I want to write that great tale - but when?

I would like to have the writer’s block. Really. At least, i could go to a cafè and drown my sorrows in a good pastis.

Instead, during today’s walk I had another idea that I really like, and that this evening I tried to structure and enrich of suggestions for charachters depth, plot vectors, inner montivations, etc. etc.

Now, it’s two in the night, and I’ve lost four hours that I should have devoted to the ordinary job of earning money for food and lodging fees. I feel severely guilty. Tomorrow, I’ll do nothing else than working hard to recover.

With his iCal’s pages full of overlapping items, how can one find the time to write somehting that required four hours only for rough transcription?


I seem to remember a recent newspaper/magazine account of great writers and their day jobs–T.S. Eliot, Hawthorne, Trollope, Melville. All worked at other jobs, and how managed somehow to turn out reams of readables that still get read.

My day job is editing a magazine, and for my writing I simply rise a few hours earlier than I might otherwise be inclined to do, and I write, every morning. It works for my circadian rhythms; others of a nightowl bent might corner-out a different segment of the clock face.

The point is to do it. Writing is merely a job, like any other job–10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, or, perhaps more accurately, deprivation. I can’t honestly say that losing a few hours sleep every morning for the past 20 years has made my face more lined or my apprehensions cloudier. I can say that without it I’d not have written anything, though I might have manufactured stacks of file folders groaning with unexecuted ideas.

Sigh – this would be such a great suggestion, if I didn’t already sleep three hours per night (with weekly recover on sunday). When I’m in Italy, I can sleep five hours per night, but here in Paris I must also account two hours more for commuting.

Probably, the right decision is to ask for a permanent part-time when back to Italy, drop some extra-working activity, and decide to write novels and tales as a job. Not a matter of spare time, but one of the various jobs, even if not immediately rewarding.


That’s actually kind of what I did. I’d been writing for a living–well, a kind of a living–for six or seven years when a book-editing opportunity opened. I leapt, and didn’t write anything but rejection letters and revision suggestions and catalog- and flap-copy for eight years. When a chance to downshift to a small literary magazine arose–half the pay, but less than half the work, and all from a corner of my living room–I leapt. Fifteen years later, I’ve managed to write a thing or three, but I don’t think I’d have been up to the task with the seventy-hour week required in editing and acquiring books for a small division of a mega-publisher.

To gain time, you have to adjust your income expectations. There’s a line in the book version of Little Big Man that goes something like, “If you want to be a happy man, just sink to rock-bottom. All unhappiness comes from having standards.”

Though it is nice to have that magazine-editor sinecure to smooth out the peaks and valleys in the writing cash flow. Though it could just as easily have been digging clams. Whatever buys your beans and provides enough free time to write. Those unwilling to make sacrifices for “their art,” to type a cringe-making phrase, probably have already answered whether writing is a hobby or a calling. Or a job.

You are correct in that it is only too easy to find that free time which should have been used for writing was somehow meaninglessly squandered, or that the Muse has come to us when other matters are pressing, like work.

It is a conundrum.

The only advice I can give is to write things down when they come to you. take notes when the time is not convenient to write, else risk forgetting that literary epiphany that struck you between your 2:30 and your 3:15 meetings. I use my iPod Touch when on the go for just such note-taking. I work as a medical interpreter and I often find myself running from one end of the hospital to the other as I try to make it to different appointments to help the patients and their physicians. Elevator rides from one floor to the next are my most prime moments to jot down notes. There are two nurses who joke when they see me and say, “There goes our little Cervantes.” (in Spanish)

When I get home I email my notes to my Mac and then bring them into my precious Scrivener.


As I get older I feel like the biggest limiting factor in my life is time. So many interests and goals and obligations and only a finite amount of time.

I know nothing about your life or work situation. I will say that for me, adjusting income expectations (as mentioned already) is the most realistically possible thing I could do to increase my available time. For me this will probably eventually mean moving to part time, perhaps 3 days per week at 60% of my current salary. For other people it can mean living with roommates or other changes.

You did mention commuting–is it possible to move closer to work or work closer to home? If you take the metro or commuter rail, can you write, or at least plan, en route?

I heard John Gardner say – admitting it was not original – that the most valuable asset for any writer or any artist is a helpmate with a regular income.


