Many of us dream of fulfilling a creative goal outside of our professional employment, but when you go into battle carrying nothing but the romance of the idea, you’ll likely lose to the crushing defeat of reality. It’s not enough to simply be creative if you want to complete an out-of-hours pursuit. I know, because I started writing a novel several times before I completed one. Here are my tips for starting a creative project and seeing it through while still finding time for work and a social life.
Love your idea.
Crappy ideas? I’ve had a few. And that’s the reason my early attempts at writing a novel failed. There’s nothing worse than working all day and coming home to work on a creative project that you’re just not loving. It took me a while to learn I had to walk away from ideas that weren’t working – even if I’d already invested a significant amount of time and energy in them. When I started writing Tweethearts, shuffling my leading lady through the plot felt right. Of course there were times of anxiety and insecurity but I cared enough about the concept to make it all the way to the finish line.
Trust your personal creative process.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel or painting a picture – there’ll be no shortage of advice from people telling you how you should do it. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to write a novel the way I did. It was a mess for about 88 per cent of the process. I made it up as I went along and really enjoyed not knowing how it would end. I added new characters quite late in the process and moved the plot in ways I definitely hadn’t planned at the beginning. The result was a massive editing headache. Though it’s highly advisable to have a plan before starting, locking in a finite plot from the start would have bored me. If you’re going to take on a huge project that’s yours and yours alone, you can take all the advice in the world, but you ultimately have to trust your gut and go your own way.
Don’t quit your social life
One of the best pieces of advice one editor gave me wasn’t a writing or editing pearl of wisdom but a piece of life advice. She told me that locking myself away during all of my spare time was the worst thing I could do. She encouraged walking away from it, socialising and giving myself plenty of time to relax. During the writing process I did have my best flashes of inspiration when I was away from my desk, not slumped over my keyboard. When I was out, I filed random thoughts in my phone and developed them later. So don’t feel guilty if you indulge in a social engagement when you should be working on it, chances are it’ll add to your end result rather than taking away from it
Your day job is still top dog.
Whatever your creative project is, it’s probably not going to pay enough for you to quit your job. When I wrote most of the first draft of my novel I was working full-time as a journalist. My creative time was limited, so when I had it, I didn’t muck around. I’d usually commit to a minimum of 1000 words per session – even if they were rubbish. I wrote after work, on weekends and on annual leave, too. Having said that, if I was having a particularly tough week, I treated myself to a glass of wine and some trash TV after work instead. Sometimes I’d go a week without writing and sometimes I’d smash out a huge chunk on a spare weekend. Again, there’s no right advice for making creative time. Whether you work best in 10- minute stints or all day once a week, choose your own groove, but do try to work on it regularly so you don’t lose momentum.
Find a mentor
I certainly didn’t merrily tap out the story from beginning to end. There was quite a bit of profanity and wine along the way. What kept me going when I wasn’t sure about my work was the guidance I had from editors and mentors helping me through the process. I found a couple of industry professionals who saw potential in the early stages and encouraged me to see it though. I was given a recommended word limit and I also asked the editor for a deadline. Although the editor hadn’t commissioned my story, she gave me a date that she’d like to see a completed manuscript so I didn’t have an open-ended period of time for procrastination and melodramatic creative tantrums. If you don’t have someone who can give you a deadline, stick a bright red cross in your calendar, work towards that date and ask people you trust to give you constructive feedback along the way.
Do it for you.
If you’re embarking on a creative project for the praise, fame or cold hard cash you might as well walk away now. I wrote Tweethearts with absolutely no guarantee of publication or a single cent. I decided to see it through first and foremost for the sense of achievement and the personal growth that came with writing a novel. Even now that I’ve secured a digital book deal, I’m mostly just happy to say I finished it. Anything else is a bonus.
Nicole Haddow’s debut novel Tweethearts was released through Penguin Australia digital-first imprint Destiny Romance on February 14.