Finding Time to Write

The question I get asked most often is ‘how do you find time to write’?

In this day and age it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by everyday life without the added pressure of writing a book or short story. So just how do you apply the BOSFOK (bum on seat, fingers on keyboard) principle?

The answer is by scheduling the time you have.

Don’t try and fit your writing into your ‘spare time.’ There’s no such thing, especially if you work full time in order to support your family. Study your schedule and designate time when you can concentrate on your writing, but don’t be too ambitious. For example: If you are a morning person try getting up half an hour earlier and using that time to write. Some writers prefer to work of any evening while the rest of the family watch TV, others dedicate weekend afternoons as their time to write. Choose whatever works best for you, and stick to it.

  1. Use a timer when doing research–it’s very easy to become distracted, especially when searching the Internet. A timer will help make your time at the computer more productive.
  2. Limit the amount of time you spend answering and sending emails (unless they are to your editor), and reading on line newspapers and blogs.
  3. Think about what you’re going to write BEFORE you sit down in front of the computer, perhaps while ironing, or mowing the lawn. When you do sit down at your desk, you’ll have the next few pages worked out, plus you will have freed up time in which to write it.
  4. Make use of downtime–those tedious journeys on the bus to work or sitting around waiting for appointments. Carry a notebook and write while you travel or wait. If you spend a lot of time in the car driving from place to place, invest in a voice activated voice recorder.
  5. While you’re watching your children play in the park, work out the next scene or think through a problem. When you sit down to write, the words will generally flow.
  6. If your children have an essay to write use the time they are sat quietly to work on your novel.
  7. Don’t try and write while the TV or radio is playing in the background, it will only distract you.
  8. Instead of taking an hour to eat lunch, use part of the time to write.
  9. Invest in a netbook computer–most are no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper, are lightweight and relatively inexpensive.
  10. Use an answering machine to screen calls during your ‘writing time.’
  11. But most of all, set yourself a writing goal. It could be something as simple as entering one writing contest in the course of a year. And remember; if you write 250 words a day–the equivalent of one page of A4, in a year you will have written 365 pages or approximately 90,000 words–enough for a full length novel. Whatever your goal, stick to it, as it will take the pressure off.

Time management is all about common sense. It’s a matter of understanding your commitments and knowing how you work best, and using that information to achieve your goals.

You’ve come up with an amazing idea for a novel, but what’s next? Part 3.

You’ve written your outline and/or plotted your novel. You’ve named your characters and given them a background, and are itching to put pen to paper, but what about the setting for your novel?

Many seasoned novelists will tell new authors to write about what they know, and its good advice. But most people see reading as a form of escapism from the humdrum of everyday life.

Just as life experiences often given us ideas for novels, places we travel to can often be the source of inspiration when it comes to settings. For example, when I set out to write my first novel, Three Weeks Last Spring, I had recently returned from a holiday in Seattle, Washington. Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands are spectacular. I realised that it wouldn’t take much to upset the ecological balance of the area. An oil spill from a tanker and the wildlife, in particular, the seabirds and mammals, would be facing a catastrophe, equal only to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska. That vacation, not only gave me the setting for my novel, but also the idea for the story.

I knew I wanted to set my second novel in Scotland, but I needed an idea for a story, and a setting. Having lived there for twenty years I had travelled the length and breadth of the country, but I also had first hand knowledge of the offshore oil industry. I recalled a visit to the west coast, and the drive along the single-track road to Loch Hourn, a fjord-like sea loch, and decided it would be a wonderful setting for a novel.

But what to write about?

A little further south lies Loch Kishorn, another sea loch, and the site of the now defunct Howard Doris Construction yard. I tried to imagine how the occupants of the three small settlements on the shore, known collectively as Kishorn, must have felt when the Highland Council granted permission for Howard Doris to use the loch as a construction facility for offshore oil platforms.

From that setting, and my knowledge of the offshore industry, the idea for The House on the Shore, evolved.

So you see setting can be used as a plot devise. An isolated Scottish Glen, a bankrupt factitious Laird, desperate to salvage his family fortunes, and an offshore construction company seeking to build a deepwater facility, became the ingredients for a romantic suspense novel. But it’s a novel based on fact.

As a writer you should always be aware of your surroundings – you never know your next vacation or trip to the countryside could be the setting for a novel.

The House on the Shore is due to be released under the Vanilla Heart label next month.

