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January 26th, 2012

How do you find the time to write?

How do I wedge some writing into my busy schedule of knitting and watching Downton Abbey? (Which is what I did today. Watching British TV actually counts as research, if you write British historicals.  So is reading romance novels, It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.)

It helps that it is now my job.  The pressure of contracts, bills and deadlines keeps me on track.  I get up and go to work every day, just as if I had a ‘real job’.

But how did I find time to write when I was working on a stack of unsold and unsale-able manuscripts and had no deadlines but the ones I set for myself?

I wanted to.  So I did it.  There is a little bit more to it than that.  But not much.

This is probably a strategy from Jenny Crusie, since I was following her around the internet, back in the early days, trying to pry as much advice out of her as I could. I’ve personalized it a bit, of course.  But she deserves the credit.

First make a list of all the top 5 things you really care about.

I’ll give you a hint.  There should probably be some people on this list.  Or maybe some animals. Things that are going to die if you don’t take care of them are actually more important than writing a book.

Until “Writing a book” is in the top five, you will probably not do it.

If you can’t get it into the top 5?  That’s OK.  It’s proof that you are busy, and that your life is full.  Some things, like small children, will not be on that list forever.  You’ve got to grab that time while you can.  The book will wait.

But it is possible to write while having small children.  I decided to become a writer in 1999, when my youngest was six.  I sold in 2005.  I never said it was fast or easy.  Just possible.

But suppose you still want to start a novel this year?  And writing is in your top five, and really important to you.  But your life is insane?

Make a list of five things that are part of your life right now, that you really hate.  Stuff that is sucking energy and money, wasting time, and making you miserable.  If it helps, calculate the actual cost of those things, in money and time.

Now dump them.

Your children will not become delinquents if you buy brownies at the bakery.  You do not have to be the chairman of every committee.  If you are involved in an activity that will collapse if you aren’t there?  Then congratulations!  You are the captain of the Titanic. It is not going to end well for you.  Get out now.  Run for your life.  I mean it.  Even if you aren’t writing a book.  Make some excuse and pass the buck.  Delegate.  Get out from under.

Because to be a writer, sometimes you have to seem like a selfish bitch.  Quit something on your bottom five.  Quit a couple of somethings. Teach the kids to cook.  Lower your standards.  Use that time and energy to write.  Because while you can farm out things like housework, you have to write the book all by yourself.

I’d already given up on a lot of things before even starting.  Never was much of a cook or housekeeper.  Also not all that good at holding a full time, demanding job.  So what was on my bottom five?

I gave up giving a damn about what people thought.  For example, my first plan was not to get published until anyone who might be shocked, embarrassed or offended was dead.  Over a decade later, everyone is still alive, despite the fact that I wrote “Seducing a Stranger” and “Virgin Unwrapped”.  The world did not end.

It took some time to work up the nerve to get out of my own way.  Of course, I got my ears pierced in teenage rebellion the year I turned forty.  My father told me not to.  So I didn’t.

And then, one day, I noticed I was heading into middle age.  I was at the hair dresser, admitting that I was ‘going to do that one of these days…’

And he told me that they pierced ears, got the girl with the piercing gun, and BAM, BAM.  Then she gave me a jaded look and told me that since I had been good, I could go next door to Baskin Robbins and get an ice cream, just like all the other little girls who came into to get pierced ears.

So sue me. I’m a slow starter.  But I get the job done.

So write a book.  And then buy yourself an ice cream.