Written by Guest Blogger, Ellie Betts
Hi, Ellie here, and although I consider myself new to writing — at least in a more serious and dedicated way — it has been an ongoing hobby of mine for many years.
The pieces that I produced (at the rather ambitious age of 14!) often ranged from epic novels and poems full of angst to more serious works-in progress — each varying in their degree of usefulness.
Back then, I NEVER took my writing seriously. And, to be honest, I NEVER made time for it.
But, in the past year, I’ve really begun to put some time and effort into my writing.
Over the last twelve months, I’ve spent time and money on valuable courses covering a range of genres, techniques and elements of writing.
I’ve managed to finish a handful of pieces (something I never used to get done!), but, most importantly, I’ve begun to take myself seriously, learning to make space and time for my craft and having the confidence to finally call myself a writer!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I often sit down of an evening and feel guilty that I am not spending my time reading something insightful or developing my skills (for career advancement or something). There are any number of chores that I could be doing, but, instead, I would find myself sat in front of the TV watching Netflix (again).
So, I decided to change my perspective.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I should’ve been doing something else entirely — whether learning, reading or writing. It was more that I needed to learn to balance all of these different hobbies and to invest my time in them equally.
That meant that, instead of spending my entire Saturday sat on the sofa gaming and napping as I normally would, I split my time up more evenly. And, as I did, I learnt a few key things about this balance along the way…
1) Take your writing seriously
This may sound like a given, but the change in mindset made all the difference for me.
The turning point came when I finally began to consider myself a writer.
I was no longer just jotting down bits and pieces or snippets of ideas with no real goal or structure. Instead, I was actually writing and doing so no longer felt pointless and silly. It truly felt like something that I was meant to be doing at that point in time.
Writing was now more than a hobby. It was something that I allowed myself to invest serious time in without feeling guilty. It not only became important, it became a priority.
I considered it just as important as gaming, reading or watching Netflix.
And, once I had made this significant change, referring to myself more often as a writer, spending my time writing, and achieving more as I did so, became SO MUCH easier.
2) PLAN YOUR TIME
While all of these things were important to me, I quickly realised that spending significant amounts of time on them wouldn’t happen overnight from increased confidence alone.
I would say to myself: ‘Oh, I must do some writing this week’, but nothing would actually get written.
The same applied for playing Red Dead Redemption II, reading the second half of the number of books that I had begun, or working on the long list of films that I had promised myself I would watch.
It turns out that just telling myself I was going to do something wasn’t quite the same as doing it. Who knew?!
Now, I practice taking a look at my calendar a week or two in advance so that I can see and forecast my spare time for the week before planning exactly how I’d like to spend it.
On Tuesday Nights, I do yoga so I plot this into my calendar.
Good Vibes Only, Please!
On Sundays, I plan to spend the day writing so I make sure that that’s noted too. I also like to make sure that I get some gaming time in as well (it’s a huge passion of mine) so, when my Saturdays are free, I book in at least 3 hours.
But I also know that, if I don’t put these hobbies into my calendar, I’ll end up doing something else. So, I keep a record so that I can plan accordingly.
I also like to book in an evening or two a week to do whatever I feel like! This means that I can spend time doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING if I want to, and all without feeling guilty!
Plus, if you’ve planned your days each week, you can ensure that you have everything you need for each hobby. By looking at your week ahead, you’ll have time to buy those new trainers for your run or charge your laptop for a full day of writing!
Whatever you do, getting preparation done beforehand means that you can spend that allotted time more efficiently.
3) Limit social media!
Of course, it makes absolutely no sense going to all that effort of deciding to write, planning the time in, setting the scene but then… spending several hours scrolling through the news on your Facebook feed!
Picture this: You want to cook the perfect meal for your better half. You research recipes, you buy the best ingredients, you even light candles and then, when they get home, you both decide to eat crisps and chocolate all evening instead.
Or you want to go for a run: You’ve got your outfit ready, water bottle in hand, you’ve done the warm up but, instead, you spot a nice park bench on route and accidentally end up sat down for an hour or so…
The answer is simple: JUST DON’T DO IT!
Easier said than done, I know. But, if you have set yourself, your mind and your body up to write, it’s crucial to try and stick to it.
Of course, if one of your hobbies is sitting and scrolling through your Facebook feed, whether to unwind or satisfy your nosey streak, it’s fine to make time for that too!
There are no rules about what you can or can’t define as a hobby, but organising yours according to their importance is the way to ensure that you can spend significant time on each of them.
If you are well and able, and you’ve made time for something important, do your thing — because you and your writing are most definitely worth it!
4) Love Netflix? REWARD YOURSELF!
If you consider watching TV a hobby, you should absolutely spend some time doing it!
However, if watching TV feels like a waste of time, why not limit it and consider using it as a reward for getting those last few paragraphs written?! After all, YOU WILL DESERVE IT!
