“Regular writing on a novel is absolutely essential. The plot and characters may be well established in your mind. But it is a constant battle to ensure that they are not swamped with other, personal preoccupations.”
Joan Aiken, The Way to Write for Children
A newly discovered favorite author of mine, Joan Aiken, was incredibly talented and prolific. Over a decades-long career, she published more than 100 works for both children and adults, including a beloved children’s classic, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
I had the good fortune to come across an absolute gem of hers: a book called, The Way to Write for Children. This 97-page guide is like a master class in creative writing: it’s packed with incredibly helpful and straight-arrow advice on plot design, pacing, voice, and character development. It’s a goldmine, whatever the type of writing project you’re working on.
One of the issues tackled is finding the time to write, especially in the face of work and family demands. However difficult it is, Joan says, you must find the time to work consistently. “Regularity is a fundamental necessity of good writing…” she believes, and “disciplined, regular output” — writing on a daily basis — is the key to sustaining a strong, consistent style in any given project (and especially when writing for children).
If you don’t work on a story steadily through writing, planning, and thinking about it, then the “struggle” to re-immerse yourself can be very challenging: “You may find that you have to waste days and days getting back into the mood, picking up the thread, rediscovering the voice. Pages and pages of writing may have to be discarded.”
Finding time may not be easy, but with effort and intention, says Joan, it is possible to keep your story front and center, even while in the midst of your day. She suggests that you take advantage of odd moments here and there — waiting on a line or while cooking — “to brood about the characters, attack problems, and find solutions.” Agatha Christie once said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”
In my own experience, I’ve found that noodling problems around in a relaxed way while I’m away from the page can be very productive. Walking also works for me, so I’ll sometimes amble to the store or the park and ponder plot points. To my mind, Joan’s key message is that staying committed to our work and sustaining its momentum, no matter what else is going on, is crucial to making real progress. Write on!