Real Life Writing
Of all the questions I get from other writers, one of the most frequently asked is, “When do you write?”
Oh, there are variations; “How often do you write?” “Do you write every day?” “Do you stick to a schedule?” “How do you find the time as a single mother to four kids?”
But the question, basically, is, “How do you DO it?!”
So I decided that I’m going to give you a detailed answer. If you’re easily bored or just not interested in this question, you might want to grab a pillow and a blankey.
First, my philosophy; There is ALWAYS a way to make time for the things you love. Always. And for me writing is, and was long before I sold Prophecy, something I love. Also, if you want something, you’re probably going to have to work for it. That means sacrifice and determination and persistence. These things have never deterred me from getting what I want in life. In fact, I’ve been trying to remember if there has ever been a time I didn’t, ultimately, get what I want, and I honestly can’t think of one. That said, I work HARD every day. I have made tremendous sacrifices and still make sacrifices for the things that matter most to me. And after my family, writing is at the top of that list.
I write 10,000 words a week, no matter what, unless I’m on vacation or touring. This is in addition to the promotion and online marketing that has become a necessary part of the job. I figured out the hourly breakdown this week and realized I spend 15-20 hours a week just writing and 15-20 hours a week on additional promotion, interviews, mailings, research, etc. This doesn’t include the time I spend reading or otherwise working to inspire myself, but I do a lot of that, too (and a lot of movie watching, because I’m always inspired by movies).
Things I’ve sacrificed in the name of my writing time include talking on the phone with friends (love it but can talk for hours so now it’s a rarity) and watching TV, which I gave up in 2006 when I started working heavily on Prophecy revisions with my agent, Steven Malk. Also, sometimes my house is a mess and sometimes we have for dinner what we lovingly refer to as “hodge-podge”, which basically means I’ll make the kids whatever they want as long as it’s QUICK so I can get back to writing (cue the hot dogs, grilled cheese, and Ramen noodles).
Every 6-12 months, I have to reevaluate my schedule based on the kid’s activity schedule, though there are constants like the time I take to chat with my teenage daughter in the afternoon and the time I take to read to Caroline from 8:30pm-9pm every school night. But right now my schedule (in excruciating detail looks like this);
Monday; I do ALL my errands and grocery shopping from 9am (after dropping my youngest off at school) until about 1pm. This gives me the peace of mind and practical comfort to works the rest of the week, because I don’t have to worry about running out of anything and going to the store or getting gas or whatever. I spend the rest of the day paying bills, calling people back, making appointments, etc., again so that I can be mentally free to write the rest of the week.
Tues-Wed-Thurs; After getting up at 6am, getting my older kids off to school and then repeating the whole thing for Caroline, I drop her off at school at 9am and the rest of my day goes like this;
9am – 1pm; online marketing, blog updates, promotion, interview questions, responding to emails
1pm – 2pm; nap (you’ll see why in a bit!)
2pm – 5pm; write (I take 45 minutes during this time to have a cappuccino or tea and chat with my teenage daughter on the days when she doesn’t have after-school activities)
5pm – 7pm; make dinner, hang with kids, eat dinner, make lunches for next day
7pm – 10pm; write (except for my 30 minutes reading time with Caroline)
10pm – 11pm; read and have tea with teenage daughter
11pm – 12:30am; get ready for bed, read, and try to sleep (I have trouble getting to sleep when I’m writing so I sometimes don’t fall asleep until 1am or so)
These three days are my heavy duty work days, and my kids know it. It probably seems like they’re totally on their own, but I’m here, in the house, working, pretty much all the time. The kids are busy with their own school work and activities during the week, and since we don’t watch TV, the house is very peaceful and quiet for us all. I do, of course, have to stop from time to time to answer questions, take a phone call, fill out a form for school, etc., but for the most part my writing time is sacred. If something needs to be done and there is ANY way to put it off (by calling someone back, filling the papers out while I have tea at night, etc.) so that it doesn’t interfere with my writing time, I do. My goal is to write 10,000 new words every week that I’m not working on revisions for my agent or editor. If I don’t get them in during my three-day writing spree, I have to make it up on the weekend. I am very aware of that Tues-Thurs which makes it easier to stay focused.
Friday – By the end of the week, I am bleary-eyed and REALLY in need of some time away from the computer. I go to the matinee with my teenage son (because it’s cheap!) and then take the day off to nap, catch up with friends, etc. Friday night is our “Girl’s Movie Night”. We have what we call a “fun” food (I make Pad Thai or tacos or burritos or something like that) and then the girls in our house get to choose a movie to watch. The boys are invited, but we get to choose! No guilt if we pick a Chick Flick!
