Scene with Table Mountain

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Telling our stories

Scene with Table Mountain
Telling our stories [Photograph by Jacqueline Mitchell]

A past student emailed this week to say he really needed to get down to writing and stop wasting time. He did a creative writing short course with me some years ago and wants to enrol on the Writers’ Masterclass because he reckons the deadlines will help him produce his novel.

Which is a point that A’Eysha Kassiem made in her chat with me recently. “Most importantly,” she said of the Masterclass, “the deadlines force me to write. I have found that even when I am faced with writer’s block, I write through it anyway.” And that’s really the foundation stone of the Masterclass – helping writers up their word count.

The hectic life

We all lead hectic lives. We have jobs, partners, children, grandchildren, interests (surfing, for instance), and somehow squeezing in time for writing is difficult. It came as a welcome surprise to learn that even a megastar like J K Rowling battles to find time to write. One of her most famous quotes is: “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.”

And this is true of most of us. Okay, there are those writers who will tell you their writing day is from breakfast to lunch, then again through the afternoon until sundowners. But these people are few and far between. For most of us writing is about getting it done in those “spare moments here and there”.

The spare moments

The thing is to create the “spare moments”. I have found that early in the morning before breakfast works best for me. Others find it easier to write at night when the house is quiet. And then there’s a writer on the Masterclass – Kesh Naicker working on a YA novel in the hectic city of Washington DC – who says she really likes writing in cafes. She was also on my Writing Fiction course and in the chat room told us, “I bounce between short quiet stints at the library and two coffee shops in walking distance. The movement of people and voices in the coffee shop somehow comforts me and makes me feel less lonely.”

Mostly though, the writers I’ve talked to, prefer a quiet place where they can get a couple of hours work done each day. And that’s the aim behind the Masterclass: to help you write 8000 words every six weeks or so. Sound terrifying? It’s not. It’s based on my (very slow) writing process: 250 words a day times seven days a week equals 1750 words times six weeks (which is the time between submission deadlines on the Masterclass) equals about 10000 words. After six submissions you’re at 60000 words. It’s worked for a disparate group of writers on the Masterclass.

Organisation

There’s this idea that writers are dreamy people who live in some parallel universe inhabited by people who only exist in their heads. Which sounds plain weird. Actually, writers are highly organised people who know exactly what they want and how to get it. And that really is the most important thing about being a writer. Organising the other people in your life so that you can do your writing.

Another Writing Fiction and Masterclass writer, Tania Kliphuis (who has written a poignant and affecting memoir about the death of her baby) said on the forum, “I try to write, or at least think about writing, for 40 minutes during [my children’s] midday nap (the other hour and 20 minutes is spent tidying and making lunch and answering emails). And, if I don’t have any work to do, I can sometimes squeeze in another hour or two at night.”

That’s what it comes down to: organising those spare moments. Writing, when stripped of the romantic notion of dreamy souls in their garrets, is a business. Writing a novel takes time. Lots of time. That time you are funding because you are a patron of your own art. In the medieval ages there were kings to support artists, now you have to do it on your own.

So find your spare moments. Tell your family you’re going to write your book. And if you want the backing of the Masterclass, you’ll be in good company.  

Get more out of your writing.

Click here for a course on Writing Fiction. Click here for a course on writing a memoir, Writing Reality. If you’re looking for supervision while writing your memoir or novel, join The Writers’ Masterclass. There’s a new class starting in February 2021.