Or why my blog is called The Odd Half Hour
For far longer than I care to confess to, my writing career existed mainly in my imagination. It was full of stories and characters and plot lines and amazing situations that could lead to a fabulous drama. In my head library there were at least a dozen best sellers on the shelves, perfectly bound with my name on the cover. In my mind bookshop these amazing creations were stacked up on tables with excited fans buzzing round deciding which to buy next, tempted by glossy covers and wonderful reviews, one liners picked out from national newspaper reviews and emblazoned in bold on the back.
I was confident that it was only a matter of time before these books left my head and manifested themselves in the real world and I would be working to a schedule of talks and signings. All I needed was time to write. Time to sit down at my desk and focus. A good chunk of time to really get under the skin of the novel in progress.
And that is why those books have remained in my head library and my mind bookshop and haven’t as yet wriggled out into reality. Because when you are working full time, who has the time to write a book too? Sat in meetings at work I would look forward to getting home, putting my daughters to bed and having a good two or three hours to write. But by the time I had kissed them goodnight and wandered downstairs I was weary and the last thing I wanted to do was switch on my laptop and stare at another screen. I would work at the weekend I promised myself. I would move things around and set aside a whole day to focus. What a treat. How lucky I was to be able to make that time. But when the weekend came, it was a lovely day and I needed to be outside with my children, such a shame to waste it, I still had chores to finish which couldn’t be left and writing ambitions or not, children still need feeding. I just didn’t feel like it. And there was no point trying to force it out.
But this is where I discovered I was wrong. Forcing it out is precisely what I needed to do. It is the only way to get anything completed when you are not writing full time. And I have found that astonishing things happen when I don’t feel like writing but make myself anyway. Pick up a pencil, switch on the PC and start writing words. I have come up with the perfect last paragraph for my next book, realised that a plot point I was determined to include just didn’t work, fleshed out a host of secondary characters, most of whom I wasn’t expecting and moved the whole book along in surprising ways.
I do a lot of this on the train on my way to work, so each day I give myself a task, something specific to work on. For instance, my plotline depended on my heroine having little cash, but her parents had passed away and I knew that they would have left her a modest inheritance so something here was not going to add up. Scribbling away for half an hour on my train journey, writing down all the possibilities revealed that there was no credible way out of it and I would have to rethink her wealth. All the drama which centred around her struggling with no money was going to have to be re-thought. A nuisance but at least it would make the plot more believeable.
Getting on the train at 7.45 each morning I always feel tired, not looking foward to the day and never in the mood to write. But I bring out my notebook and pencil anyway and force myself to put words on the paper and without fail something magic happens. Even if it is only one meagre line of dialogue, I have never yet shut my notebook as the train pulls into Waterloo with nothing. And keeping that momentum going, working constantly on the book, makes it feel much more alive and believeable to me, that completing it might be achieveable. It is vibrant and evolving, not skulking on my PC at home waiting for some attention.
And half an hour there and half an hour home adds up to an hour a day which results in five hours of writing a week, which was five more than I was doing before.