Hello and welcome to the final instalment of Pieces, a pop-up newsletter that documented my home writing retreat, which was just last week but already feels like an eternity ago.
The aim of these week-after emails was always to share how well I’d managed to keep going. I thought it would be interesting to share the writing process in a much more normal week. In that context, sending just three updates in seven days and having little writing to show for it is both disappointing and a good reflection of the challenge that lies ahead.
It’s been a week packed with freelance work and childcare. Turns out having a week off generates a fair bit of admin and catching up to do. But I refuse to moan about it because I can’t change those things. I am privileged to be able to do both.
Instead, let me talk about what I think went well on the writing retreat. I’ll then share some thoughts on the magic of time when it comes to being a creative old soul. And then I’ll disappear into the email sunset.
My writing retreat was a success. Not perfect. But it went well.
Here’s what I achieved.
I read through all my work in progress.
I created Post its for scenes, characters and both good and terrible ideas.
I split material into scenes with titles I could understand and refer back to quickly when I come to work on them again.
I took several half-written openings and turned them into one.
I decided to write in third person present.
I named all primary and secondary characters.
I wrote around 1500 new words.
I bought and began reading two books I will need for research.
These are not small things for me or the novel. This is the work I have been struggling to do and the decisions I’ve been putting off making. I’m going into the new year with a clear idea of what I’m doing, but more importantly, the kind of book I want to write. This is what I wanted to achieve.
Some writers can sit down at their desk and write 3000 words a day. I am not one of those writers. Never have been. Never will be. There is far more to the writing process than hammering away at a keyboard. And both me and the book are in much better shape than we were before.
This is all good. All gravy.
Let’s talk about time.
Some writers look at super-successful authors who are able to write full-time and wish they had the same money, prestige and readership. I look at them and wish I had time. Time to write. Time to think.
Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of authors do not write full-time. That’s why I carefully chose the very technical term: super-successful. Most normal-successful authors have at least one other job that pays the bills.
I’ve struggled for time since I had children. Our twin boys came along back in 2012, a month after my debut novel was published and a fun five days before I was made redundant. Those following months were quite the challenge and as you might imagine, I did not have much time for writing.
Momentum, you might say, was lost.
It’s almost 10 years on and we have four children now. One of them thinks sleeping is an optional element of being human. She seems absolutely sure of it. I am officially knackered. But of course, also very lucky.
I run my own freelance business now too. Being self-employed comes with its own challenges, pressures and commitments, but it’s also far more flexible than any job I’ve had before. Again, I am very lucky.
The older I’ve got and the more responsibilities I’ve picked up, the way I think about time has changed. Sure, I have far less of it than ever, but I’m not the only person with kids and a job who also wants to write fiction good enough to get published.
What this writing retreat has made clear to me is that time equals space to think. A chance to go slowly and consider the options loud. The room to step back, find clarity and make good decisions about creative work.
And I do have time. Or some time, at least.
The kids are in bed by 8.30pm. It’s not much, but there are a couple of hours there every night that I could, potentially, devote to writing. And devotion truly is what’s needed. To finish writing a novel takes complete commitment, even if it comes in late-night bursts.
So, what’s the problem?
Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to over the years, but especially this past three weeks. The problem is not time, as such. It is headspace. It is finding a way to think clearly and write well when you’ve been up since 6am, done two school runs, made up to 12 meals and had a full day at work.
Throw in a pandemic for good measure. Why not?
I say all this to acknowledge what the task in hand is really about. Not to create more hours in the day, because that isn’t going to happen. Instead, what my writing retreat has shown me is the benefits of creating as much mental space as possible to focus. To think clearly.
What that means is there are things that can be done. Practical steps that can be taken. Distractions that can be removed. Perhaps it’s not about time at all. Instead it’s routine, momentum and switching off the world.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m all right with that.
That’s it. For one final time, thank you following along over the last three weeks. I had a smashing writing retreat and emailing you at the end of each day was one of the best bits. I’ve written and sent you just short of 9000 words over 13 editions! View the full archive here.
Pieces has been a good way of keeping me honest, but also a forcing function for reflection. How often do you get the chance to do something you love all day then tell 200+ strangers about it that night? Thinking and writing about my process has been extremely helpful.
There is a chance I may do this again in the new year at some point, so if you’d like to hear from me in future… do nothing. If you’d like to call it quits at this point, no worries at all. Just unsubscribe now.
Of course, I also send a weekly newsletter for writers called Draft Mode, where I share links to great writing articles, videos and tools. You may be on that list already, but if not you should check it out.
And now, I bit you adieu and wave frantically as I walk backwards, away from you and into the distance. I leave you in a better place than when this all began, but there is so much more to do. Wish me luck.
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