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Guest Post: Finding time to write as a parent
Written by Nikki Dudley
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Nikki Dudley explains how setting aside small increments of time to write allowed her to fulfil a long-held aspiration of becoming an award-winning novelist.
I’m not sure I’m supposed to mention the ‘P’ word but the past 18 months have been a real lesson for me in terms of writing and time management. I felt like I was floundering around before that, not writing as much as I wanted, and feeling dissatisfied because of it. In the end, I decided to take control and give myself a reason to write.
I searched around for something that would work for me in terms of timing, cost and pressure and couldn’t find what I wanted. One of my biggest challenges was that I had my young son with me during the day. In the end, I set up my own writing programme for mums called MumWrite. What it made me realise, above all, is that we all deserve time to write and we need to carve that out. You don’t find time, you make it. Sometimes you need to type notes on your phone, sometimes you need to put the TV on for 20 minutes, sometimes you need to dedicate an evening to it instead of Netflix – it’ll make you feel better if you do.
I have started a new novel since winning the Virginia Prize and it hasn’t been easy to get the words down. Sometimes I write a poem instead, sometimes I read, sometimes I write a few paragraphs and that’s it. This is what I’ve realised – sometimes thinking time is writing time. You need space to think and create. Even going for a walk can be ‘writing time’, while you sketch out a scene in your head or create a dialogue. Giving your brain that time to roam is exactly what you need as a writer and it’s been the best move for me to accept that I won’t always be putting words down on the page.
Leave your critics at the door
When you have limited time to write, you don’t have time for your creeping self-doubt. I often find that if I allow myself to write something down, I can always return to it later and edit. This is exactly what happened with my novel Volta. I knew it wasn’t perfect when I sent it in and I also knew there would be edits… When I got them back however, I did feel like crying. My inner critic told me to give up but after a few days, I sat down and worked my way through the comments one by one. I changed the things I could and then went back through, sifting my way through the amendments and figuring out how to fix them. Which brings me onto…
Ask for things
The best thing I’ve learned in my writing life is that asking others for feedback and help is the best idea. For my latest novel, I found some amazing resources online to help me make the book more credible. In the novel, I have a police officer, lawyer and a therapist. My first task was to ask lots of procedural questions, which I did mainly via some brilliant Facebook groups. Aside from that, I attended a course on Custody and Interviewing. I actually had to watch the recording of that while putting my kids to bed! I also had a Zoom call with an ex-police detective, who helped me refine different aspects of my plot. The other greatest resource was my friends and acquaintances – a friend who was a therapist, one who worked in law, and beta readers who asked me the most valuable questions. With writing, I always recommend asking people you can trust to give you the advice you need when you need it.
Obviously being a mum and a freelancer can add extra pressures but I have also found, especially when trying to write and edit my novel, that it has made me better at time management. The time I have is precious! Being a mum has also boosted my confidence – perhaps because you’re always striking up conversations or because you’re championing other mums. You realise you’re doing a pretty good job doing anything aside from being a mum and we shouldn’t forget that.
Nikki Dudley has two children, aged three and five. She is a workshop facilitator, prize administrator and freelance editor. She’s been self-employed for around seven years and loves the flexibility it gives her to spend time with her kids. She’s also a published author and poet. She has a poetry chapbook, poetry collection, and two published novels, Ellipsis and Volta. She was the winner of the Virginia Prize 2020 with Volta, and the above is where this story begins.