A Time To Write – with apologies to John Grisham.


If there is one thing I’ve learned since I started writing it’s that you can’t just wimp out of it. You write when you’ve got time, and you write when you haven’t got time, and if by the end of that you’ve still not got a novel then you stay up until three in the morning to get the thing on paper.

 So now you know. Our secret is revealed. Don’t wimp out!

Only, it’s not our secret. I wish! No, that’s the secret of our guest today. But enough about her. No time for that.

Fact is, it’s been a hectic few weeks, what with the launch of the new book; preparations for the new e-publishing imprint (on which more very soon); the anthologies project (more shortly on this too); my new regular guest post over at WG2E; guest posts on other blogs; co-writing a dozen books, two of which are due out before Christmas; and several other projects so hush-hush at this stage I can’t say more just now. Not to mention my projects with the children here in West Africa.

Oh yeah, and in between all that, a small matter of juggling posts for MWi itself.

As it was, I was looking over the backlog of guests I’ve got queued (thanks to falling behind with everything when I returned briefly to the UK in the summer) and wondering how / who I should follow Ruth Harris with. How does anyone follow a huge writing star like Ruth?

Then literally as I was pondering this, an email appeared from my co-author with a guest post they’d promised last month. No, not Saffi. One of the other co-authors.

And, being totally honest here, I saved it and emailed her telling her I’d read it as soon as I had time. I mean, just because she’s my co-author doesn’t mean she gets any special favours. Quite the opposite.

But as I was saving the document in my bursting at the seams when I’ve got a spare moment folder I happened to glance over a few sentences, then quickly read the rest. And hung my head in shame. Too busy? Not enough time to write? Dream on.

I used to be huge admirer of John Grisham who, legend has it, got up an hour earlier each day to write his first novel, A Time To Kill, before heading off to work. Go for it, JG!

But my co-author makes Grisham look like a rank amateur when it comes to making time to write. I am totally shamed by my co-author’s endeavours, and I’m sure you will be too.

Here’s Miriam:


I have to admit, this post was supposed to be written in time to be posted, when, August? But I was away, and Mark vanished off the face of the Earth, and basically this is my post and sorry it’s late. Right, let’s move on.

Today – which won’t be today by the time this is published, but let’s pretend that today is still the sixth of September, because the internet and time travel get on like that – was the first day back at school. My last year of compulsory schooling! And aren’t I counting down the days… Anyway, today my friends were discussing how much they’d written for a geography assignment. As I don’t take geography, I was a little out of the conversation. “Oh, Amy wrote 5000 words! She’s mental like that, though…”

I stared at the sky for a minute. “Well, I wrote two novels over the holidays…”

It’s funny because I don’t have a lot of free time. In fact, this summer I was away or busy for most of the six week break, with my orchestra or staying with my penfriend or helping at the community event near where I live. Yet I wrote a lot.

There’s a secret to this sort of thing. Just as there’s a secret to balancing NaNoWriMo with school and music practice, and that’s write when you can.

The first of these two novels was, I’ll admit, written partly while term was still going on, and I added words to it by going up to the library every lunch time. That’s my main secret, the library. Before school, lunch time, after school if I have to hang around before a music lesson – the library. It’s just as well I get on well with the librarian, isn’t it?

But for a week of the time I spent on the second book, I was on a boat. A sailing boat, to be precise, wooden, with two sails and a rather inexperienced crew. This was my non-working holiday of the summer (where I spent every morning tidying the boat for inspection and learning types of knots or ropes for the questions … hmm) where I failed completely to get tanned. And you know, boats don’t really have electricity, or computers, and certainly not internet. So I went old-school.

Notebooks. I took an A5 refill pad with me and by the end of the week it was much more than half full. I actually really owe thanks to the skipper, mate and crew of Spindrift, who were mostly quite accommodating when I wanted to write instead of, um, pulling my weight on the ropes or something – mostly. And the girls on my night boat, too, who just laughed when I said, “Let me just finish this sentence!”