You’ve come up with an amazing an idea for a novel, so what’s next? Part 2

While I out walking with my Border collie, Lucy, the other day I thought about the plot for my next novel. I’ve been working on this manuscript for nearly a year now, and have got no further than Chapter three. No doubt you’re wondering why I haven’t finished it.

There are two reasons.

Firstly, although I had completed The House on the Shore over a year ago and had been submitting it to agents, I decided to revise the manuscript – not once, but twice. This entailed adding some 24,000 words to the original manuscript, so what had started out as a 70,000 word single-title suspense romance finally became a 95,000 word novel. Did I make the right decision in revising the manuscript? You bet! It will be published in February 2009 by Vanilla Heart Publishing.

The second reason for not completing my third novel is due in to the fact that I felt the plot was lacking something. The idea originally came to me while I was sitting on a beach on Gasparilla Island in January 2006. I knew the basic premise was sound. My characters have depth and by that I mean they are not one-dimensional – when I think about them, I can see them acting through the events I have planned for them. I can even imagine snatches of dialogue, and occasionally I dream about them. In other words, I know what makes them tick. They have the personality, wit, and intelligence to overcome the problems they encounter during the course of the novel.

So what was wrong with the plot and how did I rectify it?

By asking myself questions or playing “the what if game.” I already knew, “Who,” “Where” and “When,” but “What and “Why” eluded me. I knew how my story began and how it would end.

My problem was how to introduce my hero and make his meeting with the heroine plausible. Originally, I had planned to have my hero follow the heroine from the airport and then contrive to meet her by accident. But it didn’t feel right.

I put the manuscript to one side and worked on a short story. When that was complete, I emailed a friend who happens to be a fellow writer and we tossed ideas back and forth for a few days. I also tried to imagine what I would do if I were in a position similar to that of my heroine. It was only by doing this and asking myself questions that I finally reached a solution I was happy with. I re-wrote my plot outline – the key events and points I wanted to achieve during the course of the story. When I started writing again the words came easily.

If you don’t have a writing friend, someone you can bounce ideas off, I suggest you put aside your work-in-progress, and spend a few days away from the computer, or work on something else. If that fails, there are a number of excellent books on plotting; Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon, and Holly Lisle’s Plot Clinic are excellent. Both are guaranteed to get the imagination fired up and working.

You’ve come up with an amazing idea for a novel, so what’s next?

Many first time authors just start writing with no clear ending in mind, and then often find themselves grinding to a halt somewhere around chapter five or six. The manuscript gets shoved into a drawer and forgotten about.

So what’s the solution?

The answer is some basic planning. Decide on the length of the book, and which genre your novel fits into. At this stage it’s a good idea to look books similar to the one you are writing to get an idea of overall length. The average single-title contemporary romance is anywhere between 80,000 to 100,000 words long. If you’re writing category romance then check the publisher’s guidelines, as it can vary from line to line. For example: For Mills and Boon Intrigue the word count is 50,000 and 60,000, while their Modern Heat line is 50,000 to 55,000.

Then decide on your cast of characters. I like to cut images from magazines and past them onto “character sheets” for the main characters. I find it a great aid to describing physical attributes. Then I build their background, their skills and personalities. As I write romantic suspense, I also give them some emotional baggage, something that they have to overcome to achieve their goal.

Next I do my research. Say my protagonist is an artist; in that case I need to decide whether he or she paints in oils or watercolours. The local library is a good source of information, although more often than not, I find what I’m looking for on the Internet. Then I choose a setting—let’s say San Francisco. Fortunately, I’ve been there and have photographs and guidebooks to refer to. But if you set your novel in an unfamiliar place, then again, do your research.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to sit down and plot your novel or write your outline.

Some writers will tell you that it is essential to develop your characters and plot your novel, chapter by chapter. Others will tell you that they don’t plot per se, but they jot down key points they wish their characters to achieve, in other words they write a plot outline. Then there are the “wingers,” those writers who have a beginning and an ending, but no idea of what will take place in the middle.

So who is right, the plotter, the author who outlines, or those who wing it?

Unfortunately, they all are! You have to find which way works best for you. Personally, I find a tight plot line hampers my creativity and prefer just to work from a four to six page outline. This allows my story “growing room.”

For expert help in plotting your novel I suggest you read Brenda Hill’s excellent e-book Plot your way to Publication. www.brendahill.com