WRITING WITHOUT TIME: Being a poor indie writer trying to write while juggling with two-and-a-half jobs and the electrified zombie of your social life.
I often see advice for writers along the lines of “Write every day” and “set aside two hours every day” and “have a writing room”, and while none of this is necessarily bad advice, it’s not precisely helpful to those of us who don’t have a lot of money or time. This kind of advice can be very pervasive, to the point I’ve seen big name authors say things along the lines of “if you don’t write every day then you aren’t a writer” and “you must have a dedicated writing space” and none of this takes into account that most of us are poor, okay? We’re poor. You might live with your family and not have your own room. You might be sleeping on a friend’s sofa. You might have children or be working a lot of jobs, and you probably can’t afford that super special Author’s Pen. And all the above can make it feel as though you are an imposter: I know it did me.
The only time I’ve managed to have time dedicated to writing every single day was when I was 17 and my dad was supporting me financially. I wrote a novel featuring nihilistic vampires who locked each other in volcanoes and werewolves who worked in the A and E department. Everything since then has been fitted in around all the stuff I have to do in order to support my “Being an alive and fed human being” habit. So here are some odds and ends of advice about writing without time, which may or may not be helpful. Hopefully they’ll at least give you a laugh.
Dedicated writing space is a shiny added extra, but sometimes your best work is going to happen on the aeroplane home from a funeral while sitting next to a screaming five-year-old.
Or in the launderette. I do good work in the launderette. It would be lovely to have a writing room, with a clear desk and a door and no interruptions. For a lot of us this is a dream that may never make it into reality. I’m here to say that you don’t need one. It’s harder, I won’t lie, but you can write on the bus, in the launderette, in bed, on your lunchbreak. It’s frustrating because it takes longer and it can feel like breathing in snatches, but it is possible and you are still a writer, I promise. Even without the special Author’s Pen and Mug. I wrote the beginning of The Life and Times of Angel Evans on loose paper ripped from the back of a diary. I wrote Tales From Tantamount while taking breaks from Tax Returns, in a doctor’s waiting room, and while off my face on out-of-date cough medicine on a friend’s sofa. You can do this, and, as long as you make sure you’ve got a pen and paper or a smartphone you can type notes on on your person, you can do this nearly anywhere.
You must suffer for your art, but only prettily!
This is a lie. You don’t have to suffer for your art. And not all of us can afford to have an aesthetically pleasing breakdown and retire to an attic studio in the countryside where we subsist on tea and biscuits and write our hallucinogenic memoir. That takes money. So, to reiterate, your mental health is important and you don’t have to suffer for your art. You have to work, yes, because writing is a skill that takes practice like any other skill, but you don’t need to suffer. Enjoy your art, celebrate your art, insist that you get paid for your art, and refuse to move into the haunted attic: that ghost isn’t going to split the bills with you.
Conversely, if you are suffering (for your art or otherwise) get help. Talk to friends. Talk to other writers. Talk to professionals if you can access them. Chat about your ideas and your writers block. It may cut into your preciously tiny amount of time for writing, but it will help. If you’re in a position where your livelihood is at stake, don’t feel guilty about putting your writing on hold while you deal with that. There will be no more art if you die. You can go back to writing once you’ve figured out how you’re living.
Write every day.
Look, I can see why this is popular, but personally all this one leads to is guilt. So for anyone who needs to hear it, you don’t need to write every day. Maybe today is the day you lost your job, your cat, your marbles. Maybe today the washing machine ate your knickers and you set the fire alarm off. Maybe today you did your accounts and all the bills are spread out on the floor and looking at them makes you want to cry or scream. You don’t have to write every day. You can take a day, a week, a month, and then come back to it knowing you’ll be fresher for the break. And very likely there are work/childcare/other logistical reasons that get in the way of writing every day, and that’s alright. You know your life best, and you’re going to know where the gaps are that writing will fit into best. And if that’s once a fortnight while you’re on the bus between work and picking up the kids, that’s okay. If that’s once a week when the insomnia really bites, that’s okay too. You’re still a writer.
You have to live alone with an insomniac cat and refuse social calls.
No. Remember the electrified zombie in the title? The one that is your social life? It’s very important. You need friends. You are a squishy mammal that needs other squishy mammals. Go outside and look at ducks on the canal. Go outside and sit in a park. Text a friend. Talk to people. You need to keep that zombie alive. For the sake of your mental health. And if that doesn’t work for you as a reason, frame it as gaining new stimulus for ideas for writing. Having a supportive network is really important for indie writers, because we are mostly poor and we tend to be very busy and get caught up in ideas and forget to go foodshopping. We need people around who are going to gently check in on us and who we can tell our bonkers ideas to. Cultivate friends, because they are good. And get a cat if you actually want one.
So Meredith, tell us your writing techniques if you’re so wise!
I have a lot of writing techniques, but most of them boil down to desperately fitting in writing wherever I can around whatever part-time work I’m doing at the moment, and experimenting wildly. I write because I enjoy writing, and I think that’s the most important part. That you enjoy it, that even when you’re tearing your hair out because the characters have staged a rebellion and now the plot won’t work, you enjoy it. If you’re stuck, go back to what you love about it. If your current project just won’t fit in around your job, maybe put that project down for a bit and experiment with something else. If the short story is not progressing, give yourself a break and write a haiku instead. It doesn’t have to be good, just get it on the page and you can refine it later. Most of all, I think be compassionate to yourself. If other people are doing way better and you’re berating yourself about that, check in and see if they have access to resources you don’t. If someone else has a publicity team and inherited money and a partner with a stable income, they’re going to have more time and space than you. Go easy.
And most of all, keep that electrified zombie social life going! It’s very important.
About Meredith Debonnaire
Meredith Debonnaire is a writer of strange fantasy things(Tales From Tantamount and The Life and Times of Angel Evans being the big two). She also blogs book reviews and poetry, and is a professional proofreader. She hoards shiny notebooks and writes stories on envelopes.
- Website: https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/DebonnaireMerry
- Ko-fi: https://www.ko-fi.com/meredithdebonnaire