John Barlow
John Barlow
Author John Barlow

I gave up my college teaching job because I was sick of trying to juggle a regular job with writing. It wasn’t so much the lack of time, because I never worked very hard at teaching anyway. It was the lack of big blocks of time, the long stretches of uninterrupted time needed to write. In fact, my first published book only got finished because I got a three month sabbatical from work. If only it could be like this every day, I said to myself…

So I made it happen. I ditched the teaching job (and the generous pension scheme, the free laser printing and office supplies, the free secretarial support, phone and internet access, shit, shit, shit…) and moved to Spain to become a full-time writer. At last I would have days full of nothing but ‘the work in progress’, interrupted only by a stroll in a tree-lined park or a cafe con leche on a sun dappled terrace…

Okay. So, eight years later and I’m still here. And I’m still more or less a full-time writer, if you count being a now-and-then translator and literary dogsbody-for-hire. This was my schedule yesterday:

– Working on a magazine article about a novel I ghost-wrote

– Finishing off a translation about Spanish pronouns

– Trying not to die of boredom while finishing off a translation about Spanish pronouns

– Drafting a proposal for a memoir I’m ghost-writing

– Corresponding with agent and client about the memoir

– Making lunch for the family

– Finding materials and making a cardboard hat for son’s fancy dress party tomorrow

– Oh yes, I had to take him to summer camp in the morning, so I stayed for a swim, part of my plan not to die of being a sedentary, fat-assed slob (occupational hazard)

– Smoking (occupational hazard)

– Hating myself for smoking (occupational hazard)

– Looking at the ceiling

– Having the first drink of the evening (etc.)

– Etc.

Just like that. Every day. Notice what’s missing? THE BOOK. I am working on a crime novel, and in theory this is my ‘work in progress’. That’s why I moved here, to ‘be a writer’, and to write books. But making any progress on it is tough. It turns out that I don’t have those long swathes of time in which to ‘be a writer’ because I’m too busy being a writer (and a chain-smoking children’s milliner, obvs.).

So I’ve had to develop new ways of working. Gone are the days when plotting entailed sitting in an armchair, quietly contemplating a character or a scene for as long at it took, as if time stood still around me and all that mattered was my precious work in progress. And the ludicrous way I wrote my second published book? I don’t do that any more either (it entailed writing each chapter out by hand, correcting it by hand, THEN COPYING IT OUT AGAIN BY HAND, THEN CORRECTING AGAIN, THEN TYPING IT UP, THEN…).

A lot of things have changed since then. I now have to plan ahead, thinking carefully at breakfast time exactly when I’ll have an hour or two to do a bit of plotting, or perhaps to revise something I wrote yesterday. Of course, you still do need long(ish) blocks of time to get to grips with the business of writing chapters. But a lot of the writing process is in fact rewriting, researching, plotting, smoking, scratching your head, trying not to think about that pension you let go… It’s only really the writing itself which has to be ring-fenced in your schedule. Even then, I think it’s really only the first draft that needs to be written in conditions of especial concentration and focus.

All this is good news to me. Because I used to think that momentum was everything, that you were only really writing if you were submerged in a work almost to the exclusion of all else. I now realise that this was self-regarding BS, particularly if you are writing character/plot based fiction, when it’s relatively easy to keep a story ‘live’ in your mind even if you don’t have time to work on it every day. The garret, the ivory tower? You don’t really need them.

I tell you this just in case you’re currently juggling like mad, trying to fit writing into a busy schedule, and you are under the delusion that there’s a secret place where writers no longer have to juggle. There isn’t. Perhaps I’m just a fool, and every other writer on the planet already knew this…

With respect to the ways in which we write, the indie revolution has given us an utterly new dimension. There’s now a ready market for writing, no deadlines, no endless waiting while agents/editors to read and respond, no 18-month lead-ins for a book once it’s finished… A new opportunity has arisen to ‘be a writer’ in the knowledge that whatever you’re writing, and however much time you can dedicate to it, there’s a market out there once it’s done. So let us embrace the juggle!

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Author: John Barlow

John Barlow writes both fiction and non-fiction, publishes occasional food journalism and also works as a ghost-writer. In addition, he is a translator, and has a side-line in eBooks for language learning. His John Ray / LS9 crime thriller series is currently exclusive to Amazon. If you'd like a review copy of The Communion of Saints, please contact John through his website.

9 thoughts on “Juggling”

  1. Oh, man, I so am there with you. I had thought that my third novel would be ready for sale by year's end, in time for the Christmas rush. yeah, right! maybe Christmas 2013. Sigh.
    It's nice to know I'm not alone. lol

  2. Right there with you, John. Even though I literally know how to juggle, the skill set doesn't seem to be translating easily to the to-do list.

  3. Really nice post, John, thanks. I could’ve written exactly that, only I’d have to add-in the ten hours my full-time job takes out of every day, too!

  4. I second everything. I WISH for long scratches of time with which to write. When I get them, nothing. Its pushed aside for other things I’ve wanted to do (travel around Britain, etc). Seems when I’m doing my day job or before I start my day job things get done. Thank goodness I’m not alone in juggling.

  5. I’m impressed by the juggling, Laurie!
    I guess we might think of poor Trollope, knocking out all those novels while working at the Post Office!

  6. Great post! I definitely understand. I’m not currently working and still find that I have trouble fitting writing in sometimes. Once I go back to work in nursing, I will have to become pretty darn good at juggling…like Cirque du Soleil good.

  7. Great post. In some ways, my first novel was easier to write then the one I am writing now. And I wrote it while teaching, one chapter a day during my lunch break.

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