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Real Life Writing

April 20, 2010

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.


35 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2010 6:42 am

    Thanks for this post. It’s great to see a “how do you do it all” post from a writer that acknowledges the fact that life needs to happen too. I can’t write when life is in chaos, when we’re out of milk and cereal and I cringe every time I walk into the bathroom or kitchen. Some people can, but I can’t. I need order to be creative. Once my current book is done at the end of this month, I’m really looking forward to getting back onto a sane schedule like the one you describe!

    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      May 12, 2010 8:49 am

      I’m glad you found it helpful, Tricia! Getting all the grocery shopping and errands done at the beginning of the week has really helped a lot. Otherwise, it seems like I’m running at least one errand every day of the week, and it’s just too hard for me to get back into the head space necessary to write if I’m preoccupied with minutia like filling the gas tank in my car and running out of milk.

      Good luck with your writing!


  2. April 29, 2010 1:21 am

    Michelle, I am so glad I read this. I’m having a hard time balancing everything–promo on SEA plus the new book plus juggling the two kids etc. etc. —I’m going to bookmark your blog and read it more often. And write down your schedule to help me better organize.
    See you at Teen Author Carnival soon. πŸ™‚ Thank you!

    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 29, 2010 7:37 am

      It is SOOOO hard – especially that first year leading up to and just after your debut, Heidi. I have some realizations (particularly about promotion) that really helped me put things in perspective and am happy to share them with you offline if you think it would help. Shoot me an email anytime!


      PS. Looking forward to TAC!

  3. April 27, 2010 2:22 pm

    Wow. Love this post and admire you and your determination to follow a schedule so that you can do what you need to do, and write.

    Writing every day to hone one’s skills is an excellent reason. 10,000 words? So impressed. I have to write 1k words every week for short story community and I panic each week that I won’t be able to do it. Once I have the idea, the writing goes pretty well. It’s just getting that darn inspiration.

    Thank you for sharing you day.

    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 28, 2010 10:55 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Marisa! It’s a struggle we all share at every phase of the publishing process, I think. And you make a good point. It’s hardest when you’re just sitting there, staring at the screen, wondering what to write. One of the things that really helps me is to think about what’s next in my story during the times I can’t be at my computer. When I’m cooking dinner or driving the kids around or whatever, I try to think about what’s next so that when I do get some precious writing time, I can just GO. But I do realize this is sometimes easier said than done.

      Hope to talk with you again!


  4. April 23, 2010 12:32 pm


    10,000 words a week! Wow. I’m seriously in awe.

    Because I’m in editing/revising mode right now, I’m not sure how many new words I can write in a week, but I’m sure when my book is all done and turned into my editor, I’ll discover I can write a lot more than I used to before my book deal. I think working under a deadline changes your sense of what you can accomplish.

    Thanks for sharing your schedule – I actually like reading about how people balance their work. I’m slowly figuring it out for myself.

    I think it’s a great idea to set aside a few days of the week that will be “powerhouse” days where you get the most work done. When my youngest goes to preschool this fall, I’m going to try to follow a schedule like yours – ie. a day for errands, days for working, and days for just the family (I’m sort of doing that already, just flailing a little bit with the groceries/errands part…and sleep).

    Take care. I love your posts.

  5. April 22, 2010 6:55 pm

    You’ve inspired me! I really like your philosophy: “There is ALWAYS a way to make time for the things you love. Always.”
    I appreciate this post because it gives me some concrete ideas that I can actually implement into my daily life. I feel I have some new writing goals to acheive now and I enjoyed your perspective. Thanks!

  6. Ayla permalink
    April 21, 2010 9:20 pm

    I feel the same way about reading. I have read 3 chapter books (200-300 pages) in one SCHOOL day! People ask me why I read so much. I read because I have a really stressful life and when I read, everything lifts away and I am brought into a world of luxury and imagination. When I read, everything around me disappears. I don’t notice my screaming little brother, I don’t notice the tiny bits of candy wrappers thrown all over the room. Plus, it gives me inspiration to write.

