Monday, August 8, 2011

Tick Tock - Finding Writing Time

Not long ago I was editing an interview with an up-and-coming writer (that's often the day job - editing). He has a hot new book that everybody's all gushy over, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, the interviewer asked him about his process for writing this novel. Apparently he'd written it at a secluded writer's retreat somewhere over a few months' time. His day went something like this: after a leisurely breakfast he would brainstorm for an hour or so, then write for three or four hours. After lunch and a walk in the woods, he would go back to his nice quiet room and write until evening, where he would commune with other writers over drinks and dinner, where presumably they would sit around and chortle about hard it is to write in absolute peace and quiet with no children pegging things at the back of your head, no cat throwing up under your chair, no washing machine spouting gouts of foam, and no day job (or two).

At that moment, I hated that man. It's not his fault, I suppose. He didn't say how he had wrangled two months at a swanky "writer's retreat." Maybe he'd saved his pennies for 10 years or maybe he'd married a rich widow and then pushed her down the stairs. All I was thinking at the moment, was, yeah, think of what I could do with 14 uninterrupted hours of writing time. Every day.

And there's the rub.  Most of us are lucky to have a few hours of free time a day where we could possibly write. And even when we have time, it's not quiet time. If we're careful we can create a happy little soap bubble and sit inside it, just us and the blank page. But that bubble is easily popped by the first wailing child, the significant other who's lost something they can't find or broken something they can't fix, by the client asking where project is, by the alarm that beeps letting you know you're late for doing something that must be done RIGHT NOW and damn your flow of narrative.

It can be done. People do it all the time.   But it's hard and frustrating and painful. You can do all the affirmations you want and perform the little tricks to eke out writing time and try to cobble together some platform from which to launch your work, and still it's damned difficult to maintain some kind of coherent writing life. Add to that the time you must spend marketing yourself, which is a sink hole if you let it be.

I myself have fallen into that sinkhole the last few weeks, doing things in bursts. I would edit madly, then realize I had to do some paid work to buy the groceries. I would drop the editing and work, then realize the book sales had stalled  and I needed to do some marketing. I would spend hours on social networking and realize that I needed to start the next book to make the publishing schedule. As I'm starting work on a new book, I feel guilty that I haven't finished the edit on the finished one. And it starts over.

Figure out how much time you can give each day to the three segments of your writing life: marketing, manuscript massaging, and writing. You need all three. You need to market yourself, you need to make your finished work the best it can be, and you need to be generating new work. Now think about how much time realistically you can carve out per day or per week and divvy it up. Split the time in thirds if you want, or make one day for writing, one day for marketing, one day for editing/book designing. Experiment until you find a balance.  But stick to some kind of schedule, at least for the marketing. Don't spend five hours on Twitter and then realize you haven't written a word.  And don't skip the editing, just because it's the most frustrating.  If you are going to let one segment take over and flow across the boundaries, make it writing. Find a balance that works for you.

This weekend, I vowed to wrest control back and I've made some resolutions:
  • Do marketing/social media first thing in the morning and limit it to 90 minutes max
  • Do my editing like it's a job - two hours a day then step away
  • Write 1,000 a day on the new novel
 Not some great, earth-shattering plan, but doable. What can you do take control of your writing life? Make a goal. Make is simple, without a lot of bells and whistles. Pick a word count that gets you somewhere, whether that destination is a short story that's been bubbling in the back of your mind, a work in progress that's been lingering on your desktop, a new idea that keeps tapping you on the shoulder. At 1,000 words a day my next novel will be through first draft by the end of October. 

Where are you going to find your writing time? 

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