Fiona, in commenting on Cath Staincliffe’s interesting guest blog yesterday, asked me to talk about my approach to time management, in trying to combine a career as a writer with a day job as a lawyer, as well as domestic life. So I thought the least I could do was to try to rise to her challenge, by giving my own perspective on the writer’s life.
My strong belief is that a great deal in life depends upon your mindset and motivation. This helps to explain, I think, how some people are able to cope with what seem to be dreadful problems, perhaps including disabilities or personal tragedies, and still get a huge amount out of life, whereas there are others who seem blessed with remarkable gifts as well as good fortune, yet who remain fundamentally discontented with their lot.
With writing, I do think that mindset and motivation are the key to achieving a reasonable level of productivity in the time one has available. It is a huge privilege to be a published novelist, and I’m grateful that I’ve been granted that privilege, as well as being proud of it. But it was always my burning ambition, and so – for instance – I chose to work in a firm whose two most senior people had published books (not novels, though one of them would have liked to write westerns) rather than one where I might have made more money, but had much less encouragement and opportunity to write. Part of the knack of making the most of your time is choosing your priorities. Things that aren’t priorities for me (do-it-yourself, for example, comes high on the list, I’m afraid) are things that I try to avoid, so they don’t get in the way of the writing. I hope this doesn’t seem excessively self-indulgent. In my case, I have to admit that it helps that there are countless things that I’m hopeless at, so it’s relatively easy to decide what to focus on – in particular, writing.
When I’m asked by those who want to write a novel and get it published how to go about it, the best guidance I can give is just to keep at it. The secret of success in most fields is pretty unglamorous – it has a lot to do with keeping going when it would be much easier to give up, especially if you have a full-time job and family obligations. I am absolutely certain that there are many better writers than me out there who have written countless first chapters of novels they never managed to finish. But it would be a bit disappointing to have 'I nearly got round to completing a novel' on one's tombstone.
And keeping going does entail writing regularly. I don’t write fiction every day, but I would like to, and I do write whenever I get the chance. Sometimes time is very limited, but even writing a little is better than writing nothing. It doesn’t matter when you write – some are larks, I’m definitely an owl – as long as you get something down in black and white. And writing something not very good (I confess, I do this a lot) is better than waiting for inspiration to strike and not writing in the meantime. If you have written something, you can always improve it. And the process of revision can prove very satisfying, when you finally see something worthwhile emerging from a draft that at first seemed a mess.
But there’s one other thing that I sometimes forget to mention when asked about time management and the writing life. Writing is a solitary activity, but writers benefit enormously from support and encouragement provided in various different ways by family, friends and fellow enthusiasts. I know that support means a great deal to me – and it definitely helps maintain the necessary mindset and motivation. Since I started writing this blog, I’ve gained immeasurably from people kind enough to read and occasionally comment on my posts. So, to Fiona and everyone else who contributes to my efforts, perhaps even without fully realising the value of their input, thank you.