Word Count 6: The biggest mistake of my writing life, plus J Diane Dotson on finding time

by Suw on June 21, 2022

Hi there,

The weather is absolutely glorious as I write this, and the urge to bunk off and go sit in the park is very, very strong. But alas, it is not to be. I have far, far too much to do.

I used to think that being self-employed would empower me to spend days in the park if I wanted to, and if there’s one thing I wish I could go back and tell my younger self, it’s that freelance work is 99% graft and only 1% bunking off. More on that below.

Suw’s News

I know I said several weeks ago that I was going to get cracking with the Show Bible for my TV series, but stuff happened. Two cats and a husband arrived from America, a bed had to be acquired, sofas and wardrobes had to be bought (OK, really only one of each), and so on and so on.

But I have now finally started. What exactly is a Show Bible (or Treatment)? I have absolutely no clue and after a quick Google, and it seems no-one else does either. Every online guide I looked at said something different, so I’ve picked two that seem sensible – this one from Industrial Scripts and this one from Script Advice – and smooshed them together. We’ll see how that pans out.

Talking of Script Advice, I promised my mentor that I’d invest in my writing this year and when I saw that Yvonne Grace was running a two-weekend script editing course, I jumped at it. Normally I’d hesitate so long about an opportunity like this that I’d miss my chance, but I made the decision and booked my slot immediately.

Yvonne developed her skills as a script editor on Eastenders, and has worked for the BBC, Granada, ITV, and Carlton, working on Coronation Street, Holby City, the Crossroads reboot and much more. I am so excited about learning script editing from her!!

Stop, Look and Listen: Not Too Busy To Write – Sian Meades-Williams

This week, I listened to Penny Wincer talking to Sian Meades-Williams about freelancing and newsletters on the Not Too Busy to Write podcast. Sian runs the Freelance Writing Jobs newsletter, which collects opportunities for writers. In this episode, Penny and Sian talked about the transition people make between employment and freelancing, and how hard it can be, emotionally, to pitch to editors and put yourself out there.

There’s some really brilliant advice throughout the episode, advice I wish I’d had when I quit my job to become a freelance music journalist back in 1998. My first freelance job was writing about Blur’s gear for the Melody Maker, which you can read on my extremely old website. I spent two years trying to make a go of it, but earnt only £4k a year and then ran out of space on my credit card.

My big mistake, which is obvious in retrospect, was that I wanted to write more fiction, so I thought that if I became a freelance journalist I’d have more time to myself. But instead I spent a lot of time stressing about money, trying to get work, getting cross when magazines rejected my pitches but then published the same ideas a few months later.

Worse, I lost my confidence. I believed that no one would ever employ me and that my only option was to battle through and hope for a big break… but that break never came. What happened was my own personal financial crisis, hitting rock bottom and discovering there’s actually more shit underneath.

I still regret that decision and I think it was the gravest mistake I’ve made in my writing life.

I now understand that I was suffering from Plan Continuation Bias whilst stuck in the Scarcity Trap. Plan Continuation Bias is the idea that once we have a plan, we stick to it even though conditions have changed and it would be more sensible to do something different. Tim Harford has an amazing podcast episode on it which explains it brilliantly. The Scarcity Trap is when our cognitive functions become impaired because we are so focused on something that’s missing from our lives, such as money, that we can’t think clearly and end up making bad decisions. Hidden Brain has an episode on it that’s worth listening to.

I had no money. But I had a plan. So I had to stick to that plan. Except the plan was a bad one and so were most, if not all, of my decisions. I thought I needed to work for myself to have time to write, rather than find a decent job that paid me well so that I could be unencumbered by stress and could write in my evenings

Don’t get me wrong, freelancing can be a great life. But if you’re going to do it, it has to be because you want to do that kind of work, not because you think it will give you more time to yourself, because it’s unlikely to work out that way.

Tip-top tip: Carving out the time – writing and parenting

Diane DotsonAnd on the subject of time, this week’s guest contributor is J. Dianne Dotson, a science writer and author of the science fiction and fantasy series, The Questrison Saga. Dianne is also a mum to two children, and here she talks about finding time to write when there is just so much else to do.

In 2016, when I was writing the first draft of Heliopause, having two kids under the age of ten meant that, while they were far more independent than in their toddler years, they still needed help with things so I focused on them until they went to bed. I had grand ideas of writing while they slept, but sometimes I was so tired myself that I couldn’t do anything but call it a night. I felt like it was taking forever to finish the first draft, and I was not sure how to get things moving along.

So, I reached out to someone I knew had figured out how to parent and write: author Joanne Harris. She told me that I needed to carve out the time.

What this meant was, any time—ANY time—I had a moment, grab the document and work on it. Waiting at school pickup, after they went to bed, when I had the energy, whenever I could. So, I followed this advice and it worked. Pages added up to chapters, chapters added up to the first draft of Heliopause. I used the same tactic to finish Ephemeris, the second book in the series.

My advice to you is the same as Harris’s advice to me: Carve out the time. Have writing implements on you, always: pen and paper, phone with a note app or dictation capability, etc. Sometimes those weird moments of in-between can help you get a scene written, and that makes them feel like even more of a win!

Cassie licking her lips

Obligatory cat photo

I’m visiting my Mum again, so here’s Cassie in the middle of her morning ablutions.

That’s it for now! If you’ve enjoyed my newsletter this week, please forward it to your friends and encourage them to subscribe too.

All the best,

Suw

 

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