Last time I wrote about overcoming writer’s block and learning to “vomit in the morning and clean up at noon.” If you missed this post, scroll on down and find “On Writing the Bradbury Way.” Or you if you click on my name to the left under the heading “Sort by Posts” you can find that and everything else I’ve written for Portland Mayhem Company. That sort feature is a new one for us, by the way. We’re still making improvements to the blog, so we welcome any feedback you have. We’re also happy to tackle whatever topics you might be interest in, so send us a comment and we’ll see what we can do.
This time around, I thought I should discuss the other big problem that seems to plague most aspiring writers – finding time.
Believe me, I grapple with this one too. Since I’m currently working three different gigs – as cubicle-jockey from Monday to Thursday, as an adjunct professor one night a week, and as a clerk at an indie bookstore just for the love of it one weekend afternoon – my time is always at a premium. Besides earning my daily bread, I’m married and like to spend quality time with my wife. And we’ve got two high-energy herding dogs that need frequent exercise. Add in the two or three TV shows I follow (Castle, Sherlock, and the Thursday night comedy line-up on NBC – except for Outsourced which I find racist and offensively un-funny) and whatever the latest hot videogame title is this month (CoD: Black Ops). Oh, yeah, and I’m always in the middle of reading a book or two because I love reading and I need to keep up on what other people are writing and what’s getting published and because, you know, I’m trying to make it as a writer.
Funny how in life, just as in the preceding paragraph, being a writer always seems to come last. And I think that may be the crux of the problem. Making time for all those other things seems to happen as a matter of course, but carving out an hour or so for my creative work remains a daily struggle, and one I don’t always win.
But there’s hope. There must be.
Considering that most successful writers also have families and full-time day jobs and other outside interests, clearly the challenge to find time to write while having a busy life is one that can be conquered.
Here are the five things I’ve found to be most helpful:
Books – Specifically, reading them. If you want to write, you should read as much and as broadly as you can. Okay, I know I mentioned reading above as one of the things that can seem to limit the time you have available for writing, but the more you read the more you will write. If you want to write, presumably the thing that sparked that desire inside you was a love of the books and stories you read. Reading continues to fuel that fire. What’s more, you need to live in the world of words, constantly thinking of how to phrase things and describe actions. The world of writing is like a giant conversation. Imagine yourself sitting at a giant table with all the other authors who have ever lived. In order to have something meaningful to say to this table filled with all the people you admire (and even those you don’t), you need to first get up to speed with the conversation. That means reading books and lots of them.
Deadlines – Sad but true (cue the Metallica). Nothing gets me to leave dishes unwashed and errands un-run like the pending deadline for some anthology or other. While I have (mostly) taken to heart Lawrence Block’s injunction to write novels instead of short stories, I still love the form and will jump at any opportunity to find a home for some pet idea I’ve had collecting dust in a notebook. And this works! Just this month I’ve placed two recent works – a brief piece called “Awakened by the Taste of Blood” in an anthology of flash horror and a short story called “Everybody, Do the Apocalypse” in a collection of post-apocalyptic science fiction. Seriously, there’s nothing like a narrowly-focused call for submissions to provide a prompt and get you writing to a deadline. You won’t make much money doing this, but it’s pretty easy to see things into print and every short piece you sell also finds a home on the happily growing list of your writing credits. For more on this idea, see Jim Ehmann’s excellent posts (“Duotrope is Your New Best Friend” and “The Anthology Game”) about websites that can help you find markets for your work.
Habits – Some habits aren’t your friends. Smoking cigarettes, shooting heroin, hitting on other men’s wives – none of these things are likely to improve your life. On the other hand, good writing habits can make a huge positive impact on your career as a writer. Whether your goal is the merely-mortal 500 words, the industry-standard 1000 words, or the truly masterful 2500 words that Jack London claimed, writing every day will keep your mind nimble and strong and ensure that the words are flowing well enough that you’re getting something accomplished and you’re in shape enough to ramp up your output when you learn of a deadline just a few days out (see above). If you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, you know that he claims the secret to his success is writing every day. King writes every every day – birthdays, holidays, days when it’s a family vacation at the beach, every day. Yeah, I know he’s Stephen King, one of the most successful and prolific writers in the entire history of writing, and neither of us is Stephen King. But riddle me this… how do you think he got to be Stephen King? Set yourself a word-count goal and write every day. As a side note, emails to friends, posts to your Facebook account, and entries in your journal do not count towards your daily word total.
Rewards – Want to dive into that fat new tome by your favorite author or treat yourself to a big slice of chocolate cake covered in vanilla ice cream? Do your daily writing first. Your personal budget and your waistline are your own concerns, but I’m here to tell you that you’ll be able to enjoy both that delicious novel and the thrilling dessert a lot more when you can come to them with a prior sense of accomplishment. Another little trick in the rewards category that you might find useful is to reward yourself while you do your writing. Pick up that new music CD you’ve been wanting on the way to your favorite café and order yourself a decaf non-fat mocha. Then do your daily 1000 words while you’re grooving to the new tunes and sipping your tasty beverage. This one really works, but remember to use it in reverse as well. Deny yourself rewards when you haven’t been doing your writing. No ice cream for you till you’ve done 1000 words every day for the next week. See how fast you grab that laptop and find yourself a chair. Speaking of chairs, that brings us to our last help in finding time to write.
Chairs – Yes, chairs. As in somewhere to park your busy posterior so it won’t be moving around town while you’re supposed to be getting your daily writing done. Seriously, you need to just sit in a chair and let yourself write. It’s not always about being inspired or having the muse whisper sweet nothings in your ear. But it is always about getting the work done. The very successful mystery writer Craig Johnson, a much droller man than I, says he doesn’t believe in writer’s block because he treats his writing like digging a ditch and he’s never heard of anybody suffering from digger’s block and complaining, “You know, I’m just not feeling the ditch today.” When Johnson’s non-writing workday on the ranch is done, he sits himself down and does his daily writing. Oh, and another good thing about chairs is that when you’re sitting down, it’s much harder for someone who knows you’re supposed to be writing to come along and kick you in the ass.