I’m an avid reader. I’ve never had trouble finding the time to read – I can always squeeze in a chapter here, a page or two there. Cracking open a book means you can sit back and let the author take you on an adventure.
Opening the beginnings of your half-baked first draft is a different story. You’re not the one being taken for a ride anymore, you’re the one responsible for keeping this tale on track. Writing takes focus. And by ‘writing’ I’m not only referring to banging away at the keyboard on your first draft, but everything else that comes with telling and selling a story – plotting, editing, researching, learning, marketing, all the rest.
For a long time I have wanted to write a full-length novel, but the prospect of putting together a few hundred pages of polished prose was daunting. And I didn’t have that kind of time. My time is taken up working a full-time day job, commuting an hour each way, cooking dinner every other evening (with leftovers for lunch the next day), socialising with family and friends, and catching the occasional show, film, exhibit, etc.
I knew the story I wanted to tell, but I also knew it would demand more time than was available to me. Still, I was enjoying plotting and outlining – learning about my characters and the world they inhabited. After a while I realised I had the skeleton of my story, and if I only focused on one bone at a time, my story didn’t seem nearly as daunting or demanding as it did before.
The final product would comprise hundreds of pages and take hundreds of hours to write. But just as my future novel could be broken down into chapters, then paragraphs, and further again down to sentences, so could my time. I didn’t need hundreds of hours all at once; I needed chunks of ten minutes, half an hour, maybe even a full hour, but I didn’t need ten solid hours each day to get this thing together.
Once I considered smaller chunks of time, I realised I had plenty, and the more I looked, the more I found. Similar to those wishing they could read more – too busy, just don’t have the time – I realised I was using the same argument for writing. And if reading was already a natural and regular part of my day, why not writing?
In the morning while having my coffee and breakfast – when I would scroll through the news and my social feeds – I could instead scroll back through my draft, refreshing myself on what I’d written yesterday. On the walk to and from the station, instead of listening to music I switched to bookish podcasts. On the train I would typically lose myself in a book; I switched to immersing myself in the world of my novel, tapping out a hundred words or two on my phone.
For a long time I have prioritised taking a lunch break and getting out of the office in the middle of the day, at least for a little while. So after devouring my lunch, I found I had time to knock out another couple of hundred words in the park (on sunny days) and on a seat at the public library (on the wetter ones). The afternoon commute was a repeat of the morning. Then on evenings when I wasn’t cooking, or we weren’t out, I had another couple of hours to write when I had previously read books, watched TV, or nattered away with my partner and flatmates. From nothing on an average weekday, I now had up to four or even six hours of writing time a day. Some days were still a struggle, but even when I wasn’t feeling it, just having my draft open meant I couldn’t help but add a sentence or two, then the ball was rolling again.
The product of all this time was far from polished, that would come later. I just needed to get something down and build up my first draft from there. And once complete I could tear it apart, put it back together and buff it to a nice shine.
The moral of the story was that chopping my story into smaller chunks meant that I wasn’t overwhelmed, and each day, whether I took a whole bite or just a nibble, I made progress.