The Part-Time Writer: Little and Often

I am, for those who don’t know, self-employed. With my partner, I run a B&B and smallholding, taking care of the house, the guests and the animals in equal measure. It’s an enjoyable job, but like all self-employment, it comes with a few negatives. Today, for example, I realised that I really haven’t had a day off in at least a week, and won’t get one for several more days. I imagine that the idea of a fortnight without a day off from their job would horrify an awful lot of people, but it’s something that I’ve not only got used to, but actually don’t mind. Quite a few of those days, after all, aren’t a straight eight hours of work; I might work until lunchtime, or 3pm, or simply do a few chores on a day that would otherwise be free time, simply so I don’t have to do them later. It turns out, you see, that I actually quite like having a job that allows me to take this ‘little and often’ approach, and it’s the very same thing I do with my writing.

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to getting your writing done, and I’ve seen both part-time and full-time writers who fall on either side. Some are what you might call ‘binge writers’, who save up all their writing time and then hammer out 10,000 words in a day, only to not write again for two weeks. Depending on your work/life schedule, this might work well, allowing you to properly focus on your story for a defined period of time, and thus get far more work completed than you might otherwise have managed in those two weeks. Some people simply enjoy writing this way, whether it makes them more productive or not. For many writers, though, and particularly part-timers with a reasonably regular schedule, I don’t think this is the way to go – and thus we come to back ‘little and often’.

The most successful writers, it seems to me, make their writing a habit. There’s no waiting for inspiration to strike, no writing ‘when they’ve got time’ (because most make time, one way or another – more on that in a later post). Instead, these are the people who sit down each and every day, and get the work done.

This is a method I’ve gradually settled into over my years of writing, and it’s one I suggest most writers try to adopt, to a greater or lesser extent. Creating that habit, that discipline, tends to get work finished far better than the occasional, irregular binge. It’s no exaggeration to say that slow and steady wins the race – just 500 words written every day will produce 182,500 over the course of a year, which is somewhere in the region of two average-length novels, or an awful lot of short stories.

That ‘little and often’ method can also work on a daily basis. Instead of wondering when you’re going to find time to sit down and write 1000 words, aim for just 100, or 10 minutes, or whatever you can fit in. Maybe you’ll only manage 100 words/10 minutes that day – or maybe inspiration will strike, and you’ll suddenly produce a lot more. Maybe you’ll find you can actually fit an extra 10 minutes in here, and another 10 there, and suddenly you’re not so far off that 1000 words after all.

This, in my experience, is how stories get written – and, more importantly, finished. Little snippets of time, a few words here and there, and one day you look up to find you’ve produced a book. Not only that, but if you’re a part-timer, you’ve hopefully also found time to have a job, or raise a family, or pursue other hobbies and interests along the way. You find that you don’t have to let writing consume your life if you don’t want to, but that you can still produce stories more quickly and systematically than you’d ever believed possible.

I know, for some people, this is all going to feel a bit dry and boring. What about inspiration? What about the Muse? Well, I was a bit scathing about the Muse in my last post, so I won’t repeat that here; maybe you really do need that lightning strike to help you write, and that’s fine. On the other hand, maybe you’re looking at the chaos of your life and wondering how you’re ever going to find time to produce the story that’s burning inside your head. If that’s the case, there really is nothing for it but the ‘little and often’ approach: a few stolen minutes here and there, a few sentences written whilst you’re on the bus, or on your lunchbreak – or even on the toilet, if you really feel so inclined – just to see what you’re able to create. Try it, and see what happens.

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