No time to write? Get a dog!

So during August and September I wrote a novel. Yeah I know, it came as a shock to me too. This haunted house tale (with a difference!) currently clocks in at 71,000 words, which is more than I’ve produced on a single project since I was in university and I wrote a Doctor Who book called Two’s Company. Yes it was dreadful but it was 75K and it actually made some sort of sense. I was quite proud of that.

Since then of course, life has gone out of its way to ensure I don’t have the kind of time it takes to produce more than the odd short story. Actually that’s bull. Right now I have a day job that saps both energy and spare time and two young kids who specialize in doing much the same. My writing time is squeezed more than ever. Yet back when I had no kids and a less stressful day job, I didn’t write a novel. What the hell was I doing with all that spare time? Probably being a lazy-ass.

If you find you’re in the same boat, if writing is a passion you wish you had more time to devote to, then have a read of these five things I did that resulted — directly and indirectly — in 71K in the bank (I wish I was talking about money).

1. Get a dog

This is my dog. Her name is Mia and she’s also a witch. Fun fact! This photo once appeared on the BBC’s news site one Halloween.

If you have a dog, make sure you’re the one walking the dog. Not only is walking the dog an opportunity to get some fresh air and cool off if the kids are driving you nuts or you had an outrageously stressful day, it’s also an opportunity to clear your head and think about your work in progress. Got a scene that’s not quite working? Walk the dog, think it through, solve the problem. Got a plot hole that needs filling? Walk the dog, consider the problem from all angles and find an organic solution from the pieces you already have.

Bottom line, staring at your computer screen probably isn’t going to get you very far. Stepping away, going for that walk, it helps you focus. I’ve worked through a lot of plot issues this way and I’ve come up with some nice little ideas to slot into my work in progress. So why need the dog at all? Why not just go for a walk? Because you and I know if you don’t have a reason why you need to go for a walk every day (or twice in my dog’s case) then you’ll just sit on the sofa and say, maybe tomorrow. Seriously, if it weren’t for my dog, half my short stories would never have got past the plotting stage and I’d be the size of a whale.

2. Use your commute

This is my car. Her name is Ella (apparently) and she has a moustache. Fun fact! This photo never appeared on the BBC’s news site…

Similar to the dog walk, the commute is an opportunity to think about your writing. So turn off the traffic reports (everything’s slow, get used to it), stop yelling obscenities at the guy in front of you on his cell phone, weaving in and out of his lane, and just start thinking about that story you want to write. The difference here is that your primary focus is on the driving. This stops you over-thinking the storyline. You don’t obsess about the one detail that’s blocking you from making progress, and your subconscious is free to throw some curve balls at your plot, some ideas you’d not considered before. I’ve had a couple of Eureka moments this way, and in the course of a month I plotted out an entire fantasy novel in the car on the way to and from work.

It sucks that you can’t write things down, but this acts as something of a filter. The ideas you remember when you reach your destination and can actually record them, tend to be the ones that stick in your memory.

3. Quit reality TV

This is my American Idol. Wow, was this ever a colossal waste of time. Fun Fact! This show is not only fixed, it’s utter s*** too!

Actually this season I’ve dropped a number of drama shows I watched before. House is done, Hawaii Five-0 was, well I don’t really know why I was watching that. Habit? The theme tune? No idea. I seem to have picked up Revolutions, Elementary and the surprisingly funny Go On, which wasn’t planned, but the big change this year is the reality crap.

My guilty pleasure for years has been American Idol. I’ve watched every season since the third. No, I don’t know why I’ve stuck with it for so long. When Simon Cowell left, Idol became totally worthless, but still I watched. And to make matters worse, X-Factor started up and I watched that too. (I drew the line at The Voice). Enough. It’s dumb, it’s fixed, it has not produced a genuine star in years and those 2-hour shows can consume an entire evening. So Idol will not be on my viewing roster when it starts up again, and X-Factor is comfortably being ignored. I don’t even feel any withdrawal symptoms. The only reality shows I’m watching now are Shark Tank and Dragons’ Den (the US and Canadian versions of the UK show also called Dragons’ Den)

So ditch the 2-hour results show for Dancing with the Stars and do some writing instead. You’ll be amazed what you can achieve!

4. Have your spouse work evenings for a month

This is my spouse. Her name is Jennifer and she hates having her photo taken. Fun fact! If I put a real photo of her on my site, I’d be in big trouble…

Yeah, OK this one might be tricky. I’m not talking about trying to convince your spouse to get the hell out of the house every weeknight for a month. I love my wife and I rely on her for things like common sense, knowing how to deal with the kids and tearing off a neat piece of parchment paper. So when she took a month-long contract of evening work, I groaned at the prospect of feeding the kids and getting them to bed on my own. But then, after they were asleep, I found myself with some time to kill until my wife returned at around 1AM. I could have had an affair, but frankly maintaining the requisite number of lies and deceptions is way more work than I’m prepared to put in. Plus, you know, divorce is such a time and money waster.

So I sat down and wrote. I knocked out about 2,000 words every weekday evening. Considering I’ve written just one short story in all the rest of 2012 combined, I don’t think that’s too shabby. I’m not saying being married is a detriment to your writing career. In my case it’s the opposite, given that my best stories are the ones my wife read before I submitted them, and my worst stories are the ones she didn’t…

But we do enable each others’ lazy habits. Evenings are the only time we get to spend alone together, and we do actually still get on quite well (I know, it’s unheard of). So it’s not that easy to say, “Hey love, I’m buggering off to write my book.” Of course, she has no such reservations in telling me, “Hey love, I’m buggering off to play Diablo.” Hmm…

5. Get an awesome mother-in-law

This is my awesome mother-in-law. Her name is Lupe and she’s the one in the middle. Fun fact! This photo was taken quite a while ago and I should really take a new one…

If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or parent-in-law willing to look after the kids for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, take full advantage. It’s tempting to use the time to see a movie, eat a whole carton of ice cream or just sleep. But if you can get yourself to a library with your laptop, you can bang out 2,000 words and be that much closer to having that complete first draft.

Doesn’t have to be the library. Could be a cafe. Anywhere but home really. Home is full of distractions, like the pile of washing up that needs doing, or the ice cream in the freezer, or the nice soft bed that you lie down on for a five minute rest and then wake up again to find six hours has passed…

So big thanks to my mother-in-law, who bravely takes on two boys (2 and 5) without backup, witnesses her nice tidy house get taken apart, endures sibling fights and toddler tantrums, and still comes back for more! You’ll be getting a big acknowledgement if the book gets published (I know that makes it totally worthwhile, right?)

So there you go. If you want to write that novel but you never seem to have the time, maybe one or two of the above might help. I’m the laziest procrastinator you will ever meet, I make sloths look motivated. Yet I managed to write the first draft of a novel in one and a half months. I’m not blowing smoke when I say, if I can do it then you can do it too.

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