Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Finding Time To Write When You Have a Full-Time Job

It's a question that comes up often. How do you find time to write a book? When do you do write? Are there two Johnnys?  

It's never easy. At times, I've maintained a self-inflicted chapter-a-week deadline. Other times, I hit a block. I was just too exhausted from producing my news articles or life simply gets in the way (like a sick relative.) I just do my best. If I find that I'm stuck, I go hiking or running or I do something I really enjoy and then inspiration strikes and I'm ready to write again even if for a few minutes. That's all it takes. And before I know it over a few months, I have a rough draft completed.  I always surprise myself. Did I really do this? Write a book. Five in eight years! 

I think we all have a story to tell and there's a book  in everyone whether you want to have it published or not. It just takes dedication, self-discipline, and focus.  Here are some tips that I've presented at writing and journalism conferences over the years  on finding the time to write and finishing a book.

You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. It’s that simple. But you also have to make time to do it. There are no short-cuts. Some writers prefer to write once they get up, as a warm-up for an hour or so. Other writers prefer to write at night, at the end of the day, letting the words flow on paper or their keyboards. Some of us like to scribble notes and paragraphs down on a pad during our lunch break. You have the time, you just have to prioritize. If you squirrel away blocks of time, an hour here, half hour there each week, you’ll start building up your short-story or novel. Give yourself a block of time with no interruptions. No cell phone. No TV. No Internet access. Just write, free-flowing. If you give yourself an hour, treat yourself at the end of that hour by turning on the TV or eating a cookie or something sweet like a Three Musketeers or a small Frosty from Wendy's (that’s what I do and that's probably why I run so much!) But then go back and give yourself another hour. You’ll be surprised as to how much writing gets done and how fast the time passes. A few years ago, I asked Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory how he found time to write his series of crime novels in the last 10 years. He said he'd carve out eight-hours on Saturdays or Sundays to write. It took him about eight months to a year to finish one book. It's different for everyone.  I take advantage of whatever time I can find even half-an-hour.

Once you make the time, write about something you know, something you are passionate about, something important to you, an experience you want to share. If you don’t enjoy what you are writing about, chances are, you won’t want to write. You have to be excited about the topic or it won’t work. You won't seeing me write about nuclear scientists or engineers. I don't know anything about those careers but I sure do know a lot about being a journalist, a teacher, a Bostonian and a Miamian and hanging out in Providence.

Some writers try to write 2,000 word chapters, which is a super long newspaper features story today or used to be. Don’t worry about the editing at first. Just write stream of consciousness. Once you have some paragraphs, a few pages or 2,000 words, walk away from the copy. Come back the next day or the next time you write and rewrite it. Let the creativity guide you. Some writers try to write once a week. If you estimate you can write a chapter a week, within six to nine months, you should have a book done. You can’t run a marathon in one night (okay, maybe some people can.) Most people need to train, mile by mile. Think of each chapter or story as a mile. With patience and discipline, those chapters/stories will grow into a connective thread, a book. You’ll be doing your own literary marathon. You have it in you to get it done.

A lot of writers are armed with notepads to jot down ideas or phrases. Some of us, ahem, even eavesdrop on conversations at our local coffee shop to hear different kinds of dialogue. You never know when an idea for a scene or story might come so having a notepad or a notebook with you is a good idea to take notes or simply take notes on your smartphone by sending yourself text messages.  (If you see me at Barnes and Nobles in Braintree or Coral Gables scribbling on a notepad and yet I’m leaning a little too close to the other table, you’ll know what I am doing.)

The key thing is you must enjoy the process because writing is a solitary endeavor. No one can do it for you. It’s you and your computer so get comfortable. To create characters and sit down on your keyboard until your butt is asleep should be fun, fun, fun whether you are published or not. If you don’t get any joy from it, then why do it? Making it fun gets the job done.

And one more thing, enough reading. Go and write!

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