Monday 17 February 2020

Finding time

I have a full-time non-literary job - sometimes more than full time. I have a family. And I have other interests. I can't always find the time for reading let alone writing. It's a problem that many people have of course. Writing guides say that if you really want to write you can always find the time. But it's also true that if I really wanted to do the vacuum cleaning or get someone a birthday gift or proof-read a document at work I could find the time for that.

Larkin, who had a full-time job, claimed that he needed only an hour a day for writing. I'm not sure I believe him. Besides, it's not so much the amount of time but the clashes that matter. If I suddenly have an idea I'd like to develop, what can I do if guests are about to arrive, or a meeting's about to start? Plus my mental reserves aren't limitless. If I've been wracking my brains at work all day I don't feel like winding down by reading the small-print of submission guidelines. I'm not good at attending readings either. Others seem to have the freedom to dash around the country for launches etc. I have trouble turning up to local events, even when there's the lure of open-mic.

If I know in advance that I'm going to have some time free, I try to plan accordingly. Alas, more often than not my inspirational moods don't sync with the free time. The same usually goes for residential courses too.

Carrying a notepad around helps, as does being able to assemble fragments. Audio books might make me more efficient too. Just occasionally I can combine work and play. But mostly I cope by cutting corners, and doing nothing as well as I could have. I feel I've plateau'd in the things I've tried. There are no longer any quick wins - progress will require significant time investment. It's just the way things are. I've noticed already that I'm compensating by remembering past successes more than planning future ones - see my Illustrated CV. And unexpectedly I'm gaining pleasure from the successes of people I know.


  1. “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,” said Stephen King and he’s right but then I’ve never enjoyed “amateur” being used as a disparaging term. Amateurs do what they do for the love of it and not for the money. Not that the pros can’t love what they do—can you imagine Paul McCartney ever not enjoying music?—but it’s different when it’s something you have to do.

    I like the idea of a writing hour I must say, an inviolable space that’s all mine. I’ve thought about it and it’s not fear that I’ll sit for an hour staring at a blank screen that stops me as much as it’s finding a way to stop thinking about all the other things I’ve put on pause for that hour. I’m actually quite bad at multitasking these days. I didn’t used to be but nowadays I like to clear my desk of what’s most pressing before tackling the next down the list and although a part of me thinks writing should be the be all and end all it does tend to get relegated to the thing I can only do once everything else’s been put to bed. I wonder when that happened.

    And, yes, oh yes, the small print of submission guidelines. It’s no wonder I never send anything off.

  2. "it does tend to get relegated to the thing I can only do once everything else’s been put to bed" - I know the feeling. And by then I'm too tired. Nowadays I'm pre-emptively clearing desks - partly so I've no excuse if inspiration does come along.