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‘I don’t have time to write’ and what this really means

Look, I’ve said it myself. And I’m still saying it (have you SEEN how long it’s been since I even blogged?)

The funny thing about ‘I don’t have time’ is that it’s more about the thing than the time. Rarely do we say ‘I don’t have time to scroll mindlessly through my former colleague’s holiday photos’ or ‘I don’t have time to browse the Outnet’ or ‘I don’t have time to press the snooze button six times’. In these cases we can make the time, because the thing is easy.  Mostly, it’s not a lack of time; it’s a lack of other things that prevents us doing the things we want to. Here are some I’ve experienced:

I don’t have energy: Honestly, this one is fair enough. Writing does take a lot of energy, especially in the early stages. I am, and remain, in awe of people who can come in from a full day’s work, put their kids to bed, load the dishwasher and then open their computer to write. I have never, and probably will never, be able to do this. To write my first book, I needed free time during the day – and not just a lunch break but a whole morning a week, just to get started. Not everyone is able to work part time (as I did) of course. You may have to give something up, like shopping or Netflix (I would be very interested to see a graph of productivity generally since the introduction of Netflix to our lives).

I don’t have headspace: again, fair enough. Some people are able to take refuge in writing while their lives are chaotic. That only happens for me when I’m 20,000 words into something which I find to be the threshold into the magic world where you’re really on a roll and obsessed. But prior to that, when I’m just trying to get into something, it’s like trying to scramble up onto a tall wall and thinking you’re going to fall back and get shin splints. To do that while the rest of my life felt chaotic, which has been the case for the past few years, was just too hard for me. Sometimes you just don’t have the bandwidth and writing has to wait.

I don’t have a dedicated time or place: this is really crucial. I think it helps to dedicate a time every week, ideally in the same place, where you can just try. Even if it’s just sitting at the keyboard writing a diary or notes or nothing at all. The key thing is not to open Net a Porter.

I don’t have a place to go: Some people swear by libraries but I don’t like writing in libraries – it’s too quiet, and every small isolated sound is an aggravation. Last time I worked in a library (the Dun Laoghaire lexicon, possibly the world’s most beautiful library or am I biased?) a man at a desk nearby made a long phone call about car insurance and I almost had to commit murder.  I like to write in cafes and always have – I like the background noise and chatter, and being surrounded by people which takes the edge off what can otherwise be a pretty lonely pursuit. There’s also the possibility that I am kidding myself that by being in the presence of people working hard that I am also working hard. It does get expensive of course, so if you can stay home and just shut the door and get on with it, good for you. I have to leave the house otherwise bad things happen (while stuck on an early draft once I found myself making granola).

I don’t know what to write: same tbh. Right now I feel guilty because I have SO much time (3 mornings a week ) but it gets eaten up by admin and housework, both avoidance activities because I don’t know what to write. In the past three years I’ve lost two parents, gained a daughter, been through various medical mills and been sent into a spin by political upheavals that are keeping us all awake. I don’t know where to start writing about these things or how. But there’s only one way to find out … Inspiration doesn’t come before sitting down to write; in my experience you sit down first, then get inspired.

I don’t have the confidence: This is a really good book on this – Elizabeth Gilbert says that fear is an invariable passenger on the creative journey; you just have to make sure it doesn’t take the driving seat. But there’s also the feeling we sometimes have of needing permission to write something. All I can say is everyone feels a fraud so you may as well just go for it.

I hope that’s been helpful! Do you have time to write?

*News: I am teaching a one-weekend course at London’s City Lit on 16 and 17 November 2019 for the bargain price of £99. I’d love to see you there! https://www.citylit.ac.uk/courses/writing-romance

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