I always wanted to write a novel. It seemed like such an exciting and momentous thing, and the trouble was, I never had the time. I diddled and doodled for a while, writing opening pages or chapters, scribbling down notes for scenes or entire novels, but the actual writing of a whole book defeated me. It just seemed too big a task. I had small children and little time and I was so tired. And every other would-be writer has his or her own excuses: a full-time job, an ailing parent, jobs around the house. Life in the twenty-first century is busy, busy, busy, and squeezing in writing a book among all of its demands is definitely not easy.
I wrote my first novel when I had three small children at home. They were aged seven, four, and two, and they were with me all the time, even when I went to the bathroom. I couldn’t afford childcare and we didn’t own a TV. So how did I manage to write a book during that time?
First off, persistence. You’ve got to want it. It helped me to commit to a date: I gave myself six months to complete a first draft of 55,000 words. This might not work for everyone, but having a concrete goal to work towards is usually a good thing and can keep you motivated. Setting a date for when you want to submit your book to an agent, editor, or a beta reader also helps. Make it real. Set it in stone, or as much as you can.
The other thing that helped me was writing every day, or rather, every night. When my children were finally, blissfully in bed, I sat down at the kitchen table with my husband’s laptop and wrote for 20 minutes straight. What this meant was I couldn’t go back and delete or edit, and I definitely couldn’t check the internet or email. I gave myself twenty minutes to write something, and then I let myself read it over and edit as necessary. And in this way I wrote a book.
If you have small children at home it might be impossible to write while they’re awake. I certainly found this difficult, and so what I ended up doing was thinking about my story while pushing a swing or changing a nappy. I fleshed out my characters; I outlined scenes; I wrestled with the emotional conflicts. By doing this I was able to hit the ground running when I got to my twenty minutes of writing time. In fact, I’d be chomping at the bit, absolutely eager to get going. When you haven’t been able to be at your keyboard all day, there’s no such thing as staring at a blank page.
As my story grew, so did my desire to complete it. When you’ve written one chapter you might not be committed to finishing a book. When you’ve written a hundred and fifty pages, you feel a lot more eager. Twenty minutes every evening wasn’t enough, and so I gave myself some more time. It wasn’t easy; we still had no childcare or TV. I ended up snatching moments where I could; taking my laptop to the library or playground and typing while they played; taking it in into the bathroom while they were in the tub. Wherever I could grab a moment, I did, and I finished my first draft in just over four months.
I think there has to be a balance when you are trying to write in the midst of the busyness of life. You need to be strict about making writing a priority, but not too hard on yourself when you can’t. Life interferes. Kids get sick and have sleepless nights. Skipping a day here or there is understandable, and you don’t need to let a minor setback derail your intentions. The important thing is to focus on your goal, and take the necessary steps, baby as they might, to achieve it.
The first book you finish might not be a bestseller. It might never be published or even see the light of day. My first book didn’t. But it’s a step on a journey, and it means you’ve done it. You can do it again, and with each book you will be a wiser, better writer, and more determined to succeed.
After living in New York City and then the Lake District for several years, Kate Hewitt now makes her home in a small village in the Cotswolds. She is the author of over 40 novels of romance and women’s fiction. Her latest books are When He Fell, a tense and emotional thriller, and Rainy Day Sisters, a heartwarming story of sisters set on the Cumbrian coast. You can find out about all of her books on her website, and follow her travails as a mother of five at her blog.