Friday, 12 July 2019

Time to Write by Vanessa Harbour

L to R Gordon Smith, Antoinette Moses,
Melvin Burgess and me
Photo courtesy of Gordon Smith

Recently I had the pleasure of appearing at the Fly Festival of Literature for Young People. Before our event, Antoinette Moses, the brilliant organiser, author and lecturer, Gordon Smith, author and patron of the festival, and I were sat together having a wonderful natter about writerly things, as you do. The subject of finding time to write came up and it made think… a lot. Antoinette was very strict; she always writes a thousand words every day. Gordon admitted he used to write for many hours every day, but since having children it wasn’t quite so easy. This I could empathise with. I have periods of time when I can, like Gordon, write for hours on end, but then there are other times when I find it almost impossible to squeeze in even ten minutes, let alone finding time to write Antoinette’s thousand words.

Driving back to Winchester from Norwich I contemplated the idea of time even more. Time is so precious and time to write even more so. There is so much pressure on us that eats away at this precious writing time. It is almost impossible to be ‘just a writer’ these days. In 2018 ALCS produced a report which highlighted how an author’s income solely from actual writing had dropped to £10,437. With the best will in the world, this is not a salary anyone can realistically live on. (The government’s national living wage equates to £15,269) Consequently, the majority of authors are having to supplement their income through having another job, doing events, if children’s writers they might be doing school visits – though we all know due to funding cuts those are getting few and far between too, writing articles, anything that might bring in additional funds. These all require time and effort that take writers away from writing.

Personally, I have two jobs as well as being an author. I am a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Winchester and Head of Academic and Business
Preparing to do a Skype
Relations/Mentor and Workshop Leader at the Golden Egg Academy. I love these jobs as it means I get to work with people who love to write. However, it also means my head is often full of other people's works. During a recent marking period, I looked at nearly 300k words worth of work belonging to others, including my external examining work. That is not including my Golden Egg work. It is in these moments that it can be particularly hard to find the time to write. I have had to develop strategies in order to deal with all the words belonging to others floating around my head. I have written about it here. Basically, it is all about emptying those words out of my through freewriting before writing, literally vomiting on the page. Or refocusing by reading a different format, for example reading poetry before I write prose.  

Add into this mix the fact that being an author itself is time hungry. Gone are the days of writing your novel, handing it over and disappearing back into your ivory tower to write your next one. Now there is all the social media activity, maintaining your website as well as the events. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy these, but they take time, a time when you could potentially be writing. I do have to be strict with myself over Twitter, for example, or I would be on there forever as there are some wonderful people on there. Fabulous teachers and librarians, other authors and aspiring writers, who are all fascinating to talk to. But conversing with them doesn’t give you time to write.  It is about prioritising. I allocate certain times of day for social media and use scheduling tools such as Tweetdeck to help me manage my time better and so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. However, I still feel I am not doing enough and not making enough connections. It is such a difficult thing to balance.

Also, when considering actual writing time, it is not just about time for putting words on a page. It is allowing time for pre-writing, latent processing where you are mulling ideas and plot issues over, doing research, world building and creating three-dimensional characters. There is so much more to writing than putting words on a page.
Time for latent processing

Going back to the wonderful Antoinette and her determined thousand words a day. This is something I am going to give a go at. I am very conscious that when I don’t write my mental health suffers, so I think I might also be helping myself by trying it. I have always been a bit wary of being determined to write every day because of that sense of failure if you don’t achieve it. However, listening to Antoinette talk about it, I realised that it didn’t matter what words were written, it was the fact you were writing that was the most important thing. This really inspired me as it felt less pressurised. It would mean that it didn’t matter how tired I was, or how full of other people’s words, something would come out of it. I already carry a notebook always to jot down moments of inspiration as they come, and I am going to make more use of that. I am going to take snatched moments to write as well that can feed into the focused thousand words. As Antoinette said, ‘It’s all about habit.’ I am going to create this habit as I think this will help me timewise in the long run. I’ll keep you posted, and we’ll see how I get on. I am looking forward to it. I also hope you all find time to write, feel inspired and a little less pressurised. 

Vanessa Harbour
Flight - Firefly 2018



NickGarlick said...

Definitely agree with all this. The 'habit' helps. Knowing you've written is such a boost to morale. Every time I fall out of the rhythm - for reasons good and bad - getting back into it is hard.

Ness Harbour said...

Thank you, Nick. It does feel good, doesn't it? A real lift to the spirits. I am hoping I can keep it up. Ness

Andrew Preston said...

I've lived in some pretty rough bijou accommodations in my life.
I do, though, particularly recall a couple of early '90's long weekend conferences/get togethers/opportunities for extra marital romantic encounters.... that I attended at King Alfreds teacher training College, now University of Winchester. The rooms for the students were very sparse. I almost felt grateful that they'd bothered with glass for the windows.

Ness Harbour said...

Hopefully, I think you might find them a little better now Andrew...

Andrew Preston said...

Apart from that, what a great place to have a university. At the time, I lived just a handful of miles down the road, in Fair Oak. To be more exact, I owned a house there for 15 years. It was only after I had had enough of working abroad, and , in the UK, driving up to London every day.... that I discovered the River Itchen a mile from where I lived.

Riverbank walks up towards Winchester... Clear waters, trout stationery in the current, tails moving gently.

And a few hundred yards from you, the Itchen water meadows.

Ness Harbour said...

It is a truly wonderful place to live. I am very lucky