The opportunistic writer

Here’s a confession: I don’t write every day. I don’t follow that most cherished piece of advice from writers much more successful and no doubt better than myself. I don’t apply my bum to my chair every day and work on my craft. Not for a moment do I think that it isn’t possible for me to find the time every day. I could. I simply choose not to.

Sometimes, 24 hours aren’t enough. Not enough to do well at the day job, to eat, sleep, relax, and then also to write. I am very fortunate in that I’ve got a job I enjoy, but this also means it can be hard to turn it off at the end of the day. It means I’m frequently so engrossed that I work long days, leaving little time for anything else. Certainly, little time for anything that requires more brains than a remote control and a sofa at the end of the day. Add a strict writing regime to that, and it can become a bit much.


I have tried to develop the habit of daily writing, adopting quite a few strategies to force myself to carve out a writing-shaped piece of the day. A notification app to remind me to write? The app was too rigid and my day too fluid, and when my writing invariably decoupled from the notifications the whole exercise turned into one of pointless nagging. A set time for writing? That was swallowed by early-morning experiments, surprise lunchtime meetings and late-night broken equipment. I still wrote, but I felt bad about not writing at the right time. NaNoWriMo? Nope, November is deadline month in my field. A writing group? Ate my best writing hours, and filled it with talk of writing.

Every strategy was sub-optimal, frustrating or downright counterproductive. Tools are no substitute for will. And by squeezing myself into a daily regime, that will dwindled and was replaced by guilt and frustration. I found that it hindered more than helped. So I don’t write every day, at a set time, like a professional. Instead, I write as and when it works. I just make very sure it works a lot of the time. I know which times are likely to work, and I aim for them, but don’t beat myself up on the days that I fail.

I am a contented opportunistic writer. I’ve got a lightweight laptop, a notebook and no schedule. Some days, they gather dust. That’s okay – I just write when the deadline has passed or the conference is done. Or before, after or in between. There’s always an opportunity. It may take me a bit longer to finish a book, but I always finish it.


How do you find time to write?

2 thoughts on “The opportunistic writer

  1. This is interesting to me. While I’ve always been a staunch advocate of writing discipline, the daily habit, writing-badly-is-better-than-not-writing-at all, and all that productivity-driven stuff, I don’t believe for a moment it is the only way.

    Nor even the best.

    And I’m mightily suspicious of the proliferating “courses” or “training” that people will charge the gullible hundreds of dollars for on the back of a promise of a “step-by-step system” to writing success. Gah, bah, and humbug! Pure snake oil.

    There are too many variables in play to properly control any of them! It’s impossible to devise a “universal system” which will result in… what? Whatever each individual wishes for. Can’t be.

    I’m certain there’s no one way to write. I like your term, “the opportunistic writer”. You’ve completed two books. You’re writing another. You write your blog. And no doubt scientific papers and reports.

    You write. Progress is made. You’re happy with your opportunistic approach. It works. That’s all good, isn’t it? Damn the eyes and teeth of anyone who says otherwise. Write on!

    1. Yes, you’re absolutely right: when it comes to writing, one size can’t fit all. As you say, the variables are too many. The trick is to preserve the writing, not the setting. “You write. Progress is made.” That’s what it all comes down to. I’m glad you like the term, by the way, as it is reassuring to have the support of an advocate of the daily habit.

      That being said, I think writing discipline is a great strategy. The (few) periods of my life where I’ve been able to have a set writing time, I’ve been more productive than in any other phase. I miss those days for that reason alone. For anyone with the opportunity to cement out daily sessions, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. For the rest of us… I’m probably not alone in that my job cannot support this strategy, and accepting alternatives was important to me continuing to write. Now, I pen paragraphs in between papers and waiting for my analysis to run. It works. We make it work, or we stop writing.

      The idea that there is a secret right way to do writing is, I think, quite toxic. As you rightly mention, it has led to snake oil peddlers. It also feeds in to the myth of overnight success, the belief in the author who stumbles upon the Secret and is now hoarding it for herself. But we know her secret, and we can give it to you. Forget about hard work and perseverance: there is a trick that we can teach you (for a small fee), which will give you the key to doing it ‘right’, and you’ll be famous by next Monday. No money back.

      It’s not a pretty business.

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