If you are like most beginning writers, you probably have a job. Something that brings you money, maybe a lot of money or just enough to keep you going. However, regardless of your job, your dream is to write, publish, and maybe one day be able to quit that job and replace your income with royalties. Good thoughts, shared by many, but not as easy as you might think.
The truth is that even the best writers need practice, just like every athlete and every musician need to exercise a lot to maintain their level. Writing is an art and just like any art, it needs work. You may have an inherent talent and that’s great, but you become excellent through practice. After all, our brain is the most complex part of our organism, so it’s not difficult to see why it needs practice.
And that is where the two worlds usually clash. You must divide yourself between your job, family and your writing. Unfortunately, the latter will always suffer. Your job needs you. After all, those reports will not write themselves, and you can’t loose your job–how will you live? Your family needs you. You will not tell your wife, mother or children that you don’t have time for them. They don’t see you the whole week, will you ditch them during the weekend too? How’s that fair?
Let’s not panic, I feel you are getting there… There is a simple answer to this conundrum and it’s called: divide et impera, or divide and rule. If you take your life as a whole and try to back out like a fast movie camera and pan left to right over it, you will be overwhelmed with its vastness and complexity. But once you start breaking it down into smaller pieces, you will soon learn how to rule those parts, and when you put them back together into the puzzle, now you have a structure you can work with.
As a writer, this is exactly what I want you to do. I want you to divide your life into small pieces and ‘conquer’ them. We will start with a day.
Depending on your job and situation, your day may look different, but for the purposes of this explanation we will assume that you have a 9-5 job, you wake up at around 6:30 to get ready and return home around 7:30. Then late at night you go to bed at around 11:30PM.
Morning Brain Exercise
Beginning tomorrow you will start waking up 15 minutes earlier. I promise you that 15 minutes will not alter your behavior or get you more tired during the day. So, you wake up 15 minutes earlier, you get out of your bed and you go straight to your writing place. Don’t turn the radio or TV on, don’t look at the newspaper and by all mighty Gods in the Universe, do not, I repeat, do not check your email! Simply open up your favorite writing tool (which, by the way, can very well be a pen and paper) and start writing. You will write for 10 minutes without stop. Once you finished, read your work out loud (or whispered) and make short notes. That should only take you 5 minutes.
What does this do for you? It will fire up your brain. Over night our mind works in the background. Sometimes we get a peek by having a vivid dream or deja vu sympthoms the next day, but most of the time it’s just working on it’s own. Your goal is to resurrect those thoughts from the depth and bring them to your fingers and onto the paper. This repeated exercise will do wonders for your idea factory and will help improve your style, voice and craft in general.
Writing During Commute
This obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but it does apply to some. For example, I commute via bus and I have 30-45 minutes every day, each way. So, I can use those precious minutes to improve my writing. All you need is a portable writing device, and I highly recommend it, because it is not that easy to write with a pen and paper on a bus or train. Get yourself a cheap and simple writing device, something that works for you. I have a Neo Alphasmart.
In this situation you have a few options, but I will start with the one that I prefer. Remember that all fiction and all your ideas are somehow, in their basic form, driven from reality. No matter how twisted and fantastic your writing is, it still comes from your life experience in this world. So, one important skill that you must develop is the ability to take things from real life and put them in your fiction.
When you commute you are outside or otherwise surrounded by other people. Look around and pick something. May it be a building, a field, a car, a person, anything that your eyes stop over in the first 3-5 minutes. Start writing a scene about that. Use that item as your central point, it will give you something to write around. That sort of hook is very powerful because it allows your brain to hang on to something and then develop a story around it.
You don’t have a lot of time so start writing. Again, you don’t have to edit your work or agonize over every word. Your goal here is to push your imagination to take reality and make it into powerful fiction. So just write as fast as you can.
If you cannot write during your commute because you are driving our it’s too short and you can never get a seat, you this time wisely to improve your craft by reading or listening to audio books on writing craft. So far I bought and read about 100 books and I still enjoy any new one that falls in my hands. They’re a great resource and the more you read the more those words will get fixated in your brain and drive your craft toward excellency.
Writing At Work
Again, this depends a lot on your own environment, but pretty much every job has a lunch break. Most people mingle with their co-workers, go outside to take a walk, read the news, watch the scores, or check their personal email. Forget all of those. If you have a precious hour in the middle of your work day, use it wisely.
