“The trouble is, you think you have time,” said Buddha, a bit patronisingly, to somebody with no children.
When I was 26 I went travelling. The highlights of the trip were, in order:
- witnessing a man from Sydney with three missing fingers falling off a train whilst it moved through a Thai jungle at night
- witnessing the same man getting back on the train, whilst it was still moving, without spilling his beer
- witnessing the same man sauntering back up the train carriage and then hearing him say “sorry about that…fell off the train.”
- almost riding my motorcycle into a lost calf on a lonely jungle highway and then spending several minutes watching it watching me.
- seeing a blue whale dive out of the ocean just as I was about to dive off a reef, then not diving off the reef.
The rest was just trains, milkshakes and hammocks - utter frivolity.
Six months into the trip, after I had almost frittered away my meagre travel pot, I decided to spend the remaining few weeks on a beach in New Zealand. Nobody was there. I lived in a house that was half-built and therefore very reasonable to rent. I decided to try to learn how to catch fish. I’m told that the Pacific ocean is full of them, but none of them took my bait. In the five weeks that I spent there, I caught nothing, and therefore ate very little. When I wasn’t sitting on a rock staring at suspicious waters, I sat in the attic trying to write a book. I had four A4 pads and a stack of biros. I think I came away with about 70 pages filled with coded scrawl.
Five weeks with nothing to do and no distractions. No internet, no phone, no people, no appointments…no fish. Just mountains, sea and all the time in the world. By rights, I should have left with two complete novels, but I didn’t.
12 years later, married with two young kids, and my life is filled with things to do. There isn’t a hammock in sight and the memory of spending fruitless afternoons dangling a line in warm sea water seems very distant now. I only really have four or five three hour slots a week in which I can realistically write. And yet still, I manage to push out 10,000 words in a week - far less than my self-indulgent younger self did down under.
Why? Focus. Pressure. The ticking clock. The knowledge that I’m on a countdown makes me write with speed and freedom. I’m not 26 any more, I’m 39, and I’ve only written two books in my life. I still have a lot to write and I want to write it now. So, I am.
Many people want to write a book. Most complain, as I know I have, that they just don’t have the time. Family, kids, work, shopping, tidying, cleaning, paperwork, housework, the brave scrubbing of tin cans and bottles to save planet Earth, the endless shuffling of plastic and paper, the constant movement of objects over small distances…busy, busy, busy. We’re all too busy. No time to create.
But it only takes 250 words a day to write a novel in a year.
You can write 250 words in twenty minutes.
Time (compressed) plus volition, multiplied by fear, equals productivity.
If you want to write, then write. Said me. To you. Now.