When you have a family to look after it can be difficult to prioritise your writing over their needs. When I first started writing, I’d put my young children to bed and work after 10pm till late. Once my youngest started nursery, I didn’t cry at the gates, I rejoiced that I had two and a half hours to myself! Of course that soon led to much frustration as I realised that by the time I got home, put a load of laundry on and sat at my desk, it was time to go back out to pick her up. It was only when all my children were finally at full time school that I established a routine. It has to be flexible of course as life ‘happens’ and as much as I’d love to, I certainly cannot be that writer who must write everyday. I have learnt over the years, that I am better with extremely intense writing periods, where I work all day, every day for weeks (around the kids of course) and then have periods of caring for my kids or my mother––or, as some in the children’s writing community will know––renovate and move either my family or my mother to another house in record time!
It took me a while to figure out that I work best in the mornings. My mind is fresh and I am able to get more done without any distractions. I rush home after the school drop, put my phone on silent and leave it upstairs so I can’t log onto Twitter or Facebook. Of course, during the pandemic this meant I settled the kids at the dining table before switching on my computer.
I used to have a quieter life and would try to be at my desk by 9:30 a.m. I would write or edit fiction for a few hours before rushing out of the door at 2:55 p.m. to collect the kids. However this is impossible now, as I first must respond to emails across four inboxes, including those for my role as Deputy Editor for SCBWI-BI’s magazine, Words & Pictures, my Inclusive Minds emails and my Write Mentor mentee emails. This can sometimes take a few hours. I am currently trying to open my work in progress BEFORE I respond to emails, but it is a struggle.
When I’m writing a draft, I try to write at least 800 words a day, however I have on a very rare day managed to write over 3000 words in one morning––that was obviously a vomit draft! I’ve learnt that if I focus and write first thing in the morning for at least two hours, I can make good progress. One of my writer friends showed me that if I was disciplined and wrote at least 800 words a day, I’d have a full novel written in 75 days. I employed this method when writing BOY, EVERYWHERE in 2015 and managed to write my first draft zero in six weeks (excluding the Christmas holidays). But of course editing is an entirely different beast, and that took me YEARS!
Editing BOY, EVERYWHERE has been a genuine labour of love. After each helpful rejection or feedback, I’d go back and add more to it. The novel started off at 43,000 words and ended up 73,000 words in length! And then of course I reedited it a bazillion times and the word count fluctuated.
I would compare writing a book to building an onion––bear with me, I’ll explain. You can’t create something that is perfectly formed in one go, you have to keep going back and adding layers, and with each layer, whether you are developing your characters, or editing your passive sentences, your book becomes something you couldn’t have ever imagined. And this is only possible if you keep going back to your manuscript. A bit like a mother to her child, your story needs your love and attention.
A. M. Dassu is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction and is based in the heart of England. She is Deputy Editor of SCBWI-BI’s magazine, Words & Pictures and a Director of Inclusive Minds. Her work has been published by The Huffington Post, Times Educational Supplement, SCOOP Magazine, Lee & Low Books, and DK Books. She won the international We Need Diverse Books mentorship award in 2017. A. M. Dassu has used her publishing advances for Boy, Everywhere to assist Syrian refugees in her city and set up a grant to support an unpublished refugee or immigrant writer. Her debut middle grade novel BOY, EVERYWHERE is out now.