Expert Q&A: finding time to write

We caught up with Emma Finlayson-Parker to ask her how she fits quality writing time into her busy schedule — and she’s kindly shared plenty of useful advice with us, along with insights into her writing life.

A core member of the Retreat West staff, Emma manages the Facebook group and member group, and is also a reader for competitions. She’s represented by Laura West at the David Higham Agency and has been published widely online and in print.

– When it comes to finding time to write, what are your main challenges?

I have a busy family and work multiple part time jobs so I have to be disciplined, but also precious with my time. I haven’t given up on watching TV or film and the odd Netflix binge, but I have sacrificed a lot of time where I might veg in front of the TV. I have adapted to be able to work in the chaos of the living room, so that really helps.

– What do you find are your biggest distractions when it comes to writing, and how do you overcome them?

My biggest distraction is definitely Twitter. I have to make little deals with myself like no checking Twitter until I’ve written at least 100 words or a paragraph. I also have the Forest app on my phone where you can grow trees the longer you keep off social media on your phone.

– Is there a certain time of day when you find you write best/when it’s easiest to focus? Or a particular place?

I’ve tried getting up at 5am or 6am, and it doesn’t really suit me as it takes me longer to wake up enough to function. I can write most times throughout the day, but I’ve found I either write better during the morning, or late at night. I’m definitely a night owl.

– How much writing time do you aim to set aside each day or each week?

I try to write a little each day, even if it’s just a sentence or mulling over an idea without actually putting pen to paper. Thinking time is just as important so I try not to feel too cross with myself if I don’t meet a target, but similarly I try to give myself smaller daily goals so I can achieve them easily and give myself a little boost that usually leads to a more productive day.

– Do you aim to write a certain number of words each day, or do you structure your writing time another way?

I’ve started a journal this year to add something to each day, whether it’s a word I like, a sentence, or just a bit of free writing; it’s a good way for me to spark ideas and keep track of productive days. I have a lot of editing work so have to structure my day to fit that in, and also try and set aside more time for my writing. I do often have a good few hours at the weekend where I just work solidly on a project of my own, so it’s a good time to work if I haven’t worked on my own writing as much in the week.

– What are you working on writing at the moment?

At the moment I’m editing a picture book to send back to my agent, and working on a totally new Young Adult book — so very much in the messy first draft. I also try and write a piece of flash fiction each week.

– What drives you to carve out time to write?

I absolutely love the buzz I get from writing, and love to be immersed in anything to do with writing. So I am more than happy to stay home and write and not go out as much!

– What advice would you give to someone who’s struggling to find the time to write?

Set yourself easy targets. Even 10-100 words a day is great because over a week you’d have 70-700 words, and that’s more words than you had at the start of the week. Small goals are easy to hit, and usually result in you writing more anyway. Find ways to write that fit in with your lifestyle; I often text myself ideas or use the voice recorder on my phone to get ideas down fast.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @FinlaysonPalmer and Instagram: finlayson_palmer