A Writing Blog by Peter Bennett
In the time I’ve been running Fever Dreams I have often exchanged emails with aspiring writers. They frequently spend a great deal of time telling me about the great idea they have for a novel. They’ll inform me of the countless hours that they’ve spent in the library or online doing research, that they are convinced of the opportunities for a multi-book contract and media franchising options. They’ll offer to send me the 50,000 words that they have written to outline their masterpiece and request my feedback. In virtually every one of these circumstances I ask the writer the same question:
How much of the book is actually written?
Its usually at this point that the writer acts offended and seem affronted by the implied judgement behind my comment. Don’t be offended, at one time all of us have been guilty of this writing faux pas but here is the hard truth of the situation. Unless you were born wealthy or have family members willing to fund your writing, you probably have a job. If you are an adult then you may have a partner, children, housework, shelves to put up, walls to paint, car maintenance, shopping, the list goes on. We all lead busy lives, and the pace of our society is speeding up which will only make matters worse in future. Sometime it feels like getting a novel or even a short story written is an impossible task with everything else we have to do. How then, can we complete our masterpieces?
While I have spent many hours dreaming of a machine that can take my ideas and transform them into a workable manuscript (it was the inspiration for one of my short stories), the reality of the matter is that books and stories, sadly, do not write themselves. Many writers seem to think otherwise but the truth is that writing a novel or a short story requires one thing – you to sit your bum in a seat and write it. Posting on forums about writing or any other subject of interest, checking your social media, playing a computer game or any of the other time sink activities that we do with computers, will not help us finish our manuscript.
Let’s look at this objectively. I have a friend in Liverpool who is an aspiring writer. He works all day, comes home and has a few hours before his evening meal and again after his kids go to bed. He tells himself that he is going to use that time after his kids go to bed to write and so he throws himself on the sofa and mindlessly watches the telly until his evening meal. After his evening meal, he turns on his computer and checks his social media until his wife tells him to wash the dishes. He does this before returning to the computer and bashing off an email to me about how he’s never going to get his novel finished with all these distractions and vows to buy himself a dishwasher with his first royalty cheque. Then after discouraging himself thoroughly, he gives up for the night and swears blind that tomorrow will be different.
Do you see the irony of his complaint? He has the time. He’s just not using it wisely. He would be better using his pre-meal time to write because he is less likely to be distracted or interrupted.
I have been studying English Literature and Creative Writing for the last few years. I knew that once I reached the end of my course I would be faced with an important decision: make writing pay OR get a job until I can make writing pay. Sometimes the demands of my studies were harsh and it was difficult to find time to write every day but I still wrote something every day. Many magazines and articles will tell you that the secret is finding time to write. This, in my opinion, is bad advice. If you look for time to write the you won’t find it. You find something else to occupy your time – the search for time to write, and while you are searching for time to write you aren’t actually writing. In fact, that time you are using to find time to write could actually be used to write.
My advice to you is to forget finding time to write and make time to write. How and when is down to personal preference. Writing is something that you will get better at the more you do it, and therefore, I recommend that you do it as much as you can. My personal habit was to get up first thing in the morning and write 5000 words before I had my first cup of coffee (it’s the reason for the name of this blog) but everyone has their own individual way of working. I do my best work first thing in the morning or last thing at night but I have had to accept that my evenings are more subject to disruption.
Once you have made a window for your writing, the next step is to discuss the commitment you are making with your significant others. If you live by yourself then this is simply a matter of asking friends and family not to call around or phone you during this window. If you have a partner living with you then you will need to have a chat. Sit them down and explain how important writing is to you. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a whim. It’s not a pipedream that you’ll get bored with in a few months. Don’t sell it to them with promises of wealth and success. Make absolutely certain that you and your partner understand your dedication, commitment and drive to succeed as a writer and that this is not going to be easy. Trust me, having a partner who understands the pitfalls of publishing will save you many headaches in future. If you are like me then you won’t rest until you see your book on a shelf in a store, and probably not even then. So make sure that your partner understands that for as long as you are together, this is going to be something that you are committed to doing. Ask them for their support. You are going to need it.
Once they are on your side and understand that you are serious about this, make that time for yourself. You may be surprised what you can accomplish with as little as an hour a day. Get up earlier. Go to bed later, just remember not to let yourself get sleep deprived. Write on your lunch break. Modern technology means you can write on the bus or train during your commute. How and when you make that time is up to you but make it. Your friends and family should understand that you aren’t to be disturbed during that hour. It’s just as if you are at work, even if you’re sat with a laptop on your knee in the downstairs toilet or in your shed. No distractions. No phone calls. No social media. No quick trips to the shops. No cups of coffee or tea. You may be surprised at how many cups of coffee or tea you can make and drink in an hour as a means of not writing. This is your time. Your hour.
And after you’ve asked all your friends and family to give you this hour, you had better use it. You have an obligation to repay their support with manuscript pages. That means no internet. No forums. No social media. No games. No researching and telling yourself that it is writing. None of these things constitute writing. If they don’t add words to your manuscript then they aren’t writing. Writing involves one thing… adding words to your novel or short story.
It really is that simple.
As for results, the average short story is (depending on the publication and publisher) around 3500-4000 words. If you write for one hour then you should easily manage 500 words (and by that I mean good quality usable words – I spent a great deal of time working in data entry so I can knock out 1500 words in an hour without much effort but they aren’t necessarily quality words that will remain in my final manuscript). This means that a short story should take you about a week including non-writing and editing time. Similarly a novel could be a minimum of 60, 0000 words or much, much longer. If you write an hour a day then you should have a finished novel by the end of the year (365 days x 500 words = 182,500 words ).
So what are you waiting for? Make time to write today.
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