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The Master of Time

Like anyone else I struggle to fit writing around life, so I decided to ask John J Brady, one of my brilliant critique partners, for advice. He has a fabulously busy life yet manages to regularly produce fantastic, honed, stories and novels. I'll hand over to John for some practical, motivational - perhaps a little scarily so - advice.

You, too, can master time...

It's taken me two weeks to write these 816 words. Not because I have to search for hours to find each successive key, but because I have to find the time to do it. Take right now, for example. My five-year-old child is furiously colouring in a sheet of paper as if he despises the crayon he's using. Another child is watching the Australian Open men's tennis final. Yet another is playing Minecraft in his room. None of these activities have happened by accident. Rather, they're the product of careful planning, all geared towards getting me ten minutes free to write on my phone because I know there's no point in getting the laptop out – within half an hour, I can guarantee one child would have started colouring in the coffee table, one would have noticed the other just blew up his Minecraft roller coaster and one would have broken the other's wooden farm.

With family and work commitments, getting time to write can prove difficult. So, like the soldier who can sleep at a moment's notice, I've had to learn to write when the chance arises. It's far from ideal – the how-to-write books never tell you to type on your phone in a noisy environment for ten minutes at a time – but if I want to write one hundred thousand words then rewrite and edit again, needs must.

Of course life takes priority over writing, and none of us would swap the life-affirming cleaning-up of vomit for an hour's peace doing something pleasurable like writing. You can't shirk those commitments; you have to do something to pay for the little ones' latest console game. But even the best of parents/employees are allowed some time to indulge.

Setting aside an hour or two is best, of course. I write fastest and best with my head down over the laptop, Rammstein assaulting my ears through the headphones. I can send the family away to the in-laws for a Sunday afternoon because "I have a plug to change and it'll take aaaaaages," but not very often. Dedicated writing times are few and far between, and if I relied on them I'd never get anything done.

Hence, many of us must learn to write whenever the opportunity arises, and I've come up with some suggestions ...

Tips for writing on the hoof:

• Accept that you may have to write in sub-optimal conditions. A busy work and home life create the perfect storm for procrastinators, giving ample opportunity for excuses. Don't accept excuses.

• Get some tech you're comfortable with; laptop, tablet, phone, whichever suits your circumstances. I've written over 100,000 words on a regular smartphone, using software perfectly compatible with my laptop. I like Quickoffice on a Samsung Galaxy, but other programmes and phones are available and may even be better. Some may even be free!

• Typing on a touchscreen feels very odd at first. Where's all that sensory feedback that tells you you're touching one key, and one key alone? But like anything else, it only takes practice, practice and more practice to get it right.

• Now your day is full of opportunities. The fifteen minutes wait at the dentist's. The time a colleague doesn't show up and you have no chance to do any work. The ten minutes outside your youngest's bedroom door hoping that this time, he'll stay in bed (hello from outside my youngest's bedroom door!).

• Accept that the first draft will have typos. Accept that your fingers are thicker than the keys. If your obsessive tendencies will let you, carry on regardless. You can kill all the tjats and yoys in the edit (see next point).

• Can't get in the mood? Fair enough – we all write better when we're as happy/sad/angry/excited as our characters. So go back and read the last couple of pages to get in the right frame of mind. If that doesn't work, edit. For me, at least, editing is a more clinical business that doesn't rely as much on mood to spot the three uses of gurn in the same paragraph.

• Back up! For the love of whatever deity/concept/person you hold dear, do not leave fifty thousand words of Hugo Award-winning novel sitting all vulnerable on your phone when it could get lost/stolen/eaten at any moment. Use a service like Dropbox or Google Drive, copy to your PC regularly, and/or get it on memory sticks.

So, armed with all this knowledge, you must accept THERE ARE NO EXCUSES ANYMORE! "I never have time" is LOSER TALK! (sorry, they're watching wrestling now and it's hard not to get carried away). Ahem ...

If life is getting in the way of your writing dream, look for opportunities. They'll be there, somewhere; maybe hiding out in your day to day routine, but they'll be there. Identify them, use them, and time need never be an excuse again.


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