I find watching TV very relaxing, so allowing myself some time to sit down and catch-up with my favourite shows is really rewarding. What’s more, if it’s scheduled in, I have to do it… the calendar says so!
For me, it’s particularly important not to spend all of my spare time making my brain work hard so I make sure to include something in my schedule that is a little easier on myself.
Like me, your easier past-time might be Netflix, it might be gaming — whatever it is, schedule it in and really make the most of it.
YOU’VE EARNED IT!
5) Prioritising is key
It’s also really important to prioritise those hobbies.
If you have five evenings free this week, ask yourself: Is it realistic or feasible to spend all five of them writing?!
Instead, if you know that you’d like to get two more chapters of your work-in-progress written this week and, for you, that equals three evenings of work to get them done (unedited), book ONLY three evenings in.
And, if you feel you need to spend more time doing yoga or relaxing this week, that’s OK too. Make time for it by planning more yoga time than writing time and come back to your writing next week.
Deciding how much time you want to spend writing, or doing any of your other hobbies, and prioritising them accordingly is crucial. However, it’s also important to recognise that this may vary week-on-week or even day-to-day.
Finally, if you are training for a triathlon that takes place in four days, don’t make the mistake of spending your last three free evenings writing. Wouldn’t they be better spent doing some last minute training?
Likewise, the same should be said of your writing. If your publisher has set a big deadline for next week, do you need to spend some extra time on that next important chapter?
If so, perhaps that next chapter is more valuable than Netflix right now?
(I don’t mean it, Netflix. You’re the most important to me <3 )
6) Set deadlines, achieve goals
Of course, an upcoming deadline could be exactly the thing you need to commit more time to your writing this week!
I often find that I am SO MUCH MORE productive when I have a deadline.
If you’re the same, perhaps setting yourself some key deadlines will help you to successfully achieve your key writing goals. Plus, with potential rewards waiting for you each time you reach your next one, you may find you end up wanting to write more often too!
REMEMBER: Create goals that work for you.
Goals and deadlines are great when they work, but not all techniques will work for everyone. If you want to start setting deadlines and achieving your goals, start small (especially if you know that your time is limited).
If I set a list of goals that are way out of my league and super unrealistic, I know that I am unlikely to get them all done and, that means, I’m often left feeling disheartened.
Setting up smaller, easily-achievable goals for my writing helps me to remain focused as well as ensuring that I am making progress…
REMEMBER: Slow and steady wins the race…
My two writing goals this year are to start setting more time aside for my writing (I’m already halfway there with this one!) and to write one short story each month.
My short story doesn’t have a minimum or maximum word count as this means that there is enough flexibility for me in case something doesn’t quite go to plan.
However, the goal is specific enough for me to get a feeling of satisfaction from it when I do achieve it!
In total, January’s short story was just under 500 words. Admittedly, this is more likely suited to a piece of flash fiction than to a short story, but I still achieved it. I still finished that piece of writing last month and now I have something to show for it.
7. AND, Double up!
Don’t forget that you don’t have to ONLY write during your allocated writing time. You can always go for the two birds, one stone method!
For example, I like to keep a notebook (or an easily-accessible Google Doc) available at all times to jot down anything that comes into my head as I go. Ideas pop into my head on my commute, or at work, and, this way, I always have a way of noting them down.
You could spend the time you have set aside to go for a leisurely walk and ponder character interactions — you might do this alone or perhaps a willing friend will come along with you?
Maybe you have planned in some exercise on your static bike. Could you read through that first draft as you ride at home?
Even time spent watching TV or playing games can help you to consider, in detail, your key plot lines and ideas...
Don’t feel obliged and try not to overload yourself, but, personally, I find that a story is always in the back of my mind — no matter what I am doing.
If you’re the same, perhaps the best idea for developing your latest work-in-progress will come when you least expect it?
Some of the best stuff I have written has been during an evening of relaxing, catching up with friends and sharing a cheeky drink (or two!)
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it might be rubbish but, if you have some free time to hang out with a writing buddy, why not catch-up over a couple of drinks (providing you can and want to!) and see where the feeling takes your writing?
Pitch the idea of doing some writing later in the evening…
Freeing your inhibitions in this way will help you to avoid editing as you go and mean that you can write more freely.
And, if you’re not socialising, you could always try writing when you’re tired — you’re not likely to think much about editing then either!
The REAL BALANCING ACT
The truth is that the real balancing act is about planning, prioritising and making time for your writing.
Taking time to plan my week ahead and to decide how I want to spend my time (recognising what makes me happy) has made all the difference to my writing practice and to my confidence as a writer.
I no longer ‘just get round to writing’. Instead, I am getting stuff done, finishing drafts of my short stories and current works-in-progress, and it feels great!
Try and work out what you want to get out of your writing:
Is it a hobby?
Do you want it to be your full-time job in the long run?
Either way, you can plan enough time for it in your week.
This might be around everything else you do at the moment, but it is possible.
And, who knows, maybe you’ll soon have the time for all of your writing and those other hobbies and commitments, too!