When I got home, I had 67 handwritten pages to type up. I had two days to do it, before I was off to France to study the language for nine days – hooray! And I did it, and my fingers hurt, but I wrote some more as well, because if there is one thing I’ve learned since I started writing it’s that you can’t just wimp out of it. You write when you’ve got time, and you write when you haven’t got time, and if by the end of that you’ve still not got a novel then you stay up until three in the morning to get the thing on paper.

In France, I took my laptop and spent my ‘alone time’ writing, compiling a playlist from the music I own when I can’t get internet and attacking Microsoft Word. Then my computer broke, so I went old-school again … and finished the notebook I started on the Norfolk Broads.

Of course, it helps that I can touch-type, but that’s only any good when I know what I want to say. So here are my pieces of advice for writing when you’re busy: 

1.       Sleep is for the week … ha ha, sorry for stealing your album title, Frank Turner. You can sleep on days you’ve got work in the morning, but on weekends there is no such thing as a lie-in. I don’t have one anyway. But that’s beside that point. You get up at nine to go to church? Fine, get up at eight. You have orchestra starting at nine? Start writing at half seven, you’ll get an hour in.

2.       Sleep is for the weekend. Just to contradict my other point – it might not always be practical to work on that basis. I tend to alternate. One month I’ll get up an hour early every single week day and go to school early to write, the next month I’ll save my marathon sessions for the weekend.

3.       Get yourself a playlist, because you’re going to need it. “Music, a magic beyond all we do here!” Dumbledore has spoken, folks, so you need to get a move on and make yourself a writing playlist. Better still, have an Epic Writing list. You’ll find your creative side boosted by having music – I find film music the best because it’s epic but it’s in the background so won’t distract you – and you’ll write faster. Trust me, it works. If you want a link to my absolute favourite playlist, which is online and free, then come and talk to me at my blog. And yes that was a shameless plug. Hey, that’s my job, I’m networking here.

4.       I don’t know who it was who said this, but: “Set aside your writing time and guard it with barbed wire.” I took this so seriously that my music teacher had to bribe me with chocolate and cake to make me join quartet because it was at lunch times, when I write…

5.       Get a focus writing program: I use FocusWriter and DarkRoom (sometimes I need a break from one or the other, so I swap over) which are both free and very easy to install. But I also have Write or Die Desktop Edition and I have had so many bizarre, fantastic, imagination-bursting writing marathons with that. Get it. It’s $10 (about six quid in Brit money, I think) and it’s worth it…even if my line breaks sometimes disappear.

So if you think you don’t have time to write a novel, remember that at least you don’t get homework. Unless you’re a teacher, in which case you have to mark homework. Hard luck: here’s a piece of advice for free. Don’t set it. Then you don’t have to mark it, and your students can go on to become bestselling novelists and they’ll turn around and say, “Well, if it weren’t for my fantastic teacher I’d never have written a novel…”

And to add insult to injury when Miriam says she’s started back at school, she means she’s just 15 and studying for her GCSEs (sorry, don’t know the US equivalent).

Yeah, makes you bloody sick, don’t it?! 🙂

There’s a reason for that old saying “Children should be seen and not heard.” It’s because when we do let them have their say they embarrass the hell out of us with their do-gooder work ethic and fine example.

And for anyone who’s not been paying attention Miriam, along with fellow teen writer Charley (16, and every bit as embarrassingly efficient and productive) are our co-authors on the new YA boarding school series, St. Mallory’s.

Book One St. Mallory’s Forever! should be on Kindle in time for Christmas. If it’s late you’ll know to blame me and Saffi.

How about you guys? Are you still able to face the world having had every too busy to write today excuse demolished by Ms Miriam? If you haven’t already put your head in the oven or jumped from a high window, feel free to scream and rant violently at her in the comments section. She deserves no better.