Moving closer to work is a bit difficult, since the immediate neighborhood (read: on the opposite side of the street) is the Palais Royal, with the seat of the Ministère de la Culture and the Conseil Constitutionnel. Just a few hundred meters away there is the Stock Exchange. It is probably the most expensive area of the town.

At the same time, lodging anywhere else in the town means having to change train every few five-fifteen minutes, something that does not help concentration very much. At least, where I live now, I can spend mostly of the thirty minutes of commuting each way, by comfortably sitting and reading. (The same trip, done at a busier time on another day, is spent trying to plant at least one foot on the ground of the train…)

When back to Italy I will live again ten seconds away from my studio. But I plan to relocate to Paris in a few months, and I will see what I will be able to do to find the most convenient accomodation.


I found the time (to get going) by opting for a creative writing retreat, rather than a holiday - and having a very understanding and supportive wife. Surrounding myself with other writers helps me focus and gives me energy - whether it’s simple competitiveness on my part, or some hippy nonsense about feeling the creative buzz. Either way, it works for me - one day alone on that course I cranked out 6k. And the sheer joy of being able to talk about the process and my characters without guilt or fear of sounding pretentious is worth the admission alone.

Of course now I’m back in my study and staring out of windows in between paid assignments, but that initial burst of energy means that I have at least finished one novel. Finding the discipline and motivation to continue, well, that’s another story.

Not sure if this has been posted elsewhere, but the Guardian did a nice piece on tips from authors (they’ve got a longer form as a book, but this is a good start):
guardian.co.uk/books/2010/fe … n-part-one

Related to this thread:

On the other hand, one would be better advised to write instead of watching videos like this…

:laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

I did very important work on my first novel in between runs as a pizza delivery guy. Squeeze writing in when and where you can. Make sure you have a notebook and pen with you at all times.

When? Whenever and wherever possible. I have been using my iPod touch as my primary writing tool lately. I always have it with me and even though its a pain to use the tiny keyboard i have been averaging 700 words a day. Not an earth shattering amount of writing but considerable considering (considerable considering…i need work on my grammar) i have no time set aside for structured writing. Now with my iPad, i should raise that figure. Write during bus rides. While eating lunch (my most productive time, albeit messy). Even while doing your business on the can. Just don’t wipe with your work no matter what an editor may have called it! Have writing tools/tool with you at all times and if you truly love to write, you will. I am just a newbie to writing but i feel inspired to write. I have the tools with me and the time seems to present itself in small, scattered, productive chunks. Now if i could just find time to read those grammar books!

Good Luck!

I wrote my first novels while still having a job that demanded some attention, too. One day I recalculated how long it took me to write them:

total days of writing = date of completion - date of start

pages per day = pages total / total days of writing

(yes, I am one of those who note down all such statistics :blush: )

and the result was an average of 0,5 pages a day! (That’s about 125 words! Only!) Of course I had the impression of doing more, but then there had been days I didn’t write anything, which brings down an average value pretty fast…

Conclusion: The most important thing here is steadiness. It’s more important to write every day than to have a lot of free time. (Most people don’t cope well with having much free time. Actually, once you’ll go writing fulltime, you’ll have to learn it, and it’s not easy!)

Back then, I had some pieces of paper with me wherever I went, and I used every opportunity to jot down notes - in the tramway, during meetings (a lot of meetings are pointless, but you look good when you write while somebody is speaking :laughing: - it’s an art, however, not to get caught! ), wherever… And I wrote a lot for writing’s sake, not only when the famous “idea” stroke me. I juts love to write, no matter what. Even forum postings… :laughing:

I admire those who chip away whenever they can. I was very fortunate to be in a position to take a year out from my career in 2001, theoretically to finish the novel, get an agent and never look back. I spent 10 months going to the gym, writing awful blog posts (plus ca change, it’s just everyone does it now) and feeling utterly miserable at my apparent inability, or lack of desire, to write. (Of course in those days I didn’t have Scrivener to keep me honest).

Towards the end of that time I needed to take a job - any job - to pay the mortgage. I ended up in a warehouse filing shipments of exam papers, delivered in boxes and batches from all over the world. In between deliveries, the rest of the crew would play scrabble, or read the paper. I took in my laptop and wrote more in the odd minutes here and there than in the ‘full time’ writing window I’d left behind.

Now that I’m freelance, and I’ve at least got the first ugly duckling novel out of my head, I find it’s still the fear, rather than time, that limits me. And I fiddle endlessly with the process - in the old days it would have been pens and pencils, now it’s software or workflow.

