The Crime Writers' Association

The Debuts

Finding the Time to Write Your Debut Dagger Entry, by Antony Johnston

Finding time to write is something we all struggle with when we’re starting out. We have other commitments and obligations, things to do, a day job, maybe a family… ‘If only I could just have time to write and not worry about all this other stuff’ is the refrain of every part-time writer (and some full-time ones, believe me).

The truth is that most of us do have time to write — but we don’t use it, for a variety of reasons. We might not be in the right mindset, or might simply think it’s not enough time. If you can only grab half an hour every day to yourself, you might think that’s not long enough to write anything good or useful, and so you use it to do something else instead.

But it can be enough time to write, if you approach it the right way. So if you’re struggling to find time to write your Debut Dagger entry, try these two simple steps.

1: Set yourself a deadline

This is an easy one of you’re taking part in the Debuts, because there’s a deadline for entries. Look it up and set your own deadline at least a month beforehand, leaving yourself plenty of time to revise and polish your entry before submitting it.

Even if you’re working on some other kind of personal project, it’s worth setting yourself a loose deadline to stay on track. During this year’s lockdown I wrote a spec novel, and set myself a loose deadline of ‘end of August’. As it happened I ran over a little and finished a week later, but without that deadline I might still only be halfway through it. Even a self-imposed date encourages you to focus on writing every day as surely as if an editor is waiting.

2: Commit to a daily word count

I can hit my own self-imposed deadlines because I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know what word count I can reliably achieve every day.

If you’re starting out you probably won’t know that yet, especially if you can’t spare much time to write each day. So one simple trick is to start small. Let’s say you set your target at 200 words per day. Anyone can write 200 words in half an hour, can’t they? Even on a bad day you can probably force that much out. In fact, you might wonder if it’s enough.

Yes, it is. Even if that’s all you write — 200 words a day, on weekdays only — you’ll finish your 3,000 word Debut Dagger entry in just three weeks’ time.

Of course, there’s more to the DD than that. You also need to write your 1,500 word synopsis, and you’ll certainly want to revise and polish the draft before it’s ready to submit. But the point is, even if you only write 200 words a day you’ll finish sooner than you think.

In fact it could be a lot sooner, because this is only a minimum target. If you write 200 words, but you have some time left and the words are flowing, go ahead and write more. A few days of writing 400 words, and you might have your draft finished in only a couple of weeks. That’s pretty amazing.

But the key to making all this work is that it’s a daily minimum. You might have a day go particularly well, and write 750 words. That’s fantastic… but tomorrow you must return to your desk, begin a new session, and write another 200 words or more. It’s how the work gets done.

(It’s actually how all work gets done. My personal target for a novel is 1500 words/day, which means I can write the rough draft of a Brigitte Sharp thriller in about 60-70 days.)

In time you may find yourself consistently writing more than 200 words; or perhaps you can spare more than half an hour to begin with. If you want to, go ahead and increase that daily word count. But be careful not to set yourself goals you can’t reliably hit, because that will demotivate you. It’s better to consistently exceed a low target, so you look forward to writing every day and experience the joy of making real progress.

I hope you find this useful! You can read a lot more about using techniques like this — as well as how to take control of your calendar, how to remove obstacles between you and your writing, and even how to take better notes — in my book The Organised Writer. It’s the first productivity guide for writers by a writer, and outlines the real-world system I’ve used myself every day for more than a decade to stay on top of multiple projects.

Find more information on Antony Johnston and his books, including The Organised Writer, visit his CWA Author Profile.

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