Some Writing Tips from Planet Hot Mess
A session with Lisa King
When people ask me what I do, I usually respond with a bumbling stream of consciousness about mothering a four-year-old, working as a full-time researcher, my ongoing quest for the perfect pizza-dough recipe, and also, I write novels. That last one usually surprises people. Novels? Yeah, I respond, like books. What kind of books? I tell them about my recent one, Blue Haven (a twisty sci-fi thriller about paradise gone wrong—available now wherever books are sold!). Conversation ensues, and at some point, I’m typically asked how a full-time working mom who’s apparently quite dedicated to pizza crust has the time on her hands to write eighty-thousand extra words.
And the truth is, I don’t.
The pragmatics of book writing while otherwise surviving (not to mention the whole mental stability thing) can be tricky. Unless you’re in a fortunate financial position, or have been writing for a long time with formidable success, authoring is a side-gig for most of us—one that pays a terrible hourly rate.
Quick disclaimer here: I’m not writing this from the position of having figured out a harmonious and graceful balance in my life. Most days, the cards are stacked against me, and I’m skyrocketing toward planet Hot Mess. There’s no doubt that living a writing-free life would be easier, but it would also be less fulfilling. And so, for the author juggling multiple hats, here are some tips from another author who has done so inelegantly, at the expense of many showers, in a permanent messy bun.
1. Find Joy
To write books, you have to really, really, really like writing books. You have to willingly accept that some, possibly all, of you work may remain unpublished; that you will, at times, be suffocated by criticism and failure; that it’s not always about writing one book, but several; that the endless hours you pour into stories that exist in your imagination may garnish you exactly zero dollars.
Thus, in the spirit of Mari Kondo, it’s important that writing brings you joy for the utter sake of it. For me personally, I try to maintain that writing is something I do for myself, to satisfy my soul, as a form of self-care.
2. Make Time, Set a Routine, Press Onward.
If you want to write a book, you can’t just find time, you have to make time. For example, a whole community of writers participate in the #5amWritersClub, a hashtag utilized on social media (Twitter, mostly) that serves to proclaim: Everyone, I’m awake, and I’m writing stuff! Now, you don’t have to get up at 5 am, but you do have to find time in your day, and it helps to make this a habit.
I’m a creative, you say. My inspiration cannot be channeled on demand. Fair, I don’t always have the words or inspiration either, but I can always offer something to my work in progress, whether that’s doing the legwork of background research, thesaurus-sing new adjectives, mulling over my plot or characters, or spewing out crappy sentences for future editing. Make time, set a routine, and do something productive during that time period, even if it’s not actually writing.
3. Be Flexible
In stark contrast to what I just told you (refer to disclaimer), routines are hard, and life doesn’t always respect the boundaries. Sometimes, I unexpectedly find pockets of time or bursts of inspiration, and I attempt to capitalize on those moments by being flexible in my approach to writing. As much as I’d like to frantically type out beautiful prose in a quiet office with a lavender candle aflame and Be the Girl Who Decided to Go for It! framed above me, that’s not always feasible. What is feasible, is a writing platform that can be used across multiple devices (i.e., Google Docs), and writing in spare moments as allowed, which—true story—helped me achieve three-quarters of a first draft on my phone, while breastfeeding a child over the course of a maternity leave.
4. Be Easy on Yourself
You’re trying to do something that’s really hard, in a tough industry that isn’t shy about its toughness, using time you don’t have, and this will naturally suck. But, do know that it sucks for all of us. All writers have bad days, even the award winners and best sellers. Give yourself the same gentle encouragement you’d give a writer friend, and press on.
You got this! (at least some of the time—and that’s all we can ask for).
About the Author…
LISA KING is a Canadian fiction author and researcher whose work on veteran mental health has been published in numerous academic journals. She holds degrees in psychology and neuroscience, both from Western University. Aside from writing, she enjoys family outings, ample coffee, and unapologetic napping. She lives in London, Ontario with her husband, daughter, and wonky-eyed cat.