But ultimately, the only guarantee I will do anything is when I blinker myself entirely - disconnect from internet, drown out background sound with post-rock or baroque music, and type in fullscreen mode. Or, as I said above, be surrounded by others doing the same thing.

It’s about managing the pressure in your head, isn’t it? Five hundred words a day will be more than a novel plus re-writes a year. Ultimately it’s simply putting one word in front of another, until you reach the end.

Right, time to take some of my own medicine.

Paulo, I once wrote 300 pages in a little over a month during my commute from Montmartre to Marie d’Issy. Got up early enough to get a seat like you do, wedged myself into a corner seat and wrote by hand. Now I’d do it on my iPhone if I was still in that routine. Instead, now I get up at 5 and write before work. Get yourself into the right headspace, tell yourself “Je suis écrivain” and WRITE. That’s the only way to do it.

Bon courage !

You know, there was a time in my life when I did a full-time job with an extra hour each day. I walked to and from work, which was about a mile and a half. I was also technically a full time student, writing up my PhD. During that time I also wrote 80,000 words a month in an online diary and finished nine manuscripts, full size books of about 180k words each. In two years I had two jobs built for me to my specification, I finished and achieved my PhD and got those books out there.

I’m not boasting. I’m just saying that if you really, really want to write, you’ll do it no matter what else is going on in your life.

This is a bit of a challenge to you. I’m not going to offer you suggestions because every one you’ve come up with reasons why it won’t work. And I know when I do that, there’s something else I’m avoiding.

I also note that the more free time you have, the less you tend to get done. I now spend at least an hour in the gym every day, I’m at networking events every other day, each weekend is so packed I actually have to book myself time off to recover, and I have meetings with web designers and publicists to negotiate alongside a course of psychotherapy and all the hoodoo that throws into my life. But I still write. And I get tons done, published, out there.

I used to write in my work breaks. I emailed the work to myself wherever I was so whenever I had a spare minute I could work on it. I took (and still take) a notebook with me everywhere.

These things can be done, but I think what you have to do is stop saying “I can’t write blah because I have no time, blah.”

If you really, really, REALLY want to do something, absolutely nothing would stop you. So if you want to write, sit down and write. Use all the time you’d spend replying to this post with reasons why you can’t write actually writing something.

Kick in the pants

Joely xx

So you are say the the in laws are right?

You’ll forgive us if we thought you were.

Many writers – and several of them post to this forum – fall somewhere in the spectum between obsessive and indolent. We write, we try to write, we want to write, sometimes we actually do write. That we do so at all speaks to our best artistic intentions; that we cannot do so full bore, full time, speaks to the real worlds we inhabit.

I am capable, for instance, of writing hours at a time, and would do so right now, but for the exigencies of real life. Siding on the east side of the house is unfinished. Brakes are failing on one of our cars. One of my daughters is visiting.

So. Would I rather write this afternoon than climb a ladder in 98 degree heat? Of course, but difficult as house repair is in summer, it is impossible in winter.

Would I rather write this morning than get the brakes fixed? Sure, but the consequences of driving with bad brakes are too severe to ignore.

Would I have preferred writing last evening to talking with my daughter? No.

Perhaps what I’m saying is that, while I’d like to write more – I now average around 2500 words a day – and can write more, I also want time for ordinary life. Keep the house looking good. Keep the car out of the ditch. Walk in the woods. Photograph sunset on the river.

Talk with my daughters.


Daugditor and I are finally starting to see each other as more than a cost/income center. While I won’t claim that we “converse”, I can assure you that no obsession, no uncontrollable aspiration, no amount of aspiration will ever provide this kind of fulfillment.

Someday it will be mine.

Paolo, this is just a suggestion, use it or don’t as it suits you. I would:

  1. Buy an alphasmart.
  2. Pound away on it during my commute.

I do all my work, including my job, in bits and snatches. I just can’t concentrate on anything longer that two hours at a time. Oh, I can force myself to keep sitting there and going through the motions, but my brain is going to be burning rubber after two hours.

Use the bits and pieces of time and you’ll get where you want to go without even noticing the trip. I suggest an Alphasmart because it’s the best device I’ve found for commuting/getting directly into writing mode/shutting out everything else.

Good luck and good writing.