• Valerie Miller

Rules of Engagement



I love writing. Playing with words. Creating new characters. Telling stories.


Some days it's easy. You sit down and you write. The words come bubbling to the surface, the imagination is ignited and your confidence soars. Other days, it's like pushing a boulder up a hill in stilettos.


To help me maintain a regular writing routine I have a strict schedule. I'm up at 4 am and write for 40 mins before I take the dog for a walk and get ready for work. After work, I write for another 60 minutes. During the school holidays my hours increase. It's a slow and steady kind of routine. But it keeps me moving forward. Word by word, sentence by sentence.


While I'm writing my first novel, I'm putting into practice everything I am learning about the craft to ensure that my final manuscript will be the very best story it can be. This manuscript will be the first one I send to a literary agent and it's important that it makes a great first impression.


'The pressure!' you say. Maybe. Well, yes. One thing's for sure. It motivates me to do good work. To learn. To practice and to get that bum glue on and write.


As is the case for most emerging writers, I have a day job. I'm an English teacher. I'm lucky, I love being a teacher and I love writing. I want to excel at both. Teaching is my passion and writing is my passion. Some people play netball. Some go to the gym. Others go to art classes. Some dance or do yoga. I write.


With writing being a side gig for most people who are yet to publish, finding the time to write is essential. There are published authors who still have day jobs with publisher deadlines. They must find the time to write. There are loads of courses and articles available with advice and strategies to help you take the time to write. I recommend that you invest some time to search these out. If you put 'time to write' in the search bar they will all be at your fingertips.


I believe the secret is to manage your expectations and work within your lifestyle. The secret ingredient is regularity and this can come in many shapes and sizes.


It doesn't matter how many words you write. So long as you are writing. I discovered these figures and they changed my perspective enormously. Excuse the hyperbole but this information blew my mind away. It was monumental. Ok. I'll stop now. I'm pretty certain I've set the tone of how this changed my attitude to writing daily.

  • If you write 250 words for 5 days you will have written 1250 words in a week and will have 65,000 words written of a first draft in a year. A YA book.

  • If you write 500 words for 5 days you will have written 2500 words in a week and will have written 130,000 words in a year. That's a novel.

Now you don't have to write daily if it doesn't suit you. The secret is to write regularly to your own oschedule. You also need to be flexible because life just happens.


When life does throw you some challenges you can do the following:

  • Type ideas into the notes section of your phone when you are waiting in line or for an appointment. I bring a lightweight notebook everywhere with a pencil tucked inside for this very purpose.

  • Voice record your ideas when you are cooking, doing the housework or when walking the dog (people will just think you are having a very long one-sided conversation)

  • Before you sit down to watch TV, put the timer on for 15 minutes and write then go and watch TV. I find using the timer very helpful.

Jane Friedman shares in her article 3 Principles for Finding Time to Write that, 'the friction between art and business can be productive—it forces innovation and can be the basis of creative work and not just a barrier to that work.' I agree. Sometimes being restrictive with time makes for stronger, better work. As a teacher, I do not advocate this for assignments but remember the time you had an assignment due and you smashed it out because it was due the next day? Not the best thing if wanting to gain top grades but for first drafts this is acceptable. They are meant to be messy. I heard an author once say they were a 'puddle of words'.


Writing is hard and in our busy worlds with work, families, life administration, social engagements and Netflix it does make it difficult to work on your writing. The reality is if you want it, you can make it work. It really all starts with you. Your best allies to get you to write is a schedule that is doable, a timer and a notebook and a pencil.


There's always some part of your day that you can utilise or change. It might take a few goes to find the best system for you but you will find it.


Open your heart to time and it will be kind to you. I know. We've had some heated tussles but at the moment we both understand each other perfectly and are getting on just fine.


Happy writing.


Image courtesy of Rawpexelimages @ Dreamstime.com

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