Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Push

A lot of people want to be writers. The desire to express a story, and get paid for it, is an attainable dream. After all, there are no qualifications needed and no expensive tools required. All you need is a pen and paper, and your creativity to come up with a good story (that’s the hard part). Yet for the majority of new or aspiring writers, the most commonly heard phrase is: “I don’t have time to write”.

And they’re right. They don’t have time to write. It doesn’t matter who they are and what they do (frazzled single mother of four, hard working corporate exec, fresh faced graduate), the fact is that they want to write but they don’t have the time to fit it into their schedule. This is perfectly acceptable and reasonable. A lot of professional writers and lecturers, and perhaps even blogs, will say that the phrase “I don’t have time to write” is a poor excuse for not actually sitting down to do the work.

This line of thinking is an easy superior position to take. It’s unfairly focusing on the person’s perceived lack of commitment to stick to their goals. Professionals can sniff at the wannabes that the difference between writers and those who want to write is that writers write (I’m paraphrashing Martin Amis here). There is no question that this statement is true but just because someone says “I don’t have time to write” doesn’t mean that they’re slacking off from actually scribbling something down.

People work their ass off to make ends meet, pay their bills, feed their kids, love their partners - y’know life - and this kind of demand can drain the creative energy that’s necessary to write. In this instance not having the time to write is genuinely true and fair: “I’m exhausted, I’ll get to it next week.” However, the phrase is misleading and subconsciously damaging. It’s time for the phrase “I don’t have time to write” to be turned into a question: “How do I find the time to write?” The answer is The Push.

The Push is the extra drive and commitment necessary to turn the writing hobby into a career (or at least a regular hobby). It exists on two levels: one for the aspiring writer and the other for the professional. The aspiring writer needs to find The Push in order to discover their writing routine. The professional writer needs The Push when he’s obsessively checking emails every thirty seconds and staring in front a blank page for two hours. One is trying to find the time to write, the other is trying to make the best use of the time that they’ve created.

If you’re an aspiring writer, there are a couple of ways to find the time to write:

1. Compromise
No time to write but have enough time to watch your favourite TV show? Tape it. Write. An hour a day, after dinner, before you go to bed, whatever. If you’re not generating the creative momentum and energy you crave and feel that one hour isn’t enough or too frustrating, then get up earlier at the weekends or stay up later. Lunch hour usually spent with Pete chatting about sports & TV? Tell him sorry, not today fella, and scribble down some thoughts while you munch your sandwich. Find the gaps in your week and plug them with writing time. Get into the swing.

2. The Extreme
Give up your full-time job. Write. Married with kids? Explain your frustration and passion to your partner, see if you can find a way to make it work. Embrace a total lifestyle change and a whole new set of compromises. Get a part-time job if necessary but ensure that writing takes up the majority of the working days. (This is what I did: I gave up my job. Started writing. “Whoops, how am I going to pay the rent?” Read scripts. Earned pittance but enough to pay the bills, and it immersed me in the craft of screenwriting, so it felt like writing full-time.)

For the professional writer, here are a couple of ways to avoid procrastination or the desire to switch on the PlayStation:

1. Random Notes
If you’re working on a story but don’t see a way in or you’re stuck , try scribbling down some random notes about the character or what the general plot-line is, then try to use this as a ‘snowball effect’ to generate the required momentum to get into the story proper. The brain may be feeling resistant to such activity but soon, two hours pass by and you’ve made some progress. Trying to write outlines for Doctors particularly works well in this regard.

2. Sod It
Turn on PlayStation. Only joking. It’s ‘Question Time’. Prepare a little Q&A for yourself but make the questions specific about the characters and story that you’re currently avoiding working on. Questions like: “How did I get this idea?” “Why do I think it’s a story worth telling?” “Does it really excite and/or interest me?” “Do I think it will excite and/or interest others?” “Would I want to be friends with the main character?” “What’s at stake?” Etc. Then turn on PlayStation.

Obviously, these are tips and methods that work for me so they might be useful to try if you’re stuck or struggling to find the time to write. A lot of readers of this blog are committed and professional scribes so feel free to share your writing tips and methods. I find all kinds of advice and approach can be inspiring and encouraging but it all boils down to one incentive really: getting The Push.


Dominic Carver said...

I didn't do anything quite as drastic as quitting my job, I just transfered from days to evenings. I get paid £3.5k more a year and I don't have any of the hassle that comes with working with others. It frees up my days to write and when I wake in the morning I'm refreshed and full of ideas, unlike before when I would come home brain dead and not looking forward to spending several hours more in front of a computer.

I can't watch weekday evening TV (I don't own a DVD recorder as recoreded programmes offer just as much of a distraction as live ones) or go out for a drink with my friends (saves me loads of money), but I am finding that not only am I writing in greater volume but also higher quality.

I'm glad I made The Push.

James Moran said...

My first year or so, I had to fit it in around a full time, 5 day a week job. A job where I was sitting at a computer all day, typing - the LAST thing I wanted, when I got home, was to sit in front of another computer and type. But I just did it, I had to do it, because I couldn't face doing my office job forever. I watched hardly any TV for a year, because it's the biggest time suck ever. I watched the few things I had to watch, but never channel surfed, just watched the hour, and got back to it. Weekends, evenings, were dedicated to working on my script. I was totally exhausted, but I got there in the end. Last year I went down to 2 days a week, financing it with my earnings from that script. Hopefully soon I can make the final jump to writing fulltime.

I guess that's not really any sort of advice, apart from "just sit your arse down and do it, even if it drives you mad and wears you out"... If I could have got a job near to where I live though, that would save me 2 hours a day, sometimes more. Commuting is the biggest waste of time - but you can always bring along a laptop or a notepad. But I totally sympathise with people who have no time to do it, because working a full time job leaves you tired and with very little spare time.

Lucy V said...

I've been a script reader for many years and done lots of "bits" here and there, promising myself I would do it "full time" as soon as this happened or that happened...
Then the TEFL school I was working full-time at announced it was closing down. I totally freaked. With winter coming, the chances of a new TEFL job where I live was out of the question and I was too late for an ordinary teaching job starting the sept as they all hire in May. But I pushed my script reading mega-style and found myself a new producer to work with and went totally mental on, as Danny says, The Push. I'm not rich but satisfied with my lot: I have clients who come back to me multiple times and my portfolio of specs is in the order I always wanted and I've had some moderate success with them and a bagful of other stuff. It's a shame the school closed down but if it hadn't, I'd probably still be stuck on the Perfective Aspect and Conditional Sentences instead of what I really want to do, which is this, money or no money.

Grubber said...

One thing I have found you have to be(just a little) to have regular time to write is be a little selfish. Like when you take on that degree or have to hit the gym for your health.

Hopefully by being a little selfish, you make it up to them later on.


Anonymous said...

Thanks! I think this is the kick up the arse I need :)