The write/life balance

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Writing consistently is critical to being reliably productive. I used to have intensive bursts of creativity that would last a few weeks, perhaps once or twice a year, separated by lengthy periods of inactivity. While that can get results, it takes a long time and is unpredictable. It's all too easy for weeks or months to go by with nothing to show for it. Especially if you want to turn your writing into any kind of career, that's not going to work.

My tendency to procrastinate only got worse over time, as life started to inevitably become more complex with age. As a young student I had all the time in the world but was largely unproductive outside of my actual studies. I'd flit between projects and disciplines - trying my hand at filmmaking, then comics, then audio drama - managing to get things done when working collaboratively in a team with the social pressure aiding my focus but never quite settling on a particular direction. My time grew ever-scarcer as I entered a full time job, then got married and had a child, and the timelines for collaborative projects ended up being too long and requiring too much wrangling for too little creative reward.

Prose writing was what I needed. It didn't require working in a team or the coordination of complex projects. It was just me and some words. But I still needed to dedicate the time to do it properly, otherwise I'd slip back into old habits.

I slipped into serialisation largely by accident and as something of an experiment - yet another example of me flitting about and always dabbling in new things. Instead, I discovered a way of writing which fit perfectly into a busy life and helped me get past my writer's block and procrastinating tendencies.

The great thing about writing a serial is that it comes with a built-in schedule, one where you get to determine the frequency. There's a lot of flexibility in there, but once you've picked your timings you need to stick with them, and it's that repeating accomplishment loop which keeps you on track. Plan, write, proof, publish, repeat.

At this point it comes down to your life and how much time you have to dedicate to writing. And we're not talking how much time you'd like to dedicate: you need to be honest and think about how long you can really guarantee. There's nothing worse than starting off on an unrealistic plan and being forced to abandon it a few weeks in. As a cure for procrastination, serialisation only works if you approach it practically, honestly and stubbornly: you will publish that chapter, no matter what.

We're writers. Writing is a core part of our being. Sure. That's great. But you've probably also got at least two of these:

- School

- A job

- A partner - maybe even a spouse

- A kid, or kids

- A mortgage

You get the point. Finding the correct balance is not only critical to successful writing; it's also essential for earning the support of those around you. If you start skipping lessons, falling asleep on the job or not doing the housework, then things are going to get tricky regardless of how awesome your writing is.

After taking a look at all the stuff I did, most of which was fairly mundane but necessary, I figured that I could dedicate one whole evening a week to writing. Come 8pm when my son was asleep, I could disappear into my study and do nothing but write. No interruptions or excuses. It was a commitment I could handle, and one which wouldn't interfere with being a good dad, husband or friend.

Your write/life balance will be entirely different. But estimate how much time per week you can dedicate, then halve it, because it'll almost certainly be overly optimistic. Halve whatever you think you can do. The reality is that you can always try to do more, but if you start too hot and too fast and then have to scale back, it is immediately demoralising.

It's also not just about us. My writing would only work if it could sit comfortably alongside the other people in my life, otherwise it would create an ever-increasing conflict of interest. Getting the balance right makes it easy, and making it a defined part of the weekly schedule gives it a sense of importance.

In terms of recommendations, I'd suggest aiming for at least one writing session per week. That way you know you'll be able to craft at least one whole chapter per week (assuming about 1-2k words in a chapter - more on this next time), which feeds perfectly into a weekly serial release plan. Any less than that and you risk losing momentum, not to mention forcing you to build up a huge buffer before you start publishing so that you don't lag behind.

On the other hand, I wouldn't advise writing everyday, even if your write/life balance permits it and you're feeling super enthusiastic. It sounds like a productive approach but it also denies your brain the chance to breathe and percolate. Writing every single day means you don't afford yourself any time to pause and think and ruminate. I found while serialising A Day of Faces that many of my best ideas surfaced during the weekly break between writing, and having that 'idea time' built into my schedule definitely improved the book. There are exceptions, of course - if you're taking part in NaNoWriMo, for instance, you can power through every day - but that's not something that's easy to maintain for a whole year.

Once you've figured out a schedule that's going to fit into your life, it's time to reflect on what kind of writer you are. Don't just jump right in: first we need to figure out where you sit on the planner-pantser spectrum.

What aspects of your life get in the way of your writing?

Next up: How to structure your project

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