Memories of Having Time to Write
You might have once had time to write. Perhaps so much time that you began writing a novel and made it through the first draft. Maybe you found a local writers group or two and became a regular member, meeting with others who had similar aspirations and dilemmas, taking what you learned from them to long ponder character arcs and experiment with ways to overcome plot holes. You wrote entire scenes from the perspective of irrelevant characters just to fight writers block. You might have even strayed from your novel on occasion to gain a little distance from it, and while you waited you had the time to write short stories which let you play around with a variety of genres, perspectives and tenses. You had so much time then.
But not now.
Something has happened that has created a change of situation for you, sucking any hope of continuing to write your novel from your life. Maybe your hours and days and weeks are filled to the brim with work and study and child rising and housework and coursework and maintaining a harmonious relationship with your partner, and hopefully friends and family as well, if there’s time. You say a silent ‘thank you’ to the heavens for any blissful moments that you manage to sit down with nothing to do, especially those extremely rare ones that are accompanied by a hot beverage.
You write thousands of words a week for your job or course, but that takes up all your ‘writing time’ and you haven’t had a chance to write any more of your novel for months. Do you give up?
There will be a multitude of times when every novel writer has the golden opportunity to give up and call it a day. There is always an excuse. Many find this comes during the first draft stage when they know they have a magnificent story in their head, but extracting it from imagination and shaping it out into understandable and suitable words on paper can become too much of a daunting mountain to climb. Some give up a few drafts in, finding they’ve written and re-written and re-written certain scenes and characters so many times they have lost interest and belief in their own story, and yearn to start something fresh. Some simply cannot take criticism or suggestions from those who read their work.
If you find you no longer have the time you need to write your novel, do not give up.
Keep Thinking About Your Novel
Mundane tasks are a great time to let your mind wonder to character arcs and details of scenes, so next time you’re washing up or ironing, let your mind wonder to your novel. If you have the time to occasionally watch programmes or films, have a good think about what happens in them and why the writer/director made those all-important choices. Perhaps there was a plot twist you didn’t see coming, or a character who reacted to something in a way you hadn’t expected. Maybe a character or situation made you laugh until you had tears in your eyes, and what you were watching wasn’t even listed as a comedy. All of this should have you asking questions of your own novel, regardless of the stage of development it’s at, such as: Will my plot twist leave readers with the desired mix of shock and satisfaction? If one of my characters reacted in a different way, would it allow for more opportunity in my story? Could humour be added, perhaps through ironic moments or a fairly quick-witted character, to make my plot a little more realistic and allow for a lifting of some fairly dark moments?
Become a People Watcher
You want your human characters to be as realistically human as they can be. This is because their actions and motivations need to be believed by the readers, creating an all-important level of empathy and understanding, whether a character is classed as good, bad, or a mixture of both. There is no better way to learn about people, and therefore develop your human characters, than to watch people first hand. If they’re people you encounter regularly you might notice a change in them depending on who they’re talking to, what they are wearing, even the time of day. If they are people you have met just the once, ask yourself what you thought of them and why. With everyone you encounter and have the chance to observe for more than a fleeting moment, consider how they hold themselves, how confident or timid they are, where they might be going, what their life experience could have been and what may have happen to shape them into the people they are. Watch how groups of people interact with each other, and how they collectively react to moments of humour, moments of joy, moments of panic. Build this foundation of realistic responses into your characters and work out how they might act differently. Give some of your characters new traits and play out scenes in your mind, seeing what a difference it can make to the way they act and respond, and the ripple effect it will have on the actions and responses of other characters and therefore the plot.
Make it Easy to Manage Your Notes
Even though much of this pen-free development will happen in your head while you’re unable to write, you will need to write some of it down; even if it be just a few choice words to help you remember a change you wish to make. You can write things on scraps of paper throughout the day, but once a week try to get in the habit of finding all the scraps you’ve left in coat pockets and the car glove box, and quickly sticking them down in a scrapbook.
To make it even easier this scrapbook can be organised into sections. Three sections, for beginning, middle and end, is the easiest way to go and will make it far less time consuming to find the section that you want to stick your notes in. Creating simple sections for your notes will allow them to be easier to follow and put to use in the years to come when you find a bit of time to write again.
Don’t Be Bitter
Don’t be bitter and allow yourself to wallow in self-pity when other writers seem to be on some wondrously lucky route to success.
“There’s no fast track. There’s just YOUR track. You’ve got a path, and you gotta walk it. It’s easy for some, hard for others.”
There will always be those people out there who seem to have some innate ability to be under the same time restrictions as you are and still manage to write hundreds and even thousands of words a week on their fiction writing. Yes, it’s a teeny bit irritating, but don’t be resentful as it will only lead you to a tunnel of negative thoughts and self-pity. Instead, stop avoiding them and keep on offering advice, support and praise of their work. This will give you an uplifting, positive attitude and leave you far less frustrated. And eventually, when you do have more ‘writing time’ and you need a little bit of help with your novel, you will want them in your corner for guidance.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Yes, it’s annoying and fairly disheartening that you have no time to write what you want at the moment, but you’re staying upbeat about it. And, what’s the rush? Does it matter if your novel isn’t ready to be sent to agents until you’re 30 years old? 50 years old? 70? Maybe you had dreams of writing sequels and trilogies and sagas, but you are just one person and can only do so much. Focus on what you have, what you might be able to do, cut yourself some slack and allow yourself the time, even if it be years or decades, to create your novel.
I know how it feels to be in this devastatingly frustrating situation since I currently have no time to carry on working on my novel. I desperately want to get consumed by the plot again, as I was a few years ago, but I know it simply isn’t possible in my current circumstances. I know the time I need will eventually come, but that may not be for years. But if you are, like myself, without any time to physically write you fictional works, we must remember to strive to stay positive, keep sticking notes in our sectioned scrap book on a weekly basis, help fellow writers when we can (even if we might be a tad jealous of their bountiful writing time and abilities), and keep our fiction develop alive by merely thinking about our novels whenever possible.
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© 2018 Rebecca Delphine
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.