Finding time for writing – the big lie

Yesterday was my first day back at work. Over the holidays, as usual, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to balance my working day, how to mix my different responsibilities. The aim, as always, is to find more time to write. Because if I had more time to write….ah, well.

How much money does it take to be happy? Ask anyone that question and they’ll usually answer with a figure that is just a little bit more than they earn now. The amount of money they need is always just out of reach.

The same applies to me and writing time. If I just had a little more… And then I read these wise words from Julia Cameron:

“The myth that we must have ‘time’ – more time – in order to create is a myth that keeps us from using the time we do have. If we are forever yearning for ‘more’, we are forever discounting what is offered.”

I felt a shiver when I read that. She continues:

“The ‘if-I-had-time’ lie is a convenient way to ignore the fact that novels require being written and that writing happens a sentence at a time. Sentences can happen in a moment.”

How to come up with short story ideas

Blocked up like a bank holiday motorway? Devoid of any writing ideas? Here’s my Five Step Short Story Idea Generating Process (TM pending).

  1. Take a blank sheet of paper and make a random list of characters and their objectives. For example: A man who desperately needs £100,000 within a week; a woman who must get her head unstuck from some railings; a man who wants to be young again; a girl who wants to buy a second-hand caravan.
  2. Make a random list of scenarios: The world will certainly end next Thursday; walking is made illegal; all the bees die; dogs rule the world.
  3. Make a list of interesting words: Treachery, lust, envy, arrogance, porridge, goats, pasta, secrets.
  4. Quickly jot down sentences and ideas that take something from at least two of the lists. Such as:
  • A man needs £100,000 to deceive a goat
  • A woman trying to annoy a goat gets her head stuck in some railings
  • Arrogance kills all of the bees
  • Dogs rule through treachery
  • Porridge is the secret of youth
  • Over-consumption of pasta will lead the word to oblivion next Tuesday

Choose one and get writing. Easy.

How hard is it to write?

Writing can sometimes be very difficult. How’s that for an understatement? But how hard, or easy, is it meant to be?

Here are three very different reports from the coal face of the writing industry:

1) In Slate magazine Garrison Keillor tells writers it’s easy, so stop moaning:

“The fact of the matter is that the people who struggle most with writing are drunks. They get hammered at night and in the morning their heads are full of pain and adverbs. Writing is hard for them, but so would golf be, or planting alfalfa, or assembling parts in a factory.”

2) While over at Columbia Journalism Review Robert Boynton interviews the painfully unproductive Gay Talese and reports how:

“Displaying equal parts pride and self-loathing, Talese reports he wrote barely fifty-four-and-a-half typed pages between 1995 and 1999.”

3) Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Orhan Pamuk reflects on the joys of putting words on paper:

“If you leave aside sensual pleasures, sexual pleasures, good food, good sleep, and so on, then the happiest thing is that I have written two and a half, three good pages. I am almost assured that they are, but I need confirmation. My girlfriend comes, we are happy, I read to her, she says, ‘This is wonderful’ – that’s it! That’s the greatest happiness.”