writing into the nightWriting into the Night
Finding Time to Write

by Jenny Sharp


Sometimes I feel like Peter Pan, coming out at night to play.

To play with words, to play in my own created space; my world, my friends, while the real world sleeps around me. My mind wanders, thoughts rising and falling - slowly at first, as if on a child's merry go round. My characters come to life inside my head and begin to laugh and play, often a giggle escaping my lips as the vividness of the scene playing out in my head becomes a reality. Then the merry go round turns into a rollercoaster as the characters take over my thoughts entirely.

My head is spinning with nausea, other times with excitement as I look at the words filling my page. I listen to the tap tap tap of my fingers on the keyboard whilst my cats lay beside me tapping their tails in annoyance at the disturbance. It was 9.00pm. It's now 1.00am. Yikes!  Is this what other writer's experience? Is this when other writers write?

Finding time to write.  What works … What doesn't.

The alarm goes off at 5.30am. It's now 10.19pm.

I'm tired. I've been at work all day. I've come home, fed the family, watered the garden, fed the pets, put a load of washing on, had a shower, kind of watched the news, checked emails, twitter, facebook.  In the meantime, husband gone to bed, pets asleep, even teenage daughter asleep. I'm up. I'm awake. Time to write.

As tired as I may feel, my mind fills with excitement as I sit in the middle of the lounge and lift the lid on my lap top; cup of tea on one side of me, cats on the other - literally!

But now I deflate. What do I do first?

Do I continue with the next page of the website I'm building? Do I update a different page on my website? Do I edit a chapter of a work in progress? Do I begin to write the next chapter of a different project? Do I write next months tips for Cherububble? Do I read another chapter of the book I'm currently reviewing? Do I try to work on the illustrations for a new wordpress site I'm developing? Do I begin to write this article for Marg? Do I begin the Book Links newsletter?

Do I keep the television on or do I turn it off?  A new programme just came on. An actresses name flashed up - Melina … somebody. Melina - I think I like that name - better write it down for future reference. Better keep the television on just in case it flashes more inspiration my way. In the back of my mind all I can see are report cards that are due in three weeks and I wonder if I did finish organising tomorrows spelling activities - but that's another story!

It's now 10.30pm. I tell myself to just write. After all, for me, a few lines of gibber when all are asleep usually clears the threads of cobwebs that are holding both sides of my brain together!

What works for me?

Over the years I've discovered that writing at night has always worked for me.

Most of my assignments throughout school and university were completed at night. I think I developed that particular working habit way back when I was in primary school. My bed time curfew was eight o'clock. I always made sure the batteries of my torch were working. After Mum and Dad said good night and  'go to sleep', I'd wait a few minutes, flick on the torch and retrieve the book I had hidden under my bed, or in my bag or wardrobe or shoe box. I'd fall asleep dreaming about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the Secret Seven. To this day I still fall asleep with a book in my hand.

I'd always keep paper and pencils hidden away as well. Through primary school I would make up my own illustrations for a book if I didn't like the ones that were there. During high school art classes were one of very few I did attend quite happily. I didn't care if the teachers liked my work or not. Drawing, painting, colouring in was, and always is, like writing. Drawing and writing are a form of play that brings me peace. Even now, when I find I'm a little stuck, I'll draw out the scene with every little detail included. If I can't see the scene clearly in my mind, I can't write it.

A few years later with a husband and two children, I find writing into the early hours still works for me.  I could never fully concentrate on any work until I knew everyone was home safe, fed, bathed, homework completed and tucked up in bed for the night, especially when the kids were little.  My mind needs to be clear of all the day's events or my ability to focus diminishes significantly. No focus, no words - just one blank page.

So, what doesn't work for me?

Lots of things but mostly sensory overload. During the times in my life when I wasn't going out to work I would try to sit and write. It never worked though. I've never been able to write through the day. Too many things going on.  Too much to look at; too much to do. Senses overload equates to not being able to concentrate. A car goes past - I can see and smell the exhaust. It also went past quickly, a flash of red - what was written on the side? I didn't catch it. This bugs me until I find out. Lost my train of thought already!

As I rise to get a cup of coffee I lecture myself to sit down and refocus. While I take the milk out of the fridge I think about dinner. What meat should I take out of the freezer to thaw? What do I feel like? What can I give my family that's different?
I make my coffee and sit back down at the computer. I just wasted half an hour.

'Refocus. Refocus,' I berate myself again.  I read through the previous lot of writing to try and get the merry go round moving again. The phone rings, it's someone selling something AGGH!!! I put the answering machine on. The phone rings again. Any thoughts that dared try existing inside my brain have now been whisked stiff like egg whites, frozen inside each cell, unable to come out. An hour has now passed.

While all thoughts have frozen in time I pace around the house agitated. I put some music on for therapy and wash the floor. Millie is barking at something or someone. She needs to exercise, so do I. We go for a walk.  Chat to a neighbor, have some lunch. Should I look at the clock? No. I feel more settled. I sit back down at my desk totally refocused. I do sneak a peek at the clock. In my head I calculate how much time has gone and how much time I have left before they all arrive home. Dam! How many words can I write in an hour? Senses go into overload again. What will I get them for afternoon tea …? 

Now I have a paid day job that I actually do like. Working with children is a privilege and offers me many rewards, particularly with writing. Children, especially the younger ones, each and every day provide unique utterances that could only come out of their mouths of purity. Totally unplagiarised! The problem I have with this is that I can't stop what I'm doing every five minutes to write down these wonderful linguistic discourses. I take a mental note and think, 'I'll write that down next break!'

It's now lunch time. There was something I had to do wasn't there? Maybe I'll remember next break.

So focus. What focus? My head is spinning but in a different way. The merry go round doesn't want to begin. My thoughts aren't building up with all the highs and lows the rollercoaster provides. My head is pounding. It rode the giant drop today - several times!

Bring on night time. Peace. Quiet. Neutralized senses. Thought processes no longer suspended in time. The red light has changed to green, literally. It's now 10.15pm. I've turned my laptop on. The light flashes green - ready to go. Cup of tea sits on one side, cats on the other. I stifle a yawn.

Wouldn't have it any other way!

This leads to further points of discussion that I am sure I am not unique in feeling and experiencing. Points of discussion such as:

  • What exactly does my writing timetable look like?
  • How do I decide what to do first - How do I prioritize my writing work? Do I concentrate on my blog for networking or on my website and in particular writing teacher notes as a point of promotion?
  • How much time do I allow myself for actual creative writing before I allocate time for editing, proofreading and making my manuscript shine? Then there's marketing and promoting myself.
  • Do I link these in with my blog? With my website? With Twitter and Facebook?
  • What do I do to avoid burnout?
  • When do I allocate time to my day work and more than anything when and how do I find time for the most important people who allow me to do what I do? My family.

copyright Jenny Sharp


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