  1. RANT, SCREAM! Okay, done.

    Crikey, I thought I was busy with 1500 sheep in various stages between newborn, adolescent, middle and old age, four dogs, almost 2 acres of gardens, a book just launched which needs its promotion, a hist.fict to finish writing, a massive co-authorship for a major surprise release on Dec 16th (you’ll LOVE it, Mark), plucking the grey hairs from the chin and coping with a ravenous sweet tooth AND summer coming which entices me onto and into the water!
    Damn youth I say!

  2. Impressive! But, as I always say, it’s not the writing, it’s the thinking—and the thinking goes on almost all the time whether consciously or unconsciously (the boys downstairs Stephen King calls it IIRC). In a way the writing is the tip of the iceberg and, once a draft is done—even a totally crapola draft—it’s the editing/revising that creates the book.

    In any case, that’s my process. Do other writers experience the same trajectory? Or something entirely different?

    • Interesting, Ruth.

      We tend to work much the opposite, with no idea where we’re going as we write, and while there’s lots of edting and such still to do when a full draft is complete it is mostly by then just corrections and tightening, rather than major revisions. We constantly edit and revise as we go.

      By the time we have a full draft finished we’re reasonably confident it’s almost ready to go live.

      We like to put characters in situations and see where they go, and the thinking time (absolutely right – continuous) occurs as we swap between our different WIPs.

  3. I am too ashamed to even comment, Miriam…

    • It will get worse. Charley will pop in later and embarrass us even more!

      • Miriam
      • September 7th, 2011

      Mwah ha ha ha ha haaaa.
      And that is all my brain is capable right now. I pity whoever reads my current first draft for me. It’s only slightly more coherent than that.

  4. P. D. James (I think!) had a full time job in the Civil Service, looked after her invalid husband, and also got up early every morning to write her first novel. Apparently, she thought, one day, ‘Suppose some time in the future my (not yet born) grandchild asks me what I really wanted to do with my life, and I have to reply that I’d always wanted to write but had never found time to do it?’ That was when she first started getting up early. I heard her talking about this on a TV programme some years ago, and it gave me a real push to do something similar. Miriam, thanks for giving me a further shove!

    • And thanks to you Gerry for the PD James anecdote.

      It’s so easy to wimp out, as Miriam puts it. Bottom line is our dreams will always be dreams if we find excuses not to try.

      Miriam. this post should be compoulsive reading for everyone out there who says they want to be a writer.

    • P. D. James has always been one of my role models, but I’d never heard that story about her. Thanks for this, Gerry!

  5. *points* See her up there? My co-author? She’s insane, and she’s awesome, and we love her.
    And now I have to beat her example because I’m nearly a year her senior. Stuff you A-Level horror stories, I WILL WRITE AND YOU WILL NOT STOP ME!

    Love those tips – I am SO sticking to those now. Now, where did I leave that razor wire…

    • We make an amazing team, Ms Charley.

      And the best thing about co-writing is being driven on by each other.

      • Miriam
      • September 7th, 2011

      You will not beat me. You will not beat me. You will not beat me.
      I have sword fights too, this time around.

      • No fighting girls, not with your writing partner. Just do what I do; tell Mark that I am right and he is wrong. The end. 😉

  6. Here’s to all the early risers! I’m afraid I have it much too easy.

    • I second that, George!

      And if your having it easy, how about a few short stories for our anthologies? Will email you later today on same.

      • Miriam
      • September 7th, 2011

      Early risers? I wish I was by nature, I’m SOO not a mornings person. Mind you, I do get some interesting typos … my first ever novel, I had a character who wore clocks and threw caution to the window.

  7. Miriam, I had a pang of homesickness when I read you were on the Norfolk Broads. I’m from there and used to love renting a boat for the day with a group of friends…ahh those were the days 🙂

    I totally agree with the playlist. I have one for each of my books and my fingers just fly when I’m listening to music whilst writing. Whole scenes erupt in my head when a few moments before, as I opened my laptop, there was just the sound of crickets and the rustle of tumbleweed.

    You are definitely an inspiration. My writing goes in fits and starts. I’ll write for days then won’t write for a week or so. Never was able to stick to a writing schedule.

