Just because I’m the way I am, I need to start this post with a caveat:
All of these are ideas that work for me, or that I have heard work for other people. I’ll let you know which ones I endorse when I get to the actual essay.
Which leads me to my second caveat:
I am not a world-famous author. I am a mostly-well-reviewed slow-selling indie author. This could always change in the future, but I’m not going to come back here and revise this if my fortunes change. In other words, if I turn into the next Stephen King or Amanda Hocking, that doesn’t really prove that I’m a better or worse writer. Just that I’m a lucky one.
All I’m talking about here is how to carve out more time to write for yourself.
I’m mostly writing this for a couple of friends who’ve asked how I managed to release six ebooks between March and now (December 19, as I type this).
I should start by noting that the count should be eight by the end of the year, as I still intend to release one more novel (Misfits: A Blood Calling Novel) and another non-fiction book (How to Make a Movie) by the end of the month. The books are written, but have stalled in copyediting, which is fiddly and tiresome and no fun, but which is very necessary when it comes to releasing the best book you can.
So, here’s how I did it:
First, I had a pretty deep bench when I started the process. The first thing I released, “Fairy Godmother-In-Law,” was written a few years back for an anthology that didn’t happen. My novel, “Mercy,” was written a couple of years earlier, but never found an agent who wanted to read it. (I had exactly one person offer to read a portion of the manuscript before rejecting it. As I type this, it’s rated at 4 ½ stars on Amazon and over 4 stars on Goodreads).
I also had the first fifty or 100 pages of “Blood Calling,” which was called “The Kids” at the time. “The Werewolf Solution” was in a complete form, but in need of heavy editing, when I started. “How to Make a Movie” is perhaps half new material, and half articles and handouts that I wrote in the past.
The only books that went from 0 pages to complete this year were “Misfits,” “How to Find a Job,” and “Baby Teeth.”
That’s about 465 manuscript pages. Finishing off other partially-completed books adds another 275 pages, for a total of 740 fresh pages this year.
And all of my old manuscripts also got a polish, ranging from cosmetic changes (Fairy Godmother-In-Law) to serious “Why did I release this in this form?” overhauls (“The Werewolf Solution” which, among other problems, had a issues with shifting points of view.)
That’s a lot of throat-clearing before getting to the meat of this post, but I think it’s important throat-clearing. Writing isn’t just writing. It’s going back and making all those little fixes that need fixing, which can be pretty disheartening, when you feel like you’re this close to releasing a book, but part of it just isn’t any good.
But let’s concentrate on the 740 pages for now.
How did I do it?
1. I never really stop writing. By which I mean, if I’m in the middle of creating something (novel, non-fiction book, screenplay, etc.) I spend my day thinking about it. I think about it when I get up. I think about it when I’m eating lunch. If I’m in the middle of doing something that requires my physical presence, but not my brain, I’ll keep mentally shaping and reshaping the scene, or section, or outline that I’m working on.
That way, when I sit down to do the actual typing, that’s pretty much all it is. There might be pauses while I try to remember something that’s key to the scene or character, but for the most part, I’m just putting down the bricks in the order the blueprints tell me to.
2. If I have an important thought, and don’t want to forget it, I’ll write it down on a scrap of paper and stick it in my pocket, or my wallet, or somewhere else that I won’t lose it. Then I take it home and put it on my desk, so I have my “notes” there with me when I’m writing.
There are writers who use notebooks for this, and that’s fine, but I’ve never really been the kind to carry a notebook.
3. A Page a Day: I don’t use this one, but I know people who do. A novel is, of course, generally around 300 pages (though this varies from manuscript to actual book length). So if you write one page her day, you’ll have 365 pages. That’s a novel.
4. Four Words a Day. I don’t use this either, but again, I know people who do. Anyone can, of course, write four words in one day. I don’t think the idea is to complete a novel using this system, since if you’re writing a 90,000 word novel, it’ll take you about 61 years to finish it in this manner. But as long as you’re sitting there, and you have your four words, you’ll probably have some concept of what’s next. So you’ll write a paragraph. Or a scene. Or even a handful of lines. Which is more than you had done when you started.
5. Set a timer for an hour, and don’t do anything else but write for that hour. That’s harder than you think. I’ve tried this, and it works, but it usually starts working during the last two minutes. So if you need to go to bed at that point, because you drive an 18 wheeler, this might not be the best idea.
6. Wait for daylight savings time to fall back, and start getting up an hour earlier than you used to. I can’t remember where I first read this idea, but it seems like a good one. After all, you’re already used to being up at that time, it’s just that everyone else has decided it’s a different time now.
7. Get yourself a laptop. Or a netbook. Or really anything you can carry with you and write wherever you are. When I traveled for work a lot, I bought a laptop and used it on the plane. And in my hotel. And pretty much anywhere I went. The opening of my first movie was written on a trip to New York.
8. Don’t get out of the habit. The reason I generally stop writing is because I stop writing. Which is to say, if I take a week off for whatever reason (holidays, etc.) it’s that much harder to get back to it. So avoid breaks, if you can.
9. That said, sometimes a break helps. I generally have a broad outline, but sometimes I just can’t figure out how the characters are supposed to get from point A to point B. I had that problem with my current novel, so I took a break and went to mind-writing, and tried to figure out where my plot was going wrong (or rather, not going at all). After a few days, I figured out the problem, and I just pounded my way through 3000 words.
10. Set goals, even ridiculous ones. When I was writing “Mercy,” I decided I was going to do 2000 words a day, no matter what. I had some nights I didn’t get much sleep, frankly, because I was at 1800 and just couldn’t go any further. But in the end, I wrote that book in about 50 days. And then rewrote it.
11. And that’s important too. Sometimes you get stuck, and you have to power through and write a bad version and come back and fix it later.
12. Have an outline. This is probably the best advice I can give. When I got stuck in “Mercy,” it was because I couldn’t figure out what happened next. So, before you sit down to write a whole lot of novel, put together a list of high points you want/need to hit, and that will allow you to take your characters from place to place to place.
And that’s a novel. Good luck.