Australian novelist David Malouf once said—to be a writer you have to like spending time on your own. That may be true, but in the midst of life and a million commitments, the question is, can you?
The answer is—yes. But you need to prioritise. Make solitude a commitment itself.
'That all sounds very well, but I've gotta...' Stop right there. Pause. Take a deep breath. The stresses of life won't go away. But you're a writer. And you know that to write well, or edit well, or do anything that writing demands of you—you need a clear head. You need that sense of a meandering horizon. You need a space to fill with the festival of your fictional world. Here are five ways you can take time out as a writer.
1. Go Somewhere Else
I put this one first because it's rare that you can just drop everything and get away. But there are occasions in the writing process when this is exactly what your novel or WIP demands—extended, undivided time.
I recently took myself away to a shack by the beach with no internet access to work through my editor's notes on a 100,000 word manuscript. This is the kind of meticulous, painstaking task that can really benefit from a total absorption. There's something about being somewhere else that's not where you live, to give you a new perspective. A dedicated purpose. That sense of space.
How can you also create this within the daily grind?
2. Writer's Routine
You've already heard about writer's routine. This is very important and much has been said about it. Having a routine is guaranteed time. Why is it guaranteed? Because routine is not just private, it's social. It communicates clearly to others, this is what you 'do'.
Human beings are generally curious creatures, but we don't question routines. Maybe it's because we love order and predictability. The philosopher Immanuel Kant walked exactly the same walk at exactly the same time every day of his life. Except once—he'd caught a cold. It was said that on this day, everyone in his village thought the world was going to end!
Of course, you might review your routine. For the first draft of my first novel, I worked religiously from 5-7am. For the draft of my second book, my routine was built around word quotas and was more flexible, but no less clear. 'What are you doing?' 'I'm just finishing off my last 300 words for the day.' No questions asked.
But our novels can be greedy, and sometimes they want more. This is where the next two come in.
3. Negotiate Around Your Writing
A novel demanding MORE time than we already give in our routine can cause tensions. Let's face it, other family members do not share your passions or artistic concerns. When the dishwasher needs unpacking, it's unlikely that anyone else is going to care that you really need some extra hours to research, solve a pressing plot inconsistency, or harness a flight of inspiration, when they are the ones who have to take up the slack.
A greedy novel can disrupt the tenuous threads of domestic harmony. That's where a simple negotiation can work wonders. 'I really need...if you can...then I'll walk the dog...' Chaos defeated. Order restored. Another space of calm writerly time created.
4. Steal Away Time to Write
Everyone else is going off to do something fun, like seeing a movie. You being there is a bonus but not essential. Steal away. OK, you don't get to see that latest Marvel film. But they'll tell you all about it when they get back, how great (or not) it was, how you really missed out. You've given them a story to tell, but you stole some hours of guilt-free time for your own story. Everyone's happy!
5. Use Automatic Pilot as Writing Time
This is where you forgo the idea of a sacred time and place to write. You use those automatic pilot times, like when you're performing a low-demand domestic task, or driving the car. Your mind is sort of free and drifting. You can zone into a creative mode.
The scene I'm most proud of in my current WIP, I dictated to myself in the car (the phone, of course, was safely on a hands-free set!) Fill the backs of aeroplane sick bags with dialogue when it comes drifting into your head. Scrawl ideas into your pocket notebook while walking the dog. If you anticipate using it, this sort of time is a cornucopia.
As Saul Bellow once said—it all adds up. And because you're serious about your work, you know that sustaining your writing commitment will always be a game of time. With planning and foresight, yours can be filled with the wonders of imaginary worlds.
B. D. Reeves is a Melbourne-based author and songwriter. His debut YA fantasy novel Jemma and the Raven will be published in August 2023. Visit his website at: www.bdreeves.com.