tiny bit of writing every day may be the key, but maybe you write differently. That was an accidental rhyme. I am going to stop now.
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