  7. April 21, 2010 4:07 pm

    Michelle, you are leading by example – as usual. πŸ™‚

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I am working on my discipline right now, and the more I do that the more I realise that it is less to do with ‘discipline’ (which makes writing sound like a horrible chore – when it’s not!) and more to do with embracing the passion.

    If you can find the passion in your life, whether it is writing or charity work or being a mother or… any number of things (or all of them combined!), then your productivity will automatically increase. I am working part-time as a freelance editor and webmistress at the moment, and the rest of the time I write, revise, and deal with the online business of writing – social networking, marketing, etc. I have one day off a week – Sunday – though even on that day I tend to do online ‘work’ or catch up on email to friends. At the moment I don’t know how many words per week I write, because I seem to be in this constant revision cycle that’s driving me NUTS! I love first-drafting. *sigh* I think I would probably write 10K per week, too, on my 4 days writing.

    I loved what you said about having projects stacking up on your hard drive – me too! Though not as many as you. LOL! I have a few…

    Anyway, I’m totally rambling and I just love chatting with you.

    Thanks again. ❀

    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 21, 2010 6:20 pm

      Aw, me, too! I hope we can meet for coffee or a drink someday and talk in person!


  8. April 21, 2010 7:33 am

    EXCELLENT post and just what I needed to hear! Your discipline is inspirational πŸ™‚

  9. April 21, 2010 1:33 am

    Brilliant post. I totally admire your discipline! And I completely agree about finding time for the things you love. I still have a full-time business, as well as kids, and I find the time to write too because I LOVE IT!

  10. elle_strauss permalink
    April 21, 2010 12:30 am

    Thanks for sharing. You prove that determination is the lion’s share of the secret to success.

  11. April 21, 2010 12:25 am

    I loved seeing this blog. I struggle a lot with balancing schoolwork and writing, and I’m going to publicly (okay, hoping my profs and/or parents don’t see this *prays*) say that when I wrote that novel in 5 weeks I neglected my homework. I’m glad I wrote it – its something I think about daily, and I am itching for my second beta reader’s feedback, BUT I am glad I wrote it before and not now. Finals are looming and as someone who wrote a YA fantasy novel during last semester’s midterms+finals, I do not advice that. πŸ˜‰ (And even though I’m waiting on feedback, that can wait. At least until finals are over.)

    I hope you do more posts like this! 10,000 words is a lot and I am so impressed you are able to do that daily!!!! Best wishes with new Buffy-like Twilight-like novel. You can do it, Michelle!!!!

    Sending love from MA,

    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 21, 2010 6:39 am

      I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to balance writing with a rigorous academic work load. The fact that you do it at all is a testament to your love of writing.

      And you’re so cute! You always say Buffy, but it’s the Dark Knight meets Twilight minus the vampires!


      • April 21, 2010 10:00 am

        Its probably because I WANT it to be Buffy. Can you include Buffy in the novel? πŸ˜‰ Dark Knight, shmark knight.

        “A testament to your love of writing” … Or I’m just, y’know, crazy!

      • michellezinkbooks permalink*
        April 21, 2010 12:20 pm

        Batman Begins and The Dark Knight RULE.


  12. April 20, 2010 10:39 pm

    You are truly an inspiration. Thanks for sharing this!!! πŸ™‚

    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 21, 2010 6:39 am

      You guys inspire me every day!


  13. April 20, 2010 9:00 pm

    Fantastic post, Michelle! You are an inspiration. I hit 5K a week, but maybe I’ll try for more… just gotta get that pesky TV out of here!

    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 20, 2010 9:29 pm

      Thanks, Melissa, but even 5k a week is great! I think it’s less about the amount and more about the consistency. Sound like you already have that!


  14. April 20, 2010 5:10 pm

    THANK YOU. I’ve een wondering and wondering about how to get a sense of balance in my Writing and Real-World Life. I don’t yet have the obligations of promoting a series – neither I nor my books are up to even querying – or getting revision letters from editors. It gives me some hope that I can settle my hectic life into something more manageable, if you can do it with kids, and teens!

