Fit Writing Into Your Life
I met friends for coffee the other day, and we got chatting about how we weave creativity into our lives.
‘How do you do it?’ they asked. ‘How do you write books, and raise kids? Life feels so overwhelming sometimes.’
My answer? Well, I just do it. I’ve always done it. I’ve written books bouncing on a gym ball with a baby strapped to my body in a hug-a-bub. Babies are no obstacle.
It was frustrating when I first became a mother, because I felt newborn activities consumed most moments of my day. I was stunned too, as I had a preconceived notion that mothering was a lot of sitting around, sipping tea and doing what you wanted while the baby napped. My baby didn’t nap.
But then a friend helped me realise that even though I wasn’t necessarily sitting at a computer typing stories, I was still doing lots of creative things in my day. I was walking the pram every day for about forty minutes, and to occupy myself, I was making up stories. That was creative. And when Baby was asleep at night, I had half an hour or so of energy left to blog, or write a short story. It wasn’t epic, but it was something. And yes, the hug-a-bub was useful.
When I added up the time I spent doing creative tasks each week, it was actually about seven hours, and that felt like a pretty decent amount of time. If I spent that gardening, wow. My garden would really be something.
From that moment on, I never felt stifled by my situation. Sure, life gets busy. I had one child, now I have two. Recently, we got seven chickens, and a cat. I have to work. My husband works a lot. But I still see pockets of creative potential in my day and my week, and I savour those moments. I’m proud of them. I know they are there.
I think the key is flexibility. Knowing that you will be interrupted, but writing two hundred words is better than none. Knowing that you won’t sit and write a full story. But playing with ideas is still attending to your craft.
The good thing about writing for children, when you are around children all day, is that there are lots of ways to develop your writing craft without actually sitting down at your computer.
Chase ideas. Carve ideas.
Most creative, or at least narrative tasks, need some sort of idea or concept. The idea might creep up on you, unexpectedly, but I find that by constantly keeping half an ear open for a new idea means I am getting three or four picture book ideas a day.
Ideas are floating around everywhere. We just need to attend to them. Read books aloud to kids. Talk to kids. Look at images. Look at two different images, and make random connections between them. Turn a phrase over and over in your head, and see what comes. Study a rain drop. Each little moment could potentially be a story. Part of our craft as writers is exploring that potential. Like Michelangelo chiseling human forms out of stone, a story can be chiseled out of almost everything. But we need to keep carving.
Embrace the empty moments.
Granted, there aren’t a lot of empty moments in life, with technology and media so quickly filling every every spare space. But empty, nothing moments are great opportunities for writers to mull over an idea, and let the subconscious do its thing.
I strongly dislike washing dishes. But I have come to appreciate this as time for my mind to wander, undistracted. Hanging clothes is the same. Laying with my kids to help them sleep. All dull moments, potentially, but also quiet, which the wandering brain loves.
Most writers keep a notebook of some kind, whether it’s an old fashioned paper book, or on a device. Jotting down ideas and quotes and inspiration is the 101 of writing. But it is a fantastic way to collect ideas. And it doesn’t take up a lot of time.
I’ve taken to carrying around an old notebook in my handbag. Sometimes, I’ll write out a whole story, while I’m waiting for coffee. Sometimes it’s just a word. Most things in that notebook will never see the light of day. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am working my creative muscles, and giving attention to my writing, by using my notebook.
Listen to podcasts.
I’m not sure what I did before podcasts. They are the thing I love most about having Internet on my phone. I run, and I like running. But I only ever like it when I can listen to something. I also listen to podcasts when I do chores. Podcasts have opened a whole world for me.
At the moment, I am listening to Your Creative Life podcast, with Vanessa Carnevale. It has great interviews with writers, publishers, agents… I also love All The Wonders with Matthew Winner, who is the world’s most passionate librarian. Matthew interviews book creators, and while you can’t imagine how any one person can have that much love for so many things, it’s nice to hear it.
Interviews with other creatives almost always inspire me. It might just be one thing a person says that can spark a new idea. And I learn more about the industry.
Visit the library. Visit bookstores.
Writers can write in a vacuum. But if you want to get published, and re-published, it’s a good idea to get out there, among books, and get to know what is being published right now. Surrounding yourself with books not only inspires ideas, it also gives you a sense of the industry, who publishes what, and current trends. Maybe you see something you like. Think about why you like it. Think about what makes a particular story work. Read critically.
And on reading…
Most writing courses will tell you writers need to read. And it’s pretty true. Reading fills your head with new vocabulary, ideas and characters, all of which can be turned over by your subconscious as it picks its way through a new idea, or nuts out a problem in your story.
Read critically. Work out what is working in a story. Think about the plot. The structure. The character development. When you study writing at university, you spend as much time, if not more, reading work as you do writing your own.
Write just a few words.
Writing a few words a day is better than not writing any. Again, you are exercising creative muscles every time you string a few words together. And the more you do it, the stronger that muscle becomes.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed, and allowing that overwhelm to stop you being creative, look for the opportunities. Maybe you write something on a serviette. Maybe you type something into Notes on your phone. Maybe you do a voice memo. But keep that creative fire smouldering.
Doing little creative acts every day keeps that creative fire alive. It keeps your creative work within arms reach, so when you do get a chunk of time, the words come more easily. So you can’t sit down and write an entire novel. And that’s okay. Because developing your craft can happen throughout your day. You just need to weave it in.
How do you sneak writing into your day?
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