Stealth Writing: How To Secretly Write A Novel Whilst Holding Down a Job
Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist, wrote the early draft of her bestselling novel while working as a PA in the city. Bored and frustrated, whenever she had any down time (and, reading between the lines, even when she didn’t) she’d open up the same word document on her computer and type another few sentences. If anyone approached her desk, she’d scramble for the mouse and reduce the screen in question so that her colleagues (and especially her boss) wouldn’t realise what she was up to.
I love this story (almost as much as I love the novel her stealth writing tactics went on to produce) and while I’m not advocating that you start neglecting your day job in order to scribble your masterpiece on company time, there are definitely some ninja-like writing moves you can incorporate into your regular working day that will help you finish that all important first draft.
These are some of the stealthy tricks I used while writing my novel at the same time as holding down a demanding full-time job. I chose to keep my writing a secret (I was too scared I might fail and didn’t want that failure to be public) but that part is up to you.
- Public transport is your best friend. Whenever you can travel by bus, train or tube. I like to print out the current chapter I’m working on and edit it (in pen) on the way to and from work (I’m now so practiced at this I can even edit standing up on a packed rush hour Victoria line tube into central London). As soon as I get on board I whip out my pages of A4 and I’m off. It’s amazing how much you can achieve in a 30 minute commute. Whenever possible, if you have the option, choose a longer route to work (ie. the bus) especially if it means you’re more likely to get a seat and won’t have to change at any point – that extra fifteen or twenty minutes of unbroken writing or editing time can make all the difference.
- Don’t waste your lunch hour. Scout out a café or coffee shop no more than 5 minutes from where you work. It needs to be somewhere you’ll always be able to get a seat and where you can hunker down for an hour without the staff trying to guilt you to leave because you’ve ordered nothing more than a peppermint tea. Make this place your writing canteen and then every day, instead of faffing about looking at leggings in H&M or watching videos of otters holding hands on Youtube while you eat a sarnie at your desk, go to that cafe and write. Even when you don’t feel like it. Those lunch hours will soon mount up and before you know it you’ll have a completed first draft.
- Brainstorm with your colleagues. Writing can be a lonely business and sometimes, especially, when you hit a roadblock with a plot point that isn’t quite working or a character that doesn’t ring true, I always find it helps to talk that roadblock through with people. Sometimes even as you say the problem out loud you’ll find the solution comes to you. You don’t have to tell them it’s from your novel (I didn’t) you can just say its someone you know, or something you read in the newspaper. Mention it, raise your questions and then see what they say. They’ll come up with things that will never have occurred to you in a million years, no matter how long you sat and stared at your laptop.
- Always have secret bits of paper to hand. It could be the back of a till roll from your check-out, it could be an extremely dull memo or even the reverse of a beer-mat. Ideas and turns of phrase will strike you at the most unexpected moments – make sure you’ve always got somewhere to write them down.
So there you go. Those are the stealth writing tactics that helped me complete my novel at the same time as holding down a full-time job. So go forth and conquer my writer-ninja friends (dressing all in black Milk-Tray-Man-style is obviously completely optional).
Chelsea’s review of My Husband’s Son can be found HERE!
About the Author:
Deborah O’Connor read English at Newnham College, Cambridge, before going on to become a television producer. Having worked on everything from The Big Breakfast to Big Brother, she produced the BAFTA award-winning poetry documentary Off My Heart and is currently the head of factual development at TV production company, CPL. Born and bred in the North-East of England, she now lives in East London with her husband and daughter.