Last week my copy of the twentieth anniversary edition of Mslexia magazine dropped through the door. Mslexia, for those who haven’t heard of it before, is a quarterly magazine for women who write. I’ve been subscribing to it for some time now after it was recommended to me by a playwright friend of mine, and always find the topical articles, industry insights and showcases of writing enjoyable and often thought-provoking to read.
This quarter’s edition features an article which really resonated with me. It’s entitled ‘The Tests of Time’, and begs an important question. ‘Most women work a double shift, of day job and caring responsibilities,’ the writer Aki Schilz states. ‘So how are we to fit in a third shift of writing?’ Yes, I thought – how, indeed.
After reading the article, I began to think about my own life and the challenges to finding the space and time to write which I experience, and how well (or otherwise) I overcome these. Like so many women who write, I have work and family responsibilities. These responsibilities are never static; instead they evolve as, for example, children grow older and jobs change, and thus my writing practices too have had to adapt.
When I started writing my first novel, The Gisburn Witch, back in late 2013, my children were younger and I worked only at the weekends. This meant that on weekday evenings the children would be in bed by 7pm, leaving me a full evening to write. I wrote a lot in the evenings back then, and thinking back my routine was very fixed and predictable. I also had time in the day when my children were napping or at nursery to grab an hour or two to write. This routine is now a thing of the past: evenings are trickier as my kids go to bed later, often they have evening activities, and indeed I now have a different job with more varied hours and it’s not uncommon for me to be out at work in the evenings as well as during the day.
These days my writing routine has to be more fluid (I’m going to use that word as it sounds better than ‘erratic’). So, what impact does this have on my writing? Well, for one thing, it’s got progressively slower. Those who follow my blog regularly will know that I’m currently working on my forthcoming novel The House at Kirtlebeck End; it’s almost a year since I wrote the first chapter in that story and I’ve still got about another 40,000 words to write. Usually I aim to write a novel in around nine months – this is something I managed to do with A Woman Named Sellers and Ethersay, but in recent times it’s become apparent that this is no longer a realistic target.
I also find that having to be creative about carving out time makes getting into the right frame of mind for writing very hit or miss. There are days when I write a lot, when I feel good about what I’ve put down on the page and when I feel a sense of achievement. And there are other days when after everything else is done and I sit down to write, I either hate what comes out or, more often, I have to accept that it just isn’t happening, that I’m drained and I’ve nothing left with which to create. That’s frustrating and it’s hard because I feel then like I’m the barrier to my own work.
Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Learning to be adaptable means that I’m very good now at writing anywhere. I don’t have to be in my own home or my own room to write, but I can comfortably take my laptop into a busy cafe or noisy soft play and just get on with it. When I’m in the right frame of mind for writing, I’m also better at using the time I do have to write, at getting myself immediately focused on the task of putting words on the page. Tiredness might be a problem, but procrastination isn’t.
On reflection, I think the key for me is to recognise that there are constraints and pressures on my writing time, and that those are things I cannot change, although those constraints themselves will evolve over time. What I can do, however, is value the time I do get, put it to best use, and focus on what I do manage to do, rather than fretting over what I didn’t do. And, on that note, I’m off to do some writing.