To celebrate the publication of Dragon Daughter, I'm pleased to welcome author, Liz Flanagan, as part of the blog tour for the book.
I think one of the most useful things a writer can do is work out what times of day are most productive for them personally – if they’re a lark or an owl. I’ve always been very clear that I’m not an evening person! My day starts quite early as my children have to leave for buses at a shockingly early hour, and then I walk the dog.
I always say that all writers should try dog-owning or dog-borrowing at least, because whenever I get stuck with a story or a plotting idea, I take my dog for a walk, and by the time I get home an hour later, I always have a solution. There’s probably a technical neuro-scientific explanation for this, how the brain often comes up with ideas or solutions when you’re not looking directly at the problem, but keeping the body busy with chores or motion. Anyway, it definitely works for me, and some of my best ideas happen when dog-walking or washing-up!
I try to get to my desk by 9am latest, earlier if I can, and there must be coffee! In an ideal world, I might have the whole morning to work on my writing or my edits, but in practice, I’ll be switching between tasks – emailing, scheduling, invoicing, booking travel, planning my teaching or marking – but even a clear hour or two for writing is great.
I used to think I could only write if I was in a quiet room with a closed door, with childcare in place, and several hours stretching ahead of me. Last year I tried the #100DaysOfWriting challenge which I first noticed when Jenn Ashworth tracked her challenge two years ago, posting photos on social media. Her pictures were reassuringly normal – she was writing in a busy family house, at work, etc.
This encouraged me to try it too. The point of the challenge is not to hit a certain word count, but simply to show up every day and to try to fall back in love with your project, posting images of your journey and encouraging others who might be doing the same.
I have to say it was a revelation! I ended up writing for little snatches of time, from ten minutes to (occasionally!) a few hours. I wrote on trains, in cafes, in my office at work, in bed often, in hotel rooms, in the houses of friends and family. This showed me that I could actually make the most of the smallest slice of time available, but that showing up every day made a massive difference, kept the momentum going, and kept me engaged with the project. By the end of the hundred days, I had a really rough first draft. And it was rough – another effect of the challenge was to keep me focusing forwards, not editing very much as I went along. This year, I’m not writing every day, but the experience showed me something really valuable, about being flexible and trying to keep the momentum going.
By midday in a typical week, I hope to have done some writing, and then my pace switches a bit. I have a child with special educational needs, who isn’t at school full-time, and afternoons often have appointments or childcare commitments, but on a good day, I might get another hour or two at some point before the working day is done.
I’m trying to get better at leaving emails and admin tasks to the afternoon when my creative brain is more tired, but it’s a challenge for me. I’m such a Virgo – I like to meet deadlines and tick boxes and get things done.
On a rare day, when I’m on a writing retreat perhaps, I might get to write in the 4-6pm time slot, which I’ve discovered is another one of my most creative times of day – though usually I’ve switched to parenting or cooking tasks by then!
I’ve discovered there is little point trying to write in the evenings – my brain just doesn’t work that way. But I love reading widely – I seem to be having a glorious year of reading some of the superb middle-grade fiction out there just now – and I might curl up with a book when the children are in bed, if I’m not watching something on TV. I think reading counts as writerly work, even when it’s such a joy.
How is your writing day? I always like to compare notes and hear suggestions – please do let me know what you think! I can be reached via Lizflanagan.co.uk or on Twitter: @lizziebooks
Dragon Daughter is published by David Fickling Books
Cover art by Angelo Rinaldi
Interior art by Paul Duffield