How to Fit Writing a Novel Around the Day Job (Without Going Crazy) by Matty Millard
Hi everyone! I’m Matty Millard, a fantasy writer and transport planner from the UK. I’ve recently finished my first novel In That Other Dimension, and as most of us know, it can be hard to fit in writing at the same time as working. By sharing my experience I hope it will motivate and help others to do so effectively.
Although it’s bracketed in the title, I actually think that the key to writing a novel revolves around Not Going Crazy.
I believe that when you are enjoying your writing:
· You get more inspiration and ideas.
· You write more words.
· You write better words, and
· You write better characters and storylines.
I know that I can’t write to the best of my ability if I’m not in the right mood. For me, finding a routine that suits me and a place where I am comfortable writing is imperative. So that brings me to my first bit of advice.
Take advantage of your forced routine – include writing in it
You might think that the working day makes it difficult to fit in writing because it takes up so many hours. In a way you are right, but I actually find it allows me to slip more easily into a routine. I write best in small chunks and these are usually fit around my working day.
If you are unsure when and how you work best, then experiment. If you work in a town there will be lots of places you can write in at lunchtimes or before and after work. Research libraries and cafes, book a meeting room over lunchtime or stay in the office for an hour after everyone else. Write on the train on the way to and from work (I did a large proportion of my debut novel on my 15 minute commute!)
List your options, and try writing in various places at different times of the day. Keep a word count diary and after a few weeks you will hopefully spot a pattern to help you form a routine.
This is such an important piece of advice as it’s clearly easier to finish a novel if you write often! Fitting the basis of a routine around work can ensure this happens – even if it’s just twice a week. This means that you keep your writing progressing, and any other sessions you find you have time for are a bonus.
The basis of my own routine is two or three 45 minute sessions in Birmingham Library on my lunch hour. I’ll then try to do an extra session on an evening, weekend or on my train journey to work. These extra sessions are often only for ten minutes but I get great value from this.
But what is the point in only writing for ten minutes? I hear you ask.
Even on a day when I only write one sentence, I’ve opened the document, scrolled through it to the end and thought about which character wants to do something next. I didn’t have time or didn’t fancy writing any more today, but I’ve kept the plot in the forefront of my mind so the next time I sit down for a decent writing session I don’t need to remember what’s going on first. I can go straight into it because the story is still fresh in my memory.
Write regularly, but don’t put pressure on yourself to write a certain amount every time you sit down. The quality is far more important that the quantity of writing.
…but don’t over-do it!
You could probably already tell this bit was coming next.
There is nothing wrong with having a day off - in fact, it is healthy to. I know that some people feel guilty if they can’t fit in a big session, or they skip one. Some people say you should write every day, but I don’t agree.
Like anything else, my brain needs a rest. I rarely write on weekends (maybe one in four?) and I probably only have one evening a week on which I write. I spend these other times socializing or relaxing. My best ideas arrive when I am happy and chilled out. Creativity cannot be forced!
So far I’ve never suffered from writer's block and hopefully that will continue. I think it’s because I try not to put pressure on my writing. Ideas come to me when I switch off - I get lots of ideas in the middle of the night, and also when walking from the library back to work. This means that I text myself a lot so they are not forgotten!
If you can’t switch off because your life is dominated by work and writing stress, then you won’t get these ideas, so make sure to maintain a healthy work-writing-life balance.
Make the most of it when you are on a roll, but remember that a big session isn’t all-important as the little bits quickly add up. If I write during three lunchtimes in a week, that’s only two and a half hours of writing but I’ll write around two thousand words. In six months that equals the first draft of a novel.
Find “booky” hobbies
Possibly naively, I have been surprised how much you can learn about your own writing by looking at that of others. There are three hobbies in particular which I would recommend.
I wholly recommend joining a writing group and meeting like-minded people. Not only do you get to socialize with lots of cool people, but you find other creatives to bounce ideas off, share experiences with and get feedback from. I wish I had done this earlier as I would have had edited my book twice as quickly, and had a much better understanding of marketing if I had known other writers!
Online writing groups can also be good, but they don’t compete with the real life version in my opinion. However, online workshops did introduce me to detailed (line by line) critiquing. I cannot tell you how much critiquing other peoples work in these forums has helped me improve both my own writing and editing. You will notice missed opportunities in other people’s work, and some of these you’ll later realize are present in your own writing.
A more obvious hobby is to read widely. It’s fun, relaxing and you learn so much from reading good authors from different genres. Why not meet potential readers and join a book club?
Anyway, I hope that you have found some tips in here that will help you on your quest to achieve your literary dreams. Writing is a very personal thing and we all have our own way of working, but I hope we can all find a way to continue enjoying it and stay inspired.
Keep going, with every word you are getting closer...
Good luck, everyone. It’s been a pleasure to contribute to Marie’s blog. Now go and enjoy your writing! Or have a day off, if you feel like it…
Matty Millard was born in Wolverhampton, England and still lives and works locally. His off-the-wall debut fantasy novel In That Other Dimension was published in January 2014.
A rocker, football fan, mathemagician and lover of cake, Matty is a just a regular bloke who wears odd socks.
His writing merges grown-up humour with childish themes, quirky characters, unique plot-twists and general fun times.
Matty’s short story "Weapons of Mass Destruction" won the GKBC International Short Story Competition in March 2014 and is due to be published in the anthology shortly. The story can be read here http://gkbcinc.com/gkbc-international-short-story-competition-pt-2-the-winners-story/
Links to my book In That Other Dimension: