Reclaiming My Writing Time

This time last week I set my intention to self-publish my novel next year and over the last several days, I remembered that wanting to do something is not the same as doing it. Or as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

And while I was initially inspired to write my book to show my son that dreams or wishes do come true, I also realised that juggling my business and being a mother requires a more strategic plan to reach my goal. In other words, I need to find a way to reclaim my writing time.

When I had written my initial drafts, I had an office at the end of my road where I could go to when my son had fallen asleep and write until as late as I wanted. A couple of years ago, I moved out of the office and I now work in a shared space without 24-hour access.

At home, I don’t have the same discipline in the evenings. There’s always the temptation of ‘Netflix and chill’ to unwind. Dare I watch Mad Men for the third time? And I love doing some of my work at night; the type of work that requires strategic thinking while I’m not having to share my time with emails, meetings and the 101 things I need to do in my work.

Trying to figure out my new writing time, I first asked myself ‘morning or night?’ The short answer was nighttime. The overthinking thought process considered how busy my mind is when I wake up; how all I can really think about is what my son has on that day. What needs to go in his school bag? Is he wearing his school uniform to school or his PE kit? Is it piano day? And does he have after school club? Yes? Then we need to grab an after-school snack on the way to school. The list is endless and it gets more complicated if I have to hit the ground running with a meeting for work. So mornings are out also because I feel too nervous about the idea of starting to write and not knowing what time my son will actually wake up. After all, I go to sleep too late to even consider waking up at 4am to write for two hours. So evening it is. It’s 10.30pm as I write this post and I’m thinking 9.30pm for an hour or two would be an ideal time to write.

With the time decided, now I need to think about the where. Do I try to write at home? With so many distractions around me? My other half is an absolute angel with helping out but I am easily distracted. So I either pick a nook where there are absolutely zero distractions; like Stephen King who used to write in a laundry room, or I head outside. My gym closes at 11pm and then at least I’d be able to squeeze in a 30 minute run or swim - but then I’d only be able to write for an hour.

The where is as important as the when and I think this is where discipline is needed the most. Whichever space I choose, I need to make sure I get there on time and switch off any distractions. A huge benefit of writing in a public space is that the temptation to open Netflix would be very slim because hey, what’s the point of leaving your home to watch Suits?

When it comes to other writers, I love reading about their writing mindset. E.B. White famously said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper”, while in a 2004 article in The Paris Review, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami stated, “The repetition itself becomes the important thing.”

I love this article on famous authors’ writing routines by James Clear who wrote a book I love called Atomic Habits. Clear believes in making small changes to make a big impact. And if I’m going to apply this thought process along with making the goal simple, attractive and easy to achieve then I know what I am going to have to do. I will start back with an hour a day (because while my writing has slowed down, reading is still a priority as a writer, so I need time for that too) and as for the where I will go for the low hanging fruit and sit at my desk at home, switch off the wifi (while keeping my fingers crossed my other half will be ok with it).

So apart from having to complete last year’s tax filling and my Q2 VAT, I really have no excuse not to start tomorrow (she writes, knowing that the next email will be to her accountant). This goal is what’s pushing me forward because while there are a thousand and one things to deal with, we only have one life to make our dreams come true. And as much as I want to show my son that dreams can come true, I want to show my mother that everything she believed I could do, I managed to do it.

My Big Challenge

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Five years ago I started writing my novel inspired by the sole intention to show my son that anything is possible, that dreams can come true, and that whatever is in the mind can become a reality.

Since starting my novel, I have embarked on a few writing courses including Faber Academy’s Novel Writing course and I have written many drafts. But a couple of years ago the writing slowed down. This could be related to my son starting school which meant shorter days compared to the 8am-6pm nursery hours, it could also have been because my business has grown beyond my wildest dreams or it could have been losing a friend unexpectedly, which completely floored me. And because ghosts and friendship are at the heart of my story, I found it too painful to continue writing.

Flash forward to a couple of years later and I’m losing someone else again, this time it’s happening very slowly. The loss is occurring initially with my mother’s memory and I fear the worst for what’s to come, especially when I face the facts on a daily basis with one of my clients being a dementia charity.

The most difficult part of it is that my mother lives on the other side of the world and as much as I am desperate to jump on a plane this very minute, I’m unable to visit her until next summer when my son has enough time off school for us to make a proper trip to the island where she lives in the Philippines.

One of the last face to face conversations I remember having with my mother was about the story I was writing. I promised her that she would be able to read something some day soon and as always when I mentioned my writing her eyes twinkled with excitement. She was the one who installed my passion to write and she was the one who fed my thirst for stories; I think it had a lot to do with her amusing ability to blur the boundaries of fantasy and reality. And I guess it has a lot to do with the Filipino’s culture and their superstitious beliefs involving ghosts and black magic.

And so thinking about the next time I will see my mother and the fear I will feel when I sit next to her, knowing that she won’t remember our last phone conversation, I’ve decided to set myself a deadline. In June 2020, regardless of the state of my novel, I have decided to self-publish a few hard copies so I can take them to the Philippines with me. I just really want to see the woman who spent endless hours at the typewriter when I was a child, typing countless letters to her friends and family in the Philippines, with my book in her hand. I hope it will help her to reconnect with herself and with me. I hope I’ll be able to see that twinkle in her eyes again.

So that’s my challenge, to finish this story as much as I can. And I will use Nanowrimo, a couple of writing courses I have booked myself onto next year and the London Literature Festival at the South Bank to push me forward. I started writing this book for my son and now I want to finish it for my mother.

Here goes ….