11,891 Minutes

admndaretwrtWriters Helping Writers

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11,891 minutes.

According to Microsoft Word, that’s how long I have been working on the first draft of my novel. Although, I don’t know whether that includes the minutes I have spent with my Word document open, wistfully staring out of the window at the spring-time sky, or sitting with my head in my hands, my brain thumping against my skull, wondering how I can possibly write another word.

       That number doesn’t take into account the hours spent researching, editing second and third and fourth drafts, and scrawling in my notebook, which is now full from cover to cover. This is a miracle in itself; I am the sort of person to build up a collection of beautiful notebooks, only to write a few pages in each, before the fear of not using the notebook to its best purpose gets the better of me.

       At the start of the lockdown, I felt like I had been wading through the murky waters of my first draft for months, which was true. ‘The End’ was like a mirage, dancing just in front of me, but vanishing every time I realised a chapter or character wasn’t working and needed to be fixed.

       Then I received an email telling me I had received a Time to Write commission from Paper Nations. A few days later, I was told that I was being made redundant from my part-time job. A problem was solved before I could register it.

       As routine fell away from my life, I devoted myself to reaching my elusive mirage and finishing the first draft of my novel.

       The time felt like a luxury for me. Since I could read, I had daydreamed about ‘being a writer’, whatever that means, and filling my time with writerly things, whatever they are. It felt like the universe had conspired to make it happen. I had nowhere to be and nothing to do apart from finish my book. I didn’t sit down to a typewriter each day in a room where every wall was lined by bookshelves, as my twelve-year-old self had imagined, but I did have the opportunity to attend literary festivals online, thanks to many events being offered for free, and I made it my personal mission to read every book I had acquired over the years but not yet read (I now only have two left).

       Before the pandemic, my writing was inextricably linked to my word count. I had a complicated Excel spreadsheet where I tracked targets and self-imposed deadlines, and reduced every word to a number. But, with weeks of self-isolation stretching out in front of me, I dropped my spreadsheet and let myself relish all of the things that come with writing, but don’t involve putting pen to paper.

       I went for long walks and pondered my story. I joined a writing group, facilitated by Paper Nations, and connected with other writers. I read articles and books on the craft of writing. I listened to podcasts with authors. The weeks flitted past without me noticing but it didn’t matter because, about halfway through May, I finished. I wrote those two special words: The End. I closed my laptop, sat back in my chair and waited for the feeling of satisfaction to come.

       It didn’t.

       I realised that all I had done was throw my lump of clay or set up my chunk of stone. I had something, but I still needed to shape and refine that thing until it resembled the story I was trying to create. I used a whole ink cartridge printing out the manuscript and then immediately felt guilty about the waste of paper. I downloaded beat sheets and made more spreadsheets and cut words and rearranged chapters until I had read my manuscript so many times that it didn’t mean anything anymore.

       Lockdown is easing and I have a new job. My writing, once again, has to fit around the other commitments in my life, but I no longer romanticise the idea of having nothing to do but write. My other commitments bring a flavour and fizz to my life, giving me more to write about. Instead of longing for a hiatus from my life to focus on my writing, instead I am embracing writing as a lifestyle rather than a moment in time. I have learned that writing is not climbing one mountain. Writing is climbing mountain after mountain after mountain, forever.



Jasmin is a writer from Somerset. Her work has been published in the RSPB’s Back from the Brink anthology, Rife Magazine and the Untitled: Voices journal. She was listed as one of Rife Magazine’s 24 Most Influential Bristolians Under 24 in 2019 and is the founder of Weston Writers’ Nights.

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