WRITING and WORKING – are there enough hours in a day …?
Of course not!
I’m a writer with a full time job, a family and a house to run so I have to fit as much as I possibly can into every waking moment. And believe me when I want to, I can. And if I can do it, so can anybody!
‘But where do you find the time to write and work fulltime?’
An interesting question and one I get asked more and more, particularly when I have a new book in the shops – like Love Is The Reason right now. Generally I laugh and offer a flippant response, making it sound as though a fairy godmother sits at my desk getting chapters written while I sleep.
But for this article I’ve decided to give the question the attention it deserves and try and answer it honestly.
A little like water and oil, my writing floats on top of my day in the office and while they don’t mix as such, they rub along happily side by side.
So what is my typical working day?
An average working day begins at 9 a.m. The 20-mile journey to the office allows me some enjoyable ‘thinking time’ in the car. Whether I’m trying to make sense of a plot, work out what should happen next or devise a cunning plan for a character, the pieces of the puzzle often fall into place while I’m driving. Travelling alone offers the perfect opportunity to speak out loud to my characters and toss around a lot of ‘what if’ questions as I mull over where the novel should go next. And there’s always a paper and pen in the door pocket so I don’t have to rely on my scanty memory.
By the time I reach my desk, I’m wide awake and ready for the day ahead: meeting deadlines, attending meetings and balancing the variety of challenges that come my way.
Working fulltime in a household survey section of the Central Statistics Office demands a huge chunk of my day and my energy levels but I love it. The busy office environment broadens my knowledge, expands my imagination and brings new challenges my way on a daily basis. A people person at heart, there’s no doubt these surroundings subconsciously enrich my writing.
Health warning here though – I never base characters on people I know. But I do use experiences and can’t resist observing real actions and reactions between colleagues. It makes me question how one of my characters might cope in similar circumstances and so begins another series of ‘what if questions’ – the essential trigger to move a story forward.
As I leave the office at 5p.m. to make the 20-mile return journey home, I allow my thoughts to wander into ‘fiction-land’ once more and usually have a broad outline of the next scene figured out by the time I park. Then follows dinner, family time and finally (providing there are no other interruptions or visitors) it’s time to settle down and write, a routine I’m very familiar with now.
Preferably, I work at my desk in a quiet room, away from TV and distraction, but this isn’t always possible. When I feel guilty about neglecting my family, I join them in the family room (with my laptop) and try and ignore the TV!
Sheer determination and persistence have lodged themselves firmly in my psyche, both key elements that get me to the end of a project. Sacrificing TV is a huge part of the juggling act but Sky Plus removes some of the pain and when I’m too shattered to write, I watch my favourite programmes without wasting valuable time on the ads!
Is it possible to maintain this momentum long term?
Of course not! Normal family life being what it is, plans are regularly thwarted. And diversity is the spice of life so that’s fine. Weekends – when I should have lengthy periods of time to get stuck into writing – are my biggest downfall. But when the ‘D’ word (Deadline) is looming, it’s amazing how quickly I can get through housework, how many coffee invites I put on hold and how many cups of tea my poor husband makes me just to keep me at my desk.
Writing a novel is a little like going on a merry-go-round, starting off slowly – distracted by everything happening around and hearing every crank of the tracks. Then it picks up speed, moving faster and faster until the world around blurs and adrenalin heightens your awareness. This is my favourite part of writing, when the pace accelerates and characters and story take over. Even if I’m shattered, I keep writing because I want to know what happens next. And that’s the absolute truth. Though I’m typing sentences on the page, the story releases word by word from some deep part of my mind. A lot of this writing is done very late at night when the house is still, the phones aren’t ringing and distractions are at a minimum. And generally, to keep my earlier promise and answer honestly, I have black rings under my eyes for days on end! But it’s short term intensity because once I reach ‘THE END’ and submit the manuscript to the publishers, a quiet period follows where I get to read and review other authors’ work, laze around in the evenings, take the dog for long walks and build up some energy reserves to prepare for intensive editing and proofing – and the cycle beginning once more.
And what about PR and Marketing?
PR and Marketing are compulsory evils for writers, the final leg of a book’s journey into the public domain. Personally, I see it as a time to kick the business side of my brain into action and put all my people and technology skills to effective use. I do my utmost to ensure that every text, email and social network posting attracts as many visitors as possible. Lunch breaks become book signing events and weekends become cleverly planned long distance routes to facilitate visiting bookshops in cities and towns all over Ireland. And then there are the media and library events but that’s a whole other story…
…Because this day has just run out of hours!