The way I like to use my half an hour of lunch is by creating what I call a “job novel.” It’s basically a main idea for a book, nothing too fancy, nothing ground-breaking, since that is not the focus. What I want to do is get used to continuity. It’s fun and nice to keep writing new random scenes, but it is a different skill to learn continuity. So, I pick a subject and decide how long it would be. Let’s say a murder mystery on 100 pages. Then I write as much as I can each day during my lunch hour, making sure that I stop when a scene or chapter is over.
Unfortunately you will find that this is not always possible because of the unpredictable character of general jobs. What you need to do is write as much as you can in that time, BUT, and that’s a big but: do not jeopardize your job. If it is not possible for you to use your lunch hour to write, just don’t do it. Remember, you cannot steal corporate time and use it for personal things. That is a privilege that belongs exclusively to your boss…
Evening Writing – The Main Event
So during the day you’ve been pumping your brain. You started in the morning, during your commute and, if possible, during your free time at work. Now you are home and you can dedicate some time to your larger project. A larger project is a novel, a series of short stories, anything that you want to finish and aim to publish one day.
Ideally you should be able to allocate one hour or as much as you need to write 2000 words. If your life situation doesn’t allow, try to shoot at least for 30 minutes and 1000 words. If possible do it when you feel the most comfortable and less pressured. If you need to put your kids to sleep in one hour, maybe it’s best you do your writing right after. If you have a tradition of dinner in the family, don’t break it, work around it. The goal here is for you to find the best time to allocate to your writing.
Writer’s Weekends and Holidays
You may think that you have a lot of free time during the weekend, but as we all know, that’s not true. You try to cram one million things in your weekend and you wake up Saturday morning, you blink and it’s Sunday night. So you need to divide and conquer the weekends as well.
I think that a reasonable time to allocate during a weekend day would be 3 hours. My guess is that you can do an hour early morning, one in the afternoon and one at night. You can also do them all three in one shot. I actually prefer it that way. Whatever works for you, but make sure you allocate those hours and you stick to that plan.
Putting it all together
So, we got a workday with 10 minutes of brainstorming, 30 to 60 of putting reality into fiction, about 30 minutes of story-telling, and one hour of working on your main project. In a weekend day we got 6 hours of working on your project. Let’s bring it forward (some items are rounded down to account for diminished productivity):
|| 10 min.
||1 hr. / 2000 w.
||6 hr. / 6000 w.
|| 50 min.
||7 hr. / 8000 w.
|| 3 hr.
||30 hr. / 30,000 w.
|| 40 hr.
||360 hr. / 350,000 w.
Of course, these are just calculated numbers. They don’t take into account vacation, time off, etc. They are ideal numbers obtained mathematically. The point is, that if you were to stick to this strong regimen during one entire year, you should be able to write not one book, but three!
But let’s make it more realistic. Let’s call 200,000 words for the year, with the rest being left for self-editing. But still, with this method of dividing your time, you should still be able to put at least two complete manuscripts out in one year.
Even in a worst case scenario where you can only allocate half of that, you should still be able to produce one complete manuscript in one year.
Tracking Your Writing
Tracking is paramount, without it you will lose track of your progress and you won’t know where you stand. It keeps you focused and it helps you achieve your goals. First of, let me say this: daily goals are difficult, you should aim for weekly goals. That means that if one day you cannot do the 10 minutes of brainstorming, maybe you can catch-up during the weekend. Either way, you must achieve your weekly quotas.
So, open an excel or use a notebook and draw a table like the one above. Under the period put the date for each day and fill in that row with minutes and words. After each Sunday make a subtotal for the week. After each month-end make a subtotal for the month. Very soon you will start feeling proud of the table getting longer and longer and those total number of words climbing up.
You CAN Do It!
As you can see the writing process for a busy person with a job is definitely not easy but absolutely doable. It takes a lot of concentration, will power and ability to be in control of your life. This routine will actually help not only your writing skills but will also help you with your time management in general. It will teach you how to be realistic with your time, how to reduce the amount of time spent on unnecessary things and allocate more time to what is important to you.
But most importantly, the continuous alternation between brainstorming, story telling, adapting reality, continuing a story line, and working on a large project, will tickle your brain from all sides and will drive your imagination and writing craft.
One mistake that beginning writers do, and I am very guilty of that sometimes, is to think that if they managed to write a good page, scene or chapter, it means that they are now accomplished as writers and they can duplicate that result any time. Wrong. You need practice, you need will power, and most of all you need to be realistic with your self and with your time. Keep your perseverance up and on track and you will succeed!
Now, go back to writing!!
Short or Long, One or Many?