Staying the Course
One of the most common questions I'm asked by people who learn that I'm a writer is "How do you make the time to write books with everything else you do?" Of course, I should preface this by noting that those who ask this generally know me well enough to realize that in addition to writing books, I also work full time teaching high school English (with all of the requisite paperwork/grading that that job entails), I'm the proud mother to both a young child and an infant, I have a home to care for, laundry to do, life and medical crises that arise at the worst possible times, and a family that likes home-cooked meals (which I enjoy providing, by the way). So where does all this leave time to write?
The answer is, "Wherever and whenever I can fit it in."
The truth is, I don't think my life is all that different from anyone else's: everyone that I know is busy. My parents, my husband, all of my sisters, those who are married or unmarried, friends, writing and teaching colleagues, working or stay at home parents, those with very young children, with teenagers, with children readying for college or life away from home - or those without children at all - we are all busy, busy, busy. The world of the 21st century is undeniably fast-paced, with more demands on everyone, in terms of time and energy than has probably existed at any time previous in history. Of course, that presents a quandry for those of us who are trying to pursue a career in writing. We are each only one person, with limited amounts of personal resources to allocate to the various areas of our lives.
And that means we need to get creative.
One of the first suggestions I can make is to try to determine the type of "time-of-day" writer you are. Experiment a little. Are you most alert and creative first thing in the morning, or are you more of a night owl? If it's the first, try getting up an hour earlier than you usually do and see if you can't get a page or two written (or 5 or 6, if you're prolific, unlike meJ ) before you get started with the rest of the day. If it's the second, try shutting off the television earlier in the evening and sitting down somewhere quiet to see if you can't get the juices flowing. Sometimes the most difficult part is getting yourself into that writing chair. The warm coziness of your bed threatens to keep you captive; the tune of your favorite sitcom beckons. Resist! Do what you must to get into that writing place, and often times the rest will come easier.
I also know some "mid-day" writers who are neither morning nor evening people. These writers have learned to use their lunch hour time to do their "new" writing (either with a laptop or the old-fashioned method of writing long-hand), then they use the morning or evening hours, when they feel less creative, to do other writing-related tasks, like proofing or research.
Be prepared, however, to do some adjusting every now and again, to whatever schedule you've chosen. I, for example, used to be a night owl, probably due to those "all-nighter" habits developed in college. In fact, I did most of the writing of my first three manuscripts, over the course of seven years, between the hours of 10pm and 1am (though I didn't stay up writing that late every night) - then I'd get up for work the next day at 6am and start all over again. As I've gotten older and especially since the arrival of our second child, I'm finding that burning the midnight oil is far more difficult that it used to be. It's tough to be creative when you're nodding off in front of the computer monitor! My solution has been to try to alternate my schedule a bit: some nights I stay up a little later to write, others, I try to go to bed a little earlier and then get up an hour or so before I need to get ready for work. It's not always easy, but it's yielded some better results.
For those of you with a commute to work, or hours at a time watching kids at the playground or monitoring a playgroup - I've found that the time can be quite fruitful for brainstorming. I've come up with most of my plot ideas while driving to and from work, and the title to my debut novel, SECRET VOWS, was conceived while pushing my then two-year-old daughter on her swing. Of course if you're driving a car or watching children, your mind must be firmly on the task at hand, but if you're able to do some directed mental wandering as well, at strategic times you'll be amazed what will come up.
All this, then, is to say that you too can find the time to write, if you truly want to, regardless of how busy your world is. Yes, life sometimes does get in the way, and perhaps there will be days, or even weeks, when you can't seem to get to that keyboard or legal pad. But overall, if you try to stay the course, and pick up where you left off as soon as you can - if you try your hardest to write just a little bit every day - then before you know it you'll have a whole book written, and then another, and another. And after that, the sky, as they say, is the limit!
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