  8. Great post! Miriam, you go girl! I’ll be sending this url to about a thousand writers who need to read it.

    • Jim Bronyaur
    • September 8th, 2011

    YES! This is my favorite post of the day.

    I love when writers post their schedules to show the world that we aren’t magical people who have nothing better to do but write. Man, I wish I could just sit and write with no other distractions!

    I recently switched my schedule becuase I found my word count lacking… and that’s a no-no in my book.

    SO… home from work by 4:30. Make dinner, feed the family, play with the kids. *WHEW* Baths for the kids. Bedtime stories. Yes, plural. One for each boy, and we actually read it. We talk about the pictures, what’s happening. I show the letters, etc. (My boys are 3 and 1 1/2) Actually, I’m reading them a MG horror novel I wrote last summer… I’m making them the judge as to whether I should publish it or not! 😉
    I am at my desk by 7pm, working. Depending on the night, I have my run (I cannot go a day without exercise).
    I make sure to have time for my wife – we usually watch mind rotting reality shows or something…
    Then by 11pm she’s in bed, and I’m back to work. I tend to go until 2am, sometimes later.
    Where I crash is where I sleep, until my 3 year old wakes me up. Usually between 6am and 7am.

    Extra sleep? Well, I may sneak a nap in if my wife decides to do baths one night, etc.

    And the weekends? COme on now… NO SLEEP on the weekends. That’s the best time to get stuff done.

    And speaking of getting stuff done… it’s now 12:00am here. I need to get to work! 🙂


    • Thanks, Jim.

      Kids that age can be quite a handful to juggle with writing time. Wanting to spend all your spare time with them before they grow up, but needing that time away from them to write.

      Sounds like you’re managing though!

      • Miriam
      • September 11th, 2011

      Now that is more mental than my schedule! I’m very impressed. I’d love to be allowed to stay up late when I’m on a roll, but unfortunately school and parents and all the other things that take over the life of someone my age mean that I have to sleep at some point.


  9. I guess age doesn’t matter;) WTG Miriam! As a mother of four teenage boys and holds a day job, I have to find the time to write. It might be in the car line or at their sports games, but I do find the time. Or like the post said, in the middle of the night…or right NOW!

  10. Reading this piece, I was impressed and thought it very well-thought-out. Then I happened upon the “sorry Frank Turner…” part. It went from well-thought-out to awesome. Frank Turner is god.

    During my summer of interning, I would go to starbucks for a few hours before work to get some revising time in, I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one that does something like that!

      • Miriam
      • September 11th, 2011

      Ha ha ha! Your comment made me laugh 🙂 Yes, I recently discovered Frank Turner (as in, last Tuesday when my sister was playing his music in the car) and now he’s one of my favourite artists. I wouldn’t say he’s god, exactly, that kind of conflicts with my faith. But he’s pretty good 😉

      Oh, no, you’re definitely not. I’m mad, but I know I’m not the only one. For me, getting up early works because my parents can’t do anything about it. For other folk it’s night times, but rest assured there is someone out there who is sacrificing sleep / friends / food / other for writing.

  11. It definitely sounds busy around these parts. 🙂

    This will sound strange, but I think being busy is a blessing. Some of my most prolific writer buddies are moms with full-time jobs and young kids. Being busy seems to make you appreciative of those small bits of time you can snatch from the day, and you don’t screw around when you actually do get a chance to sit down and write.

    On the other hand, those with more time end up on Twitter, blogs (ahem!), Facebook, email, etc. I forget the exact saying, but there’s one out there about the time it takes to finish a task expands in proportion to the time allotted.

    Write on, busy peeps!

      • Miriam
      • September 11th, 2011

      Hmm, that’s one way of looking at it. I think if I used all of my free time writing, I would write a novel in a week rather than in a couple of months. Even with the small amount of time I’ve got, it’s still incredibly easy to distract me.

      But I’m supposed to be presenting an organised front here! You didn’t hear me say that… 😉

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