HOW I WRITE
When I mention to friends and acquaintances that I write novels in my spare time – novels that are four or five hundred pages in length – they are frequently stunned. “How is that possible? I could never do that! How do you ever find the time?” It’s like I’ve somehow pulled off a miracle, and “poof!”, the books have appeared upon a pedestal in cosmic sparkles and light as if ordained from on high! Nothing could be further from the truth. The real answer is actually quite simple and very straightforward. A writer isn’t a writer unless he or she is actually writing. Having great ideas is one thing, but it takes patience and persistence, over time, to get those ideas into something of novel length.
Let me explain. Writing, in many ways, is something most of us do all the time. We communicate with someone else in our business via e-mail, send a quick text to a friend, or we write a thank you to that special person who gave us a gift. If someone were to accumulate everything we wrote in a week, just the normal stuff, it would be quite a lot. Add up the “writings” of a full year, and that may just be a couple of hundred pages. Writing a novel can be much the same process – a steady trickle of effort that accumulates over time.
You see, I never have enough time for writing (in my mind). I always want more, but obligations and schedules and priorities push “writing time” into the discretionary parts of my life – and rightly so. Therefore, I must be content with writing what I can in the time I have.
I may be able to only write a paragraph or two if time is tight. I may, if particularly inspired and blessed with a long, uninterrupted period, be able to knock out a number of pages. It’s not like sitting down for a marathon session, though, and fifty or a hundred pages magically appear on the screen. It just doesn’t happen like that. A novel starts, and it grows a little, day by day.
Perhaps, there are authors out there who can churn out dozens of pages in a sitting. For me, I need time between “scenes” to cook up what’s going to come next. That’s why it’s actually nice, sometimes, to force myself to take a break from writing and work on proofreading or editing. That way, when I come back to the actual creative part, I’m really ready to engage (like someone who has stayed away from chocolate for a few days so they can break bad for one special dessert). Also, never believe that editing isn’t creative, too. It’s just a different type of creative, like changing to an exercise that uses a different set of muscles while you’re working out.
Well, there’s working time, family time, travel time, shopping time, clean-up time, and time after time after time. How can anyone carve out “writing time!?” Well, it is possible. First, you have to make it understood to yourself and anyone close to you that “writing time” is a goal. They can’t help you if they don’t know. Now, the family’s needs must still be met, and work’s requirements must still be met. If you’re thinking about taking time from those two, that’s bad. Also, you may have other obligations that mean as much as even those two. You may volunteer at a church or at a charity; certainly the time allocated for those things doesn’t need to be up for replacement. “Writing time” can only happen in those discretionary parts of your day.
Second, “writing time” requires sacrifice. There’s no way to add one or two hours to each day that weren’t there before – unless something else takes the hit. What takes the hit? Well, first on the list is “entertainment time.” If you derive enjoyment from writing, then there shouldn’t be as much of a need for being entertained. So, video games, football games, movies, television, and all of those other pastimes (or shall we say “pass” times?) have to give it up. If you’re not willing to do that, then you don’t need another task on your list.
Third, “writing time” is precious. You need the tools to make the most out of any time you are able to allocate. Have a regular place that’s quiet and uninterrupted, if at all possible. Make sure you have your writing tools accessible in that area (see “What I use” for more info). Then, simply make sure you start. Don’t fuss, ponder, contemplate, or plan – do all that in those minutes in the car or while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office or wherever. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write – so start typing or scribbling something. If you’re worried about failing or using the wrong word or spelling, forget it. That’s what “editing time” is for. Just start putting ideas onto paper. Wonderful things can happen when you do.
Do you have to write in a specific place at a specific time every day? No! In fact, one of the fun things I enjoy is writing in different places! Beautiful venues can be very inspiring to write in! It could be a bar that’s not open yet on a cruise ship, a beautiful hotel lobby, or just a nice coffee or bagel shop that will happily welcome you so long as they are earning a little money off you. I’m going to make a more deliberate attempt to showcase some of these locations along with some of the lessons I’ve learned. To start with, here are a few pointers!
- DO NOT set up a three-hour writing stint at a table service restaurant. Unless you plan on tipping your server the equivalent of four tables’ worth of meals, you are harming someone’s income.
- DO NOT become a “fixture” at any one place. Large hotels don’t seem to mind you breezing into their lobby once in awhile. However, they will notice if you show up every Tuesday and start making friends with the staff. You’ll probably get told to leave.
- DO NOT trespass. If there is a tension barrier standing between you and the writing location of your dreams, JUST WALK AWAY.
- DO pack for the event. You will want headphones (potentially something more than earbuds that can cancel out noise) and make sure you have a pen that works or batteries that are charged up for your laptop or tablet.
- DO remain situationally aware. In short, don’t lose yourself in writing world so thoroughly that you’re not paying attention to your surroundings. Safety first!
- DO change it up! Yes, you can feel a little awkward doing this the first few times, but there are many places where people camp for awhile, sip coffee, and work on their laptop. No one has to know that you are pursuing creative writing!