Right Now, Write Now

A few weeks ago, I attended Malice Domestic, the traditional-mystery writer/fan convention held every year in Bethesda, Maryland. After a panel, I was chatting with a woman who was working on her first mystery, and I happened to mention that I have another (full time) career.  She asked me, “How do you find time to write?” Okay, as a writer, I know what subtext is. I knew she really meant, “How can Ifind time to write?” So I asked her how much time she was able to spend now? And for ten minutes, she laid out all the reasons she just couldn’t find time. Her job, her commute, her family and social commitments; the homework, housework, husband. Not enough hours in the day. I didn’t get to say much. I nodded. My chin(s) got quite a workout nodding.

It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about finding time, but as I listened that morning, I realized how often I hear lists of “Why I can’t”. I began to get a little frustrated.

It’s not that I don’t sympathize. I do. I spent a couple of decades not finding time. And there’s an “if only” lesson there I wouldn’t wish on anyone else.

So, let me get to the point: Novels are written by, well, writing. And then rewriting. And rewriting. And throwing out everything you wrote the day before and starting over. Fixing the gaping hole in your plot. Crafting a better villain. A better story. New writers often believe there’s some magic out there. That they will wake up one morning not only with time, but also with sudden inspiration whereby the book will just flow from the fingertips into the computer.

There is no magic. Repeat, please. And again.

From the Shoe cartoon strip (1977-2000). Visit jeff-macnelly.com

If you’re a new writer who hasn't found time to finish (or start) that book, here's the best advice I have: Right Now, Write Now. Don’t wait till next month, when you’ve settled into your new job. Or next fall, when the kids start school. Or next year when your spouse will get that promotion and you can work part-time. Or when you win the lottery.

You need a routine. You need a commitment. Or you’ll look up a decade from now, and that book won’t be any further along than it is today. So start today.

Create an honest chart of how you spend your time on weekdays and weekends. Remember, it’s like the first rough draft of your novel. Nobody has to see it. There will no judgment but yours.

Are you spending an hour in the evening online, catching up with friends/family or checking out YouTube? Or watching TV? Are you sleeping in an extra hour on the weekends to make up for your long work week? Find what you can change right now. Even if you find only one hour on Saturday mornings and two on Sunday nights, it’s three hours more than you have now. 

Use it. Routine is very important. If you have no ideas ready when your new writing time comes along, hie thee to the computer anyway. Sit down, open the file and just write. A snatch of dialog, a description of a location. Random thoughts on the page might lead to other ideas. They will at least get the juices flowing. And don't leave till your time's up.

You’ll get into the habit of writing, and the habit of not doing something else. And then as you make progress, you'll want and find even more time to write — you won’t volunteer for yet another committee (you’ll learn to say, “Sorry, I just can't do it this time”); you’ll invite friends over twice a month, not every week; the FB page won't get updated for days; you'll revise chapters in hard copy during lunch; you’ll make character notes waiting in line at the grocery store; you’ll take a recorder with you on the treadmill, although “He said (thud, thud, pant, thud, thud, pant), put the gun down (thud, thud, pant, pant, wheeze, gasp)” can be hard to transcribe later. Using a recorder during my exercise walks around my neighborhood has been invaluable in working out dialog, and in showing me how out of shape I am.

Whatever time you can find, find it. But find it now. And eventually you’ll finish the book. It might take three years. Or five. But you'll finish it.

And your new routine will serve you well when you finally sell that first book and the publisher wants the next one in 8 months!

Sheila York