Wednesday, 4 May 2011

You can't spell 'Easter' without 'Ease'...

... or why I only hate my life when it gets in the way of writing.

My Easter break is finally over (I'm a student and both my jobs are working with students, so I get full 3-week university holidays), and I'm heading into the final term of the 2010-11 year. This is the short one, but there's still a lot to be done; for the next month, before the exam period starts, I'm still working both my jobs. I'm also having to do serious work for my PhD thesis again, plus a certain amount of bureaucratic hoop-through-jumping to make sure I get to stay on the course.

The PhD thesis stuff is the biggest potential drain on my time. In the next ten weeks, I'm aiming to write three chapters totalling about 25,000 words. May not sound like much, given that in the last week I've written over 12,000 of 'Heaven Can Wait', but academic writing takes a lot longer than writing prose fiction, because there's all sorts of pesky details like fact-checking and referencing which become important, and you can't let the writing wander to see where it goes.

For novel-writing, I reckon a good week is in the region of 20,000 words (this is first-draft only, mind, and needing a lot of revision). By contrast, the effort that produced my 15,000-word Master's dissertation in 6 weeks a couple of years back was prodigious. An average output of 2,500 words a week is pretty good going for academic writing. Keeping that rate up for ten weeks is not something I've tried before.

My point is, I'm really busy for the next two months. What I really want to be doing, of course, is finishing the first draft of 'Heaven Can Wait' and getting it into betas, then starting to outline 'The Earth Trembles'. I'm particularly hooked on writing 'Heaven Can Wait'; even 'Bad Romance', which I wrote in a week, wasn't as easy to write when I was in-stride. Heck, right now, I'd rather be writing 'Heaven Can Wait' than playing Guitar Hero (and it takes a lot to dislodge me from Guitar Hero).

I really enjoy both my jobs. I find my PhD immensely rewarding when it goes well; I feel a good deal of pride whenever I get a chapter completed or think of some good new argument. I love my friends and cherish their company. But all that stuff right now is standing between me and my writing, and I just want to start screaming at things to get out of the way...

So, given that I'm aspiring to write professionally (i.e. as a job), what do I do? Being a professional novelist may not have quite the entry barriers it once had, in the form of publishers and agents whose whims have to be catered for, but there's still a big entry fee in terms of time, a resource which any sane person recognises as far more valuable than money. How much should I - or any of us - compromise our normal lives for the sake of our 'real' lives as writers (don't make the mistake of thinking your life as a writer isn't already something real - it's just not profitable yet)?

My particular problem is that my biggest obligation - my PhD thesis - is written on the same terms as my novels; that is, I have to manage my own time for it. I usually work on it at home, too, so I'm usually wanting to go play Guitar Hero - or, as it is at the moment, write 'Heaven Can Wait'. The compromise I've decided to strike for now is that I've got to do a professional's work-day on the thesis before I'm allowed to write novels. That means I'm not writing fiction before 5PM (and, because there are other things in my life to distract me from my thesis during the week, this applies to Saturdays as well). I'm going to try to write 2,000 words most evenings and see how long it takes me to finish the novel.

I'd dearly love to write this book in a NaNo-esque blast, but I wasn't supposed to be writing a novel at all at this point, and I do have to be a good boy.

I guess what I'm saying is that you can't just switch off everything else to concentrate on writing (unless you hate your friends and your job. And eating). Treating writing as a professional activity - one that comes with deadlines and targets and duties - is an important part of being a professional, regardless of how lucky or marketable you are.

I need to do something about my twitter addiction, too...

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