Being a part-time author is not easy – actually, neither is being a full-time one, but I spend quite a bit of time making sure that I have enough time. And it all comes down to numbers, so periodically I have to stop what I like doing – thinking about Sam, and asking him to tell me his thoughts and adventures – and instead do some nasty adding-up. To put it simply: each Sam book seems to end up with about thirty-chapters, each of about two thousand words. (Wish I could say that this is carefully planned, but it’s not: it just follows that pattern.) On a good day, I can write a chapter. So I need thirty-two days to get a first draft done. “Hah!” I hear you scoff. “Wish I could get by with working thirty-two days a year!” And indeed so do I – but unfortunately these thirty-two days (let alone the pre-writing plotting, planning and research days beforehand) have to be fitted in around my full-time job, which often ends up taking six days a week. (Ask anyone who runs their own business: you work five days a week, and then do the business stuff – oh, the joy of admin – on the sixth.)
I have tried, believe me I have tried, to be one of those amazing people who can scribble down a paragraph while waiting for the potatoes to boil, or pen a little conversation while sitting on the bus. But it doesn’t work: for me to get into full Sam mode, I need dedicated time: a morning would do, but a full day is ideal. So to be most efficient, I need to find thirty-two full days. Hello Sundays. But then selfish, thoughtless people like husbands and other relatives interfere, and demand that I attend birthday parties and days out and weddings and sponsored bike rides (all of which I love and am far too weak-willed to resist). There’s holidays and sick days, and days when I am just too pooped to care.
So I get to this point in the year, when I am galloping towards my summer writing retreat. Regular readers will know that this is when I disappear for a fortnight and spend it pummelling the first draft into something that I dare to send out for beta reading. (I also start thinking about the title and the cover, and wondering whether life as a ditch-digger in darkest Africa wouldn’t be an easier option.) For this fortnight to be most productive, I need those first-draft chapters done. And so I start counting: how many Sundays between now and then? Enough, or do I need to start pinching other “free” days for writing? Well, what do you think? To make myself feel a little bit better, I have glittery book-shaped stickers (I think designed as reading prizes for children) that I put into my diary on writing days, but it’s all looking very alarmingly colourful now. It will be done, I think, but only as long as no-one in the family gets married or falls off the perch between now and 21 July. Here’s hoping they all keep celibate and healthy.