In 2010, I hadn't worked on my novel for almost three years. I'd been writing heaps of other novels, to the point of burn-out, and was very ill with endometriosis. Filip Dousek and I were regularly discussing his novel, Flock Without Birds (Hejno bez ptáků), and every time we spoke on Skype, he said, "How's your writing going?"
Every time, I explained that I didn't have time to focus on it, between health and trying to earn a living without being able to leave the sofa.
"What are you stuck on?" he'd say.
"Filip, I told you, I'm not stuck!"
He asked these two questions for six months until I admitted I didn't know how to invent the semantic web, but my character was supposed to figure it out. Turns out he knows all about the semantic web and directed me to a host of blogs and start-ups. I started writing again.
Fast-forward three years: I'm well again, running two businesses, plus the business of writing, plus the actual writing, fighting for headspace. I have a "think partner" in Sarah Scott, who also runs her own business, Archipelago Productions, and we use each other's headspace to thrash out ideas and hold each other accountable in weekly Skype chats - "playing in each other's sandboxes", we call it. I realised my writing, the most important thing to me but always the canary down the mine when life turns hectic, wasn't getting its space in these chats. "Tell me what to ask you," she said. I wrote this list of questions - the first thanks to Filip's persistent enquiries.
Naturally, this is the list of questions I need, but I think they'd adapt well for many writers. It helps, too, if someone else is asking them.
- How’s your writing going?
- Are you prioritising your writing time? Did you get all of it? Did you snaffle some of it for other things – relaxing, cleaning the house, running errands, catching up on sleep, socialising? Were you over-stimulated before you were writing?
- Of any business plan: Will this interfere with your writing time? Will it interfere with your writing head space? Will it overstimulate you?
- Writing "desk time": What are you submitting, planning to submit, wanting to write for, needing to edit? Do you have any writing admin – interviews, etc? Are you giving that time or expecting it to squeeze into weekends and evenings?
- Free writing: Are you doing any free writing? Are you allowing yourself time to do free writing? Is this protected time or "if I have the energy" time? Are you protecting your energy?
- Specific writing projects: How's it going? If it's not going - what are you stuck on? What will help you unstick?
- Other creativity: what creative pursuits do you have going? Are you having fun? What do you fancy doing? (This is process not product – all joy, no should)
- How does this fit in with the two divergent scenarios? 1) You largely finance your own writing for another decade or more; 2) You make your living as a writer