Saturday and Sunday; I spend the weekend pretty much exclusively with my family. I DO work on my computer in the living room, but I use this time for research or blog updating or other online marketing on which I don’t have to focus too heavily so I can relax and spend time with the kids. Sometimes, I’ll do some low-key tweaking of the words I wrote during the week or I’ll do a read-through. If i haven’t met my 10,000 words for the week, this is when I make it up. I run a teen book club through Borders and we meet every other Saturday, but other than that, we’re mostly around the house watching movies or swimming (in the summer). The kids are busy with their own stuff, too, so I always manage to do some promotional stuff while we’re hanging out. I spend about two hours Sunday “couponing” (I’m a crazy coupon shopper – don’t get me started), planning meals, and making the grocery/errand list for Monday. It sucks, but at least then I know it’s done and we have everything we need for the week so I can work.
This schedule allows me to write 10,000 new words a week (when I’m not revising), deal with the promotional demands of what I do, and still have time for my children. Even with the weeks I spend touring or revising instead of adding to my word count (which is more and more these days), I finish about 2 new books a year. During the weeks when I have to switch gears to revise, I use this exact same schedule, substituting revising for the time I would normally spend drafting. It’s great because the time’s already built-in, and I can usually finish even a major revision inside a month. What I don’t have – ever – is time for myself, time to watch TV, a super clean house, or as much time to read as I would like. But these are all sacrifices (for me) worth making.
I know there are writers out there who are balancing the demands of family and writing with the demands of out-of-the home jobs. I’m not gonna lie; that makes it infinitely more difficult. But you can do it. Maybe it won’t be 10,000 words a week. Maybe it will be 5,000. Maybe you won’t be able to write on weekdays. Maybe it will all have to be done on the weekends. But somehow, some way, if you want it badly enough and are willing to sacrifice for it, you can do it. When I first started writing I wrote from 9pm – 1am every single night (sometimes it stretched to 2am or 3am) and then got up at 6am to get the kids off to school every morning. Those nighttime hours were the only uninterrupted hours I had. I was running a business out of my home at the time, sharing our one computer with two teenagers who needed it for school work, and listening to an old Sony Discman (was too poor for iPod!) to block out the kid noise of my house. It wasn’t sexy. But it got the job done and I was always determined to keep writing until I could make a living doing it.
Now, I write my 10,000 words a week even when I don’t have something due. I always have a project in mind or one I want to try, and I have six finished books sitting on my hard drive right now in addition to the three prophecy novels. I finish one, revise it to the best of my ability, and move onto something else. It’s what I do.
People ask me why I write so much. I guess the answer isn’t a simple one.
I write because it keeps my mind occupied and the demons at bay.
I write because I feel adrift when I’m not actively working on something.
I write to hedge my bets – I never take for granted that my editor (or any editor) will want my work. Having lots of possibilities in the pipeline gives me some reassurance.
I write because there are still things I want. Not STUFF. Accomplishments. Goals. Projects I want to try. A reputation I want to build. I never take my eye off that ball and the things I want. It’s only right to be wiling to work for them.
Working is also a reminder that I’m a writer. This is what I do and what I will always do. And, for me, there will always be another story.
Most of all, I write because it seems like the right thing to do. If I wanted to throw a lot of psycho-babble at you, I’d say it’s probably due to my deep-seated sense of unworthiness. I’m always trying to prove that I deserve the good things that happen to me. But the truth is, it’s rough out there. People are out of work. People are losing jobs every day and struggling to feed their families. I am blessed to be doing something I love and to be doing it in a way that allows me to support my family as a single mother and to be here for my children almost every day. I thank the universe every single day for these blessings, but somehow, sending that thanks out into the world doesn’t always seem enough.
So I try to help other authors (both published and unpublished) whenever I can. I answer every email myself – even if it takes awhile for me to get to it (sorry people to whom I owe emails!). I pay special attention to the young people who write to me and to the readers who support me and my work. Their loyalty is a gift, and I try to repay it with loyalty of my own.
Most of all, I write to hone my craft. Nothing teaches me more about the art and craft of writing than WRITING.
And the truth is, I have so much still to learn. So much still to do. I never want to rest on my laurels. To sit back and say, “Ah! I’m DONE!” I’m never done. There’s always something else to do and something else to learn. I learn it by doing it and by creating more work to put out into the world.