Writing when life gets busy | Emma Cooper takeover
Today, we’ve brought in the delightful Emma Cooper to share some tips with you. An author of acclaimed book club fiction novels, as well as an editor, mentor, UNWC tutor, and mother of four – Emma is no stranger to juggling tasks and writing in small windows of time between other commitments. Here’s how you can make your schedule work for you, too.
How to write when life gets busy | Emma Cooper Takeover
I’m thrilled to be taking over the newsletter this week! I’m Emma Cooper, mother of four and writer of book club fiction. My debut, ‘The Songs of Us’, was published after I turned forty and my life has since changed in so many ways! I now have four books published with Headline. I’m also an editor and a mentor, and I’m incredibly excited to be a tutor on Jericho’s Ultimate Novel Writing Course, Summer 2022/23.
When I started writing, I worked full-time as a teaching assistant; as I have a large family, finding the time to write was hard, but I was at a stage in my life where I wanted to give my dream of being an author one last shot.
The idea of writing a novel around 100k words was dauting to say the least and so I learnt to approach this seemingly insurmountable goal by setting myself a realistic goal: 500 words a day. To achieve this, I set myself the task of writing 250 words in my lunchtime and another 250 words later in the day when the dinner was cooking or when my kids were quiet! It sounds like nothing - but at the end of each week, I would have a chapter and then after nine months I had the bones of a novel. The following year, after many, many rejections, I had an agent and my debut – which started off as half an hour writing in a small school office – was sold here in the UK as well as in seven different territories and I was able to accept voluntary redundancy in a job that I thought I would be doing until retirement.
As I now work for Jericho too, I have changed the way I approach my work. It can be very easy to lose yourself in a project, so I tackle this in two ways; firstly, I begin the day writing my own novels on my laptop on the sofa; I’m usually under a snugly blanket with classical music playing. At lunchtime, I switch places and approach my editing work at my desk, on my ‘big’ computer. This switch really helps split the day and re-sets my brain from one job to the other. I also try very hard to keep my weekends ‘work’ free. Being creative means you need to give yourself and your story space and time to unwind. Many successful authors will tell you that their best ideas come when they’re relaxed or that the answer to a plot hole they’ve been trying to fix suddenly reveals itself when they’re in the shower or taking a stroll. It’s happened to me more than once and so I can’t stress enough the importance of time away from the laptop.
Writers are all different. A friend of mine loves writing late in the evening right up until deadline time; that doesn’t work for me as that is my time to crack open the biscuit tin and lose myself in a boxset! That’s one of the things I love about the way that the UNWC is structured - it’s flexible so that anyone on the course can write at any time of the day at a pace that suits them.
I’m often asked for words of wisdom from writers struggling with time management and I will always go back to one key action: setting myself realistic goals. If you’re working full-time and have a family, you probably aren’t going to be able to bash out a few thousand words a day and that’s fine. Look at your schedule, treat your writing time as your time, wear comfy clothes, light a scented candle, play your favourite music, whatever works for you. Five hundred words a day split into two sessions was achievable for me - but work out what is achievable for you.
Oh, and one final piece of advice from me: don’t compare yourself to others. They might be able to go to the gym, make a healthy lunch and burn the midnight oil. You might be better writing before the kids get up, mainlining coffee and scoffing cold toast for breakfast, it doesn’t mean that either one of you will be more or less successful. You can both write your novels - just do it in the way that suits you, not anyone else.
Emma is the author of highly acclaimed book club fiction novels and is known for mixing humour with darker emotional themes. Her debut, The Songs of Us, was snapped up in multiple pre-empts and auctions and was short-listed for the RNA contemporary novel of the year award. Visit Emma’s website here.
Emma could be your personal mentor for a whole year as you write your novel. Find out more about the Ultimate Novel Writing Course.