    Off to work out my own Writing and Real-World Schedule!


    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 20, 2010 8:03 pm

      It’s an ongoing process to get the balance right, Brittany. Sometimes, one schedule will work for six months, and then something will change and I’ll find it’s not working anymore. But if you can create a schedule that allows you to write even 5,000 words a week, you’ll have finished a whole book in about three months. And I think that’s a very reasonable goal for most people if you commit to a schedule of some kind.

      Good luck, hon! I’m rooting for you!


  15. April 20, 2010 4:14 pm

    What a great glimpse into your writing life! Getting all the errands done on Monday is such a great idea–I always find that come Thursday or Friday, I have to stop writing and run out to get something. I’m definitely going to try to be as organized as you are now. πŸ™‚

    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 20, 2010 8:00 pm

      It’s helped me a lot, Meredith. It sucks on Sunday because I have to really plan out the meals and such (if not exact days than at least know what I’m cooking to cover me for all the nights of the week), but it’s SO worth it in the end. Plus, I save a ton on gas. We live in the middle of nowhere, and I find that other than Mondays and Fridays, I rarely have cause to drive other then dropping off/picking up kids from school. If I have to schedule doctor’s appointments or something, I only make them Tues-Thurs, 9am – 1pm. That way, I only lose my marketing time and don’t eat into my real writing time at all.

      Hope it helps!


  16. April 20, 2010 3:11 pm

    I get these questions from people at my day job. How do I find time to write, have a family do my blog and work 40 hours a week. I give them the same answers you do. Because there are things I want to accomplish. And I write because it keeps me focused. I write on my lunch hour and for three hours at night.

    Great post Michelle, glad I am not the only one who feels this way about a writing.


    • michellezinkbooks permalink*
      April 20, 2010 7:57 pm

      Now, THAT’S what I’m talking about!

      After talent, I believe that nothing is a greater precursor to publication than determination. By being so persistent and determined, you’ve upped your chances of success exponentially!


  17. michellezinkbooks permalink*
    April 20, 2010 3:09 pm

    Oh, Sav, let’s not even speak of waistlines. I have come to the unfortunate realization that the more I do the thing that keeps me sane (writing) the bigger my waistline. Hmm… insanity or bigger pants?

    I love the nighttime hours, Laura. In the summer when I don’t have to get up so early with the kids, I slip into a 2am bedtime. Those late night writing sprees are some of my favorites.

    And Nettie, I’m sure you are doing just fine!

    *hugs* to all!

  18. April 20, 2010 12:22 pm

    Full of awe and admiration. Makes me realise I have no reasons to procrastinate, just excuses. Sleep well tonight, Michelle. Nx

  19. April 20, 2010 11:59 am

    Great post!!! I’m glad I’m not the only one who sets aside hours of time in the evening to write. πŸ˜‰

  20. April 20, 2010 11:55 am

    Isn’t it weird how we authors always seem to feel unworthy, and want to prove our worth? I think that desire it was keeps us struggling against all odds. At the very least, there’s usually a correlation, from what I have seen, between being an artist and being “the oddball” in the raising family; perhaps that causes our “outsider” feelings. But who knows? I am not a psychiatrist. These are just guesses. I feel adrift when I’m not actively working on something, too–and my waistline gets the brunt of it. 😦

  21. michellezinkbooks permalink*
    April 20, 2010 11:54 am

    I totally know where you’re coming from, Pam! Most days, I would be mortified if someone actually showed up at my door, and this is from someone who used to OIL my wood furniture once a week.

    Can you say, “Too much time on your hands?”

    Anyway, just do what I do – tell yourself no one but you will notice anyway!


  22. April 20, 2010 11:45 am

    Great blog. I am fighting the my house has to be super clean all the time or I might die demon at the moment. It’s interesting to see how you do it all and I think authors who know how to or are willing to connect with their audience and self promote and social network are sought after and do better in the publishing world. Thanks for the insight into your day.

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