You’ve finally given up the day job to write that book and focus everything on your writing career – it will be so much easier – or is it?
The girls in the office had my writing career all mapped out. Over time, as book number 3, 4 and then 5 hit the shelves, I was to quit the day job and follow my dream for once and for all. Go to Greece, they suggested, as we chatted during coffee breaks. Imagine being able to spend three months with your laptop, on a terrace overlooking the Aegean Sea; the writing you could do, with your muse freed from the tyranny of being shoved to one side during office hours; lovely Greek waiters bearing cool drinks who might inspire you.
I stored my dream of writing by the Aegean Sea to one side along with my muse as I continued to spend my days dealing with reports and spreadsheets, the office hours bookended by ever-increasing infernal commuter traffic, and I squeezed out writing time in the evenings and at weekends. It wasn’t until book number 8 had hit the shelves that I began to plan my departure. It wasn’t an easy decision. I liked my buzzy, fulfilling job, I had lovely colleagues and financial security, but thoughts of all that extra time never mind energy I’d have, in a life where weeks and months had begun to slip through my fingers at the speed of sound, and where friends, and friends of friends, had had their time on this earth cut cruelly short, finally tipped the balance. I imagined how much faster it would be to write all those wonderful books that are waiting in my heart, now that I’d have so much more time. I saw my fingers flying across the keyboard, barely keeping up with the swift flow of words, and a happy muse ensconced on my shoulder, generous and giving thanks to her newly elevated, full-time status.
It didn’t take me long to realise that my fond images couldn’t have been further from reality. The last year has been a learning curve and I’d like to share some insights with those of you who might be contemplating taking the leap:
- I’ve realised that my expectations of pumping out torrents of words over an eight or nine hour period each day were far too ambitious, unless I wanted to write total gobbledygook. Realistically, I can only write a certain amount of fresh material on a daily basis before my brain cells call halt.
- In the creative process, the incubation stage cannot be rushed, especially those early days when I’m getting to know my characters. Occasionally someone will flow, fully realised, straight from my fingers into my script, but I usually have the outline of them in my head in the first place. I need to allow characters to gestate before they’ll emerge even half-formed, onto the page. Like any relationship, getting to know characters fully, inhabiting their lives and seeing how they react to conflicts, is a development that happens over weeks and months and is not necessarily accelerated because I’ve more hours available in the day.
- This gestation doesn’t always happen at the laptop, no matter how long I sit there racking my brains. This work can occur while I’m away from the desk, doing something different. I was at a concert last year when a woman came out on stage and in that instant, whatever way she moved, she inspired a character in The Visitor, my latest book, to take on a whole new dimension.
- The actual digging deep to find the right word and put it down is not always any easier if you give yourself four hours instead of two hours per day in which to write 500 of them. Indeed, when time is of the essence, your critical thinking skills can sharpen exponentially.
- On days when the writing is not going so well, there’s no escape. This is not a 9-5 job where I can clock out, go home, detach completely and put my feet up. I am home and boundaries between work life and home life are non-existent. There’s no face-to-face interaction with a team colleague to share a quick laugh with, or a problem, or a grumble and a bit of gossip, and the solitary nature of the job can be lonely at times. I know my editor and agent are at the end of a phone line or email and are fully supportive, but that’s for the big issues, not the nitty gritty, day-to-day stuff.
- Social media helps, but this can also be a minefield that’s far too deep to examine in this article.
Having said all of that, being a full-time writer is a wonderful life I feel privileged to have. Like adjusting to any new job, over the last year I’ve learned to get real about my writing expectations.
- Although I favour early-morning writing, I don’t panic if I haven’t hit my word count by lunch hour. I’ve found out that some days I work best after midday or in the evenings.
- I now have more time for (my hitherto sadly neglected) reading, which is essential for every writer in order to fill the well. I’m grateful to have time to go writing festivals and book launches, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and catching up with other writers. It makes me feel part of the tribe in a way I never did before.
- Instead of trying to unpick plot-holes while I simmer in choked evening traffic, I appreciate that I can do this work while taking beach walks or parkland strolls, visiting art galleries and libraries, or having a change of scene with my notebook. Sometimes box sets and Netflix are great fodder for the writing well, as are trip to the movies, treats I rarely had time for before.
- Having more hours in which to polish the script pays huge dividends when it comes to the re-writing and editing stage. Normally this part of the process, although easier than the first draft, is more time-sensitive and it’s a welcome relief that I don’t have to juggle it with the day job.
- It is our connections with other people that can feed and energise the creative spark and enrich our lives, so it’s wonderful to give myself permission to walk out of the writing room on a regular basis and meet friends and family for coffee and lunch.
- I’m thankful for the freedom to set my own timetable and the knowledge that I’m following my dream is priceless.
And a terrace by the Aegean Sea is still on the to-do list.
(c) Zoë Miller
About The Visitor:
Izzie Mallon is looking forward to celebrating Christmas on a relaxing yoga retreat. At least, that is what she’s telling her mother and colleagues. In reality, she will be shutting herself away from the festive season, and the snowstorm that has brought the city to a standstill, in her apartment on Henrietta Square — the beautiful home she shared with her beloved husband Sam until his tragic death a few months ago — with only her grief for company.
Then, there’s a knock at the door — a stranger, stranded by the bad weather.
He tells Izzie that he’s Eli Sanders, her husband’s long-time friend. Izzie has never met him in person, but feels she owes it to Sam to welcome Eli into her home. Even though her instincts say that she should do otherwise…
As Izzie tries to reminisce with Eli about her husband, cracks in his story begin to show. But will she be able to see clearly through her grief before it’s too late?
Order your copy online here.