Caroline Corcoran has been a writer for 16 years. But when she found herself juggling two children under three with a new career as a novelist and deadlines for a two-book deal, she had to learn some new tricks…
Here she shares what she learned about writing when she “had no time to do it any more”.
15 years into a career in writing as a journalist, I thought my habits were there for life.
You know, the really useful ones like reading the same Z-list celebrity story on three different websites before you can even think about starting on your copy. Scrolling social media when you’re right on deadline. That kind of thing.
After a career working on a number of national publications, I was used to long to-do lists, fast deadlines and juggling multiple projects at a time.
I had my methods and habits, and whether they were rubbish or not (ahem, 20 minutes on Love Island scrolling pre-writing, anyone?) I never planned to change them.
I had to stop scrolling Love Island
When I got a book deal while pregnant with my second child in 2018 though (my eldest was only two), things had to shift.
Life felt seriously stretched. I knew that if I was going to meet my book deadlines when a 9-5 five day working week at a desk was way off what my life currently looked like, I was going to need some new tricks.
And I was definitely going to have to stop scrolling about Love Island.
So I started looking at how I did things.
Here is what I learnt about writing when you have (very) minimal time…
Take the windows, however tiny
Don’t wait for this elusive, likely to never happen phase in life when you have hours and days of free writing time to write your book – or you’ll never get started.
Just get stuck in now, however long now is, and take your opportunities where you can.
If you can work on some character development on the bus, or have 20 minutes while your child cat-naps, grab it.
By that I mean: do not leave it months between the occasions when you pick up your laptop.
If you do – and I speak as somebody that has in the past – the whole thing will loom too large.
Even if you’re doing 10 minutes here and there (and even if you think your writing is awful today and delete a lot of it afterwards) keep dipping in. Then you won’t get intimidated by the idea of returning to it.
Keep a word count record
An idea stolen from legendary author and books editor Sarra Manning, I admit. But it’s such a good one.
Each day you write, scribble down/ type the word count you’re up to on a list. Seeing it climb – even if it’s only by fairly small amounts – will do wonders for your motivation.
Make writing your book a lovely part of your life
When you’ve got very little time, the idea of sitting down at a formal desk space to hammer out 5,000 words might seem too much.
Instead, turn it into part of a cosy night with a candle lit, PJs on and a glass of Pinot Noir in your favourite armchair*. Then you’ve got yourself an ideal night in.
If you’re feeling a bit tired, write in bed. Got an hour to kill in a coffee shop? Order a hot chocolate and get typing there. However you do it, try to associate the process with being relaxed and creative.
*We’ll all deal with the back problems from not using a desk together, later, right?
Plan, plan, plan
Every writer is different but for me, planning is key.
That’s not to say plot developments can’t change, but when I don’t have a chapter plan, I find it much harder to get started. I am tracking back to see what’s happened before and where things are up to, and working out how to get to where I want to go.
Then the next minute I’m just sitting with my head in my hands going “ARRRGGGHH”. Which just doesn’t work when you’re on limited time as by the time you’ve done all that, you’ll need to shut your laptop and make dinner/ go to your day job/ get some sleep/ whatever it may be.
Instead, have a chapter plan – even if it’s a very loose one, as mine are – so that when you sit down to write, you can pick a chapter number, know what you need to happen, and dive right in.
Routine is overrated
Oh, it’s not really. Routine is great. So great. But sometimes routine’s not possible and when it isn’t, it’s still possible to get your writing done.
Some weeks you might write every evening. On others you might be way too wiped out to do that, but feel able to get up a bit earlier in the morning. (NB this one is never me. Never. Ever. Some things don’t change, and me not being a morning person is one of them).
Saturday mornings are no longer work-free zones; it might be necessary to give up on Netflix for a while to get it done. Basically, just accept that your writing life will be erratic for a while and that that is OK.
You’re a creative! Run with it!