Tag Archives: new authors

Finding time to write alongside a full time job and a family

A common question I get asked as an author is… ‘How long did it take you to write your first book?”

And my initial response would normally be… “About 18 months from start to release.”

But then that doesn’t really explain how much effort was put in during that period of a year and a half. Especially as I have a full time job, a wife and two young daughters to care for.

So to help explain the effort that it took me to create my 100,000 word, science-fiction novel, I try to explain my process. And it looks a little like this…

My Writing Process


As you can see via the diagram above, having a full time job and a family take up a large part of my life. So to avoid abusing either one I looked to the remaining parts of the day. I commute in and out of London to work, a total of about 2 – 3 combined hours sitting on a train. I used to spend this time reading, playing games on my phone or listening to music.

Then there is my sleeping time. I have always struggled with sleep. I wake up a lot and do some other crazy things that we can talk about another time. But several years ago I discovered a trick that worked for me. When I am ready to sleep, I imagine a story, often the same story from the previous night and I play through it in my mind. As the story ran out, I would allow my creativity to extend it, often nodding off shortly after. Sometimes, if I was lucky, my dreams would continue the journey too. If I woke up during the night, the same process would help me get back to sleep quickly.

At the start of 2014 I decided that it was a shame that these stories would become lost over time. Pair this up with a feeling that I wanted to do something in life that left a mark (Read about: Is this a mid-life crisis?) and you come to my decision to write a book during my daily commutes.

So if you still want to put a figure on it, I could come up with a calculation something like this…

Avg time per work day: 3hrs (Comm) + 1hr (Thinking) x 5 days a week x 45 weeks of work a year x 1.5 years spent in total.

That comes to 1,350 hours of effort.

Now this doesn’t take into account everything, but it is a fairly good representation. It also accounts for more than the initial writing period, it includes the layering and editing processes too and also the bits like map creations, character sketches, cover designs and the initial stages of marketing.

Marketing… You’ll soon discover that this can take up just as much time as writing the book in the first place.

So that’s how I make my life fit around my passion for writing. It works for me and I plan on speeding the process up as I have learnt a lot from the first time around. I aim to release book two within a twelve month timeframe and so far I am on course.

Do you have a similar process? If so I would love to hear more about it, drop me a comment below to share.

You can read the first two chapters of book one for free here.

How to create a world of memorable characters?
– I draw them.

I like writing stories with large worlds, multiple plots and many characters. This presents a big challenge; how do readers remember a character that may not appear again for several chapters? I draw them, the process helps me expand their individualities and give them unique and memorable dimensions.

Sketching your characters out will help you broaden your understanding of them
Sketching your characters out will help you broaden your understanding of them

It’s easy for a writer to skip over describing their characters; they live in our heads so we are already very close to them. The reader however needs to build that connection up, sure they will embellish themselves, but you need to seed some of that persona.

It’s a long process too, each time a character makes an appearance in your story it is a chance for you to layer up their personality and traits. You can’t front load too much of that description otherwise you will overload the reader and they quickly forget.

The next step is to think how you want them to change over the course of your story. What challenges are they going to overcome or slippery slopes that are going to change their personality or outlook over time?

Writing a novel can take a long time and it is important to be able to quickly remind yourself what traits a particular character has without having to riffle through pages and pages of words. Creating character profiles can save you huge amounts of time, prevent you from creating inconsistencies and really help you build upon their individual journeys. I store them on my phone

I also collect images that I feel relate to that characters persona, a quick Google Images search using some of your descriptive words can very quickly help build a mood board for each of the lives embedded in your story.

Sketching The Wailing Banshee for my new book: The Kings of the New World
Sketching The Wailing Banshee for my new book: The Kings of the New World

Once I have a strong understanding of a character I sketch him or her, it doesn’t matter if you don’t think you can draw, you don’t have to show anyone else! And everyone can draw by the way; stick men can be very informative. Drawing your character will allow the creativity in you to thrive; you will suddenly discover new aspects, unique traits, finer details that you can then work back into your story and will help your readers engage with them.

What are beta readers? Why, when and how to use them?

You’ve just finished writing your precious novel; you’ve read through it multiple times and fixed countless inconsistencies, grammatical errors and plot holes. You think it’s pretty close to being complete… wrong.

You are so close to your story lines that you are blind to countless tiny details. Your scenes and characters are so vivid in your imagination that you struggle to understand how a first time reader perceives them. Are you going to wait until your manuscript is published before realising that your reader’s perceptions are different to your own?

This is the time to reach out to a circle of beta readers, take that intermittent step of seeing how your baby flies before releasing it to the hordes for disembowelling.

I have a small circle of five beta readers and they are people I know and love. This isn’t a requirement and some people will tell you that it is better to use those who have no emotional attachment to telling you that your work is terrible. I prefer to leverage existing relationships with people I know I can have a deep discussion with and bounce ideas around while knowing they are dedicated to the output being the best it can be… a mixture is fine as well.

First off I choose people who want to read my book, you’re not going to want to hang around long to collect their feedback so it helps that they have a healthy appetite to sink their teeth into it.

Next I choose a mixture of user types and you want to understand them so you can understand their feedback. Are they into your book genre? What styles of writing do they prefer? Who are their favourite authors? For my current book I have chosen at least one person who is not into my book genre so that I can get an alternative viewpoint around the depth of my characters and how easy the plot line is to follow.

Book proofs ordered for my beta readers through Create Space
Book proofs ordered for my beta readers through Create Space

Make it as easy as you can for your beta readers to read your manuscript. Deliver it to them in an easy to read format and if they can scribble thoughts and notes as they go all the better. I am using Amazon’s Create Space to self publish initially and their process allows me to order proof prints at cost price. It also gives you a great opportunity to see how your cover looks and it is a great present to hand back to your readers once you’ve collected and analysed their feedback.

Have regular check in conversations during their read. It is very telling how someone feels about your book when they are only a few chapters in, real readers may give up on your story if they are not gripped sufficiently upfront. Try and check in while your beta readers are fresh a few chapters in, near the middle and before the end so that you can help build on your story at key points and keep the real readers locked in for the long haul.

Give your beta readers your book in a format that they can scribble on as they read
Give your beta readers your book in a format that they can scribble on as they read

It is important to remember that your manuscript is your work, try to ask for problems and not solutions. A problem can be solved in a number of ways and each reader will have their own suggestion, but the solution should come from your own heart – this is your story!

A nice touch is to thank your beta readers in your acknowledgements section. With any luck they will feel invested and help champion your work, shouting from the rooftops or through social media.