An old friend and I exchanged news on Messenger this week and she asked if I was still writing full-time. I replied last night that I was and it had been about a year. And then it struck me that it had been pretty much exactly a year and I might even have missed the anniversary. I had. So this is a bit of a belated post!
Tuesday – 8th June – was the one-year anniversary of me being a full-time author. What an amazing year it has been for my career as an author with so many wonderful goals achieved, but it has also been the most peculiar of years thanks to a global pandemic changing everyone’s lives.
This isn’t a blog post about goals achieved or about the strange world in which we live. Instead, it’s about how I’ve found writing full-time…
I thought I’d start this post by sharing an amazing cartoon my husband drew for me to represent frustrating days in my previous role as a distance learning HR Tutor. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job … most of the time. I don’t think there are many jobs that don’t have a few niggles but the ones in mine had become more frequent and increasingly challenging so the steam coming out the ears had become a regular thing!
So how has the first year been as a full-time author? Not quite what I expected. I say this not because I’m not ‘living the dream’ by doing exactly what I want to do, but because my approach to the freedom to write full-time hasn’t been what I expected and I find myself unexpectedly working more hours than I’ve ever worked.
I used to be able to write a book in 2-3 months squeezing my writing time into evenings and weekends around my demanding more-than-full-time day job. I ran evening webinars so I didn’t even have every evening free to write. I therefore assumed that, with full days available, I would get so much more writing done and at a quicker pace.
I have mastered the art of procrastination. I continually break from what I’m doing to:
- Check my emails
- Scroll through my social media feeds
- Check my chart positions
- See whether I have new reviews
The last two points are fair enough when it’s publication day or there’s a promotion on but it isn’t necessary several times every day outside that.
I don’t need to repeatedly check my emails and the scrolling through social media feeds is completely unnecessary, especially when the way I do it is so ineffective. I frequently find myself scrolling aimlessly, not resetting Facebook to ‘most recent’ so I am seeing posts I’ve already seen and I’m not interacting with any of them.
I dread to think how many hours I waste each day doing this. Yes, we are talking hours!
Linked to the above, I have absolutely no routine. I plonk myself down at my desk on a morning and am usually still there past 10pm. Argh! That’s not good.
When I had very little time to write, I used to just crack on with it. One hour to write? Okay, let’s do this!
Not so much now. With the whole day and week spread out before me, I don’t use it effectively. I spend ages staring into space. Sometimes I’m thinking about a plot point or piece of dialogue. Most of the time, I’m not.
I get distracted doing little bits of research when I would previously have put ‘CHECK THIS’ in the middle of my manuscript (MS) and come back to it later to avoid disrupting my flow.
I used to use the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) approach of just getting the words on the page and editing them later but I’ve started editing as I go again or spending ages trying to think of the perfect words to use instead of getting the intention down on the page and perfecting the words later.
I think having so much time spread before me is the problem. At the back of my mind, I knew this could be an issue as a very good friend of mine had become a full-time author a couple of years earlier and she experienced the same issue. When you have very little time, you’re very focused with it. When you have loads of time, you waste it.
I need to be so much more focused with my writing time.
As you can probably guess from what I’ve said about how many hours I spend at my desk, I don’t have one of these. I can’t remember the last time I did.
Last summer, I wrote a week-long series of blog posts about imposter syndrome and it was quite a revelation for me pinpointing what had triggered mine. It went back to my early twenties and continued throughout my working life where I was bullied in the workplace and overlooked for promotion on several occasions.
We all know when we’re good at something or not (even though it’s very British to downplay our abilities) so I’m going to be very non-British and bold and declare that I was excellent at my job but I wasn’t good at playing the game. I didn’t network with the ‘right’ people. I didn’t ‘big myself up’ at work. I didn’t get involved in work politics. I didn’t stamp on others to get to where I wanted to be. I always hoped to progress on my own merits instead of because of who I knew. That strategy didn’t work! I therefore developed a workaholic approach, putting in way more effort and hours than were required in order to prove myself. And that approach became part of me and has never quite left me.
I find it very difficult to relax. I don’t like not being busy. I’m always doing something work-related and this isn’t good. This has exacerbated during the pandemic. Stuck at home? Might as well work then. So I did. Yet, as already stated, it hasn’t been time spent constructively.
Looking back, I have achieved a lot. In the year I’ve been a full-time author, I have:
- Written three full-length novels, one of which required a complete re-write in edits
- Completely re-written one of my backlist books as I wasn’t happy with the way it was written
- Undertaken a full edit on another of my backlist
But I could have done more and … here’s the rub … in fewer hours if I hadn’t procrastinated, if I’d found a routine, and if I’d given myself a work life balance.
I think that the latter is one of the reasons why I procrastinate and don’t have a routine and it’s a vicious circle. I’m shattered because I don’t have any downtime so, when I do sit down at my desk, I can’t concentrate for long so I write a few hundred words and then get distracted. The words come more slowly because I’m tired but that means I need to sit at my desk longer to get the book written which means no work life balance which means I’m shattered so I procrastinate…
What can I do?
Only I can make the change. My husband challenged whether I should write fewer than four books a year to give me more time, but four books a year is absolutely do-able. The problem is that I don’t use the time effectively so it’s not the volume of work I need to change; it’s how I work.
I was fascinated by listening to a Facebook Live last week from fellow-Boldwood author Shari Low on the publication day of her latest novel, One Summer Sunrise. Shari talked about how quickly she writes her books and I was fascinated by it. She pretty much shuts herself off for a week or two and blitzes it. She doesn’t look at social media or go out. It’s a very intensive period with very long hours but the book gets written. Wow!
I wondered if she might put a huge amount of planning into it so that she knows exactly what she’s going to write but she’s a pantser, like me, just getting on with writing the idea she has. So this could work for me. If she’d planned first, that would be no good. I’m definitely not a planner with my writing.
I have started writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – and it’s going very slowly. This is partly because I have to do some research first and I’m struggling to find the detail I need so that’s holding me up, but it’s also because I’m procrastinating and because I have no routine. Next week isn’t a good week to try Shari’s approach as I am meeting up with my writing bestie, I have a hair appointment, and I have a cover reveal at the end of the week so need to be on social media. However, w/c 21st June is relatively clear in the diary so I’m going to come off social media for the week and see what happens if I try to blitz the book. Even if I could write half of it in a week, I’d be thrilled.
Every author is different and what works for one isn’t going to work for another but they say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I’ve been doing the same thing for the past year and it’s not effective so it’s time to experiment with something a little different. I’ll let you know how I get on.
I hope this approach does work for me as I love the idea of an intensive fortnight to write a book and then time to do other things and be with my family outside of that. Of course, the process of writing the book doesn’t stop at that fortnight. There are still two rounds of edits, copy edits and proofreading stages but I think something radical is needed to stop me from working all these crazy hours.
Wish me luck!