How to write when you can’t write


OMG I woke up at 2am. It’s now 4.16 and maybe I should give up on sleep and get up. I will get an opportunity to have a nap later in the day. By later I mean around 11am. And why do I have the luxury of napping at 11am you ask? It’s because I’m a writer. Yep, that’s right, I write. We’re not conventional people. We have special needs. We do things differently. We’re quite hardened. Have to deal with failure and rejection all the time.  We have time impoverished lives where work just gets in the way and we have to spread ourselves around the family, friends, frenemies, debt collectors, schools, kids sports, ballet moms and our imagination. Our burning desire. When the hell do we get time to write?

Well, we don’t get time. So while we’re busy running around after everybody else we are writing in our minds. I call it processing. I’m totally in another world, going over the story, characters, dialogue, building intensity and drama. I call it processing but everyone around me calls it ‘being vague’, not with it’, ‘away with the ferries’, ‘out of it’, ‘low energy’. ‘Negative’!

My lack of responses to emails, social media posts, events, work, text from friends and family is seen as being slack, useless, unreliable, unemployable. Damn annoying. I call it processing. That’s what being a writer is. Vague.

When I wrote my first screenplay (feature film) I also had a real job. You know, commute 5 days a week. Meetings, other people etc. Before the screenplay, I used to write when inspired. Just go with the flow. No plans. When I had the 9–5 plus the usual busy family commitments there just wasn’t enough hours in the day. So I did something I was never good at. I became disciplined. I had to.

I’d get up early, well before 5am and I’d do three things. First is always coffee. Depending on the time of year I’d go for a pre-dawn walk with my dog and camera. It’s the best part of the day that most people miss. You see things no one gets to see. And of course, every day is different. Different sky, different light, feelings, inspiration. This is the magic hour of processing for me. It is exactly like the magic hours in photography. Dawn and dusk. Then I’d sort the kids for school and at 8.08 I’d be on the train to work. I had exactly 50 minutes of writing time. I’d avoid people, hoping no one I know would sit next to me and chat. Endlessly chat. Sometimes I’d scope the carriage and sit next to complete stranger even if there were spare empty seats just so no one would talk to me. (I bet that annoyed the hell out of them)

So all and every day and night Id be processing story. Planning how this film was going to be made, shot, edited, funded. And with this limited time in the mornings on the train, lunch breaks and on the way home I would write. And the writing would flow. I’d like to say it flowed like a well-oiled machine. It didn’t. It gushed out like a burst dam. Going to the toilet after hopping around outside while waiting for the kids. Vomiting metaphors and cliches with tons of typos because I’m typing faster than I can actually type.

Having no time to write became a blessing in disguise. I became disciplined and better at using the no time I have. The processing is continuous and everything else I don’t have time for can wait. Writers have special needs. One of them is to get up when you’re awake and write. It’s 4.45am and I’m off to a good start.

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