My latest experiment in writing is now underway, and so far it’s been yielding up some surprising results. Yep, after years of working freelance or taking on limited time contracts in the hopes that these jobs would give me enough money and time to write, I’ve now got a full-time job.
Freelancing and contracts might have given me some control over my time, but in terms of giving me time to write, it was a manifest failure. Worrying about how I was going afford food and shelter if I didn’t get paid on time and having to hunt for new work every three months ate up any mental space that the money – when it did come in – might have given me. It was exhausting. I was exhausted. And then despite all that energy spent worrying and working and not writing, I lost everything anyway. Time for a new plan.
The latest plan started back in August, when I was lucky enough to win a grant to on an Arvon writing retreat. I cannot recommend them highly enough – it was a life-changing week. One of the main things I learnt from spending time with 15 other writers and actually getting to live with myself as a writer for a week was that routine is writing’s best friend. I sort of knew this anyway, as a professional copywriter and researcher, but I’d never really taken it seriously in terms of my creative work. Which told me that I wasn’t treating my creative work with the same respect as I was my other writing. Which is crazy when you consider that I’d been trying to arrange my whole life around the idea that writing was the most important thing for me. Suddenly, it was obvious why it all went tits up before – I wasn’t actually making time for my writing because I wasn’t taking it seriously.
It’s strange how different taking it seriously feels from what I thought it would feel like. It’s as simple as setting aside some time each day to write. When I say some time, that can be anything from 25 minutes through to an afternoon. The key thing is to set the time aside in the first place and then actually use that time for writing and nothing else. Make writing part of the routine.
I had visions of what it would feel like to be a serious writer – very intense, all-consuming, anxiety ridden and sleepless. In other words, I thought it would be difficult.
And yes, it is difficult, but not in the ways I expected. The difficultly is pleasurable, absorbing in a good way, demanding and exhilarating at the same time. But all that comes from something as straightforward as sitting down at my desk once a day and getting the words on the page. Some days they stream out of the pen as if they were already written and were just waiting to emerge. Other days, the page is littered with as a many crossings out as actual words. But the ink is there. The work is happening. And it is such a rush.
The full time job has been the other part of embracing routine for serious writing. No more freelancing, no more contracts, no more working odd hours and all hours. Strictly 9-5, with (a heart-breaking) 24 days of holiday a year.
I’ve got to admit, it’s been a month and it’s chaffing a little. I can’t just saunter off for a long lunch or do my shopping on a weekday when everyone else is at work. I can’t escape to the beach for a rejuvenating wander when work is getting too intense. People expect me to show up and stay put for set times every working day. It’s quite an adjustment.
It seems contradictory that having less time to myself would mean I have more time to write, but after all these years, the writing is happening. In fact, a large chunk of a novel has happened since August. Just in the moments I make before I head into work. So I guess so far, the routine is freeing up the head space and the time for the writing to happen.
I always thought creativity and chaos went together, but maybe the routine is what give us the anchor we need to go and explore the chaos through our creativity. As for strolling on the beach at lunch, I got to write this instead, a mental saunter in my lunch break. I’ll let you know how it goes.