We’re all writers and readers here on Medium, and many of us are already successfully published ones at that. But for those of us for whom writing a book is still just a long-term aspiration, it can be hard to get started. It’s easy to let other writing commitments, a job or our social lives get in the way.
I’ve had a few fiction concepts on my mind for a while now, but making the time to sit down and actually write them has been a struggle. Not only do I have a full time job in Marketing, but I’m also studying part-time for my Journalism diploma (which involves commuting four hours one weekday evening and each Saturday, every week). I also try to exercise two or three times a week, and I enjoy cooking and spending time with my partner in the evenings.
Despite all of these commitments, I still managed to find the time to write 10,000 words of my first ever novel this week. So how did I do it?
Utilise your commute
My working day is from 8.00am — 4.15pm (I take a shorter lunch break of just 15 minutes and finish earlier). My partner drives me to work, which only takes fifteen minutes. In this short space of time, I make sure that I am on top of my personal email admin, so that I have no excuse but to write later in the day. Getting this easy, menial task out of the way means when you are more awake and more productive, you make better use of your time.
I get the bus back home from work, which can take anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on traffic. This is a solid chunk of time in which I can write — and I can do so on the go thanks to writing in a Google Doc, which means I can access my work anywhere, anytime, on any device. It autosaves so you don’t have to worry about your word processor crashing and losing all your work. You don’t have to worry about using too much data either, as you can work offline.
I have also started using the hours a week I spend on a train to London for my course to write. These times are often my more unproductive periods (during the week I travel back late at around 9.30pm and on Saturday I travel at 7.30am and return at 5.30pm), so I try and have low expectations and only write a few hundred words each trip. I managed to get about 2,000 words done in this time last week.
Write and don’t look back
One of the hardest parts when you first start writing is wanting to make sure everything is perfect.
One of the mistakes I’ve made in the past when trying to write longer fiction pieces has been to start editing too soon. It would be easy for me to go back over the first 10,000 words I’ve written and try to make the prose as perfect as can be. But in doing so, I would probably cut the first chunk of writing down by half. Seeing your hard work dwindle to smaller and smaller chunks of not necessarily linear narrative that you are actually happy with can easily become demotivating.
The important thing is to get the entire thing written, and then once you have a full draft you can go back and edit it until your heart’s content. Read the last few paragraphs of what you last wrote to remind yourself what has happened, who’s speaking and what you wanted to happen next, but try to avoid reading from the top every time you start writing — as you are more likely to tinker and spend less time putting words on the page.
Write something, even if it’s not your novel
Some days, you really won’t want to look at your novel and that’s OK. Let it breathe for a day or two — but don’t allow yourself to get out of your creative funk. Write something somewhere else, whether that’s an article for Medium, a blog post for your personal site, a poem, or a journal entry. Keeping the momentum going will make it easier to dip back into your novel when you feel like it.
Keep reading, all day every day
Alternatively, take a break and read something if you don’t feel like writing. It’s a well known adage that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader. You should read widely and often and when choosing what to read, you should push the limits of your comfort zone.
You don’t want your novel to be a pastiche of different literary styles, so try not to think about emulating someone else’s style when you eventually return to your own work. Your writing should always be authentically your own voice, as you won’t be able to sustain an imitation over the course of a novel.
Stop making excuses
Historically, I’ve been guilty of claiming too busy to write. But last week I realised that if I have the time to write a Medium post every day, I also have the time to sit down and write a segment of my novel, even if it’s just 500 words a day.
The average fiction novel is about 80,000 words. There are 365 days in a year, so assuming you take 2 weeks of holiday you only need to write 230 words a day to have your draft done in a year. If you can do 500 words a day, then it will take you less than six months to have a full draft completed.
Of course, you’re not going to be able to write every day, so if you overcompensate on the days when you have additional free time — e.g. a lazy Sunday, where you don’t have plans — then you will average out and stay on track.
Buddy up with someone who can hold you to account
Writing is, for many of us, a lonely vocation. It’s easy to get demotivated and give up on your great masterpiece if you feel there is nobody on the other side waiting for you to produce a finished draft. After all, there are so many books out there — what’s to say yours will make a ripple, right?
If you have a reliable friend who can check in with you in a non-judgmental way every week and ask how your draft is coming along, this can be a great way to keep yourself motivated. Alternatively, set prompts on your phone at a time where you know you don’t have a lot going on telling you to sit down and write.
Give yourself small rewards for hitting milestones
Why not tell yourself that for each milestone you cross e.g. every 5,000 words you can buy yourself a new book/CD/item of clothing? Then you’ll feel like you’re earning something while you write, which for many can be a barrier to sitting down and putting words to a page. When you might earn a few dollars for an article on Medium it’s easy to think that is a more effective use of your creative energy and time — but you never know, your novel could be the next bestseller!
To keep up to date with my novel’s progress, sign up to my newsletter here.