Happy Star Wars Day! May the fourth be with you.
Making no comment whatsoever about the gender bias in this bloghop’s title… Just kidding, Sharon Bayliss said Papas are welcome, too. Plus it’s a great idea. How do authors juggle a family with their writing? In my case, as with many others, it also includes a day job in the mix.
At a book signing, Terry Brooks told me, “You write because you have to. If you don’t have to, do something else.” For me, writing is meditation. It’s the only time my attention-deficit brain focuses like a laser and gives me some relief from the myriad stresses pulling me in so many directions. So I must write. Unfortunately, the only time-machines I have access to are in my stories. So here are my tips for carving out a few precious hours when you’re used to being “on” twenty-five hours a day.
First, take writing seriously. For decades I dabbled in writing. I put some words down here or there, sprinting through a book occasionally. I didn’t know how to edit, so I slowly amassed a dozen books over the course of twenty years, most of which weren’t good enough to show anybody. Eventually, I realized I needed to take it serious. It was important to me, not just as an occasional diversion. So I began reading books on how to write, talking to friends about it, and attending writers conferences when I could. Learning the skills is the minimum.
Second, prioritize. Don’t just prioritize what you want to write, prioritize your whole life. Despite feeling busy all the time, I knew there were plenty of other distractions in my life. Everybody has some down time. I watched television and movies, played games, and painted models. I left the priorities in place. Job and family had to come first, but video games certainly didn’t. I haven’t painted a single model since. (Although, when I become a full-time writer, I plan to pick that up as my “break” from writing as my day job.) Also, I realized I had to read less. As much as I loved books, reading took too much time.
Third, experiment with writing times and places. Humans are supremely adaptable. We can live in arctic tundra or steaming jungles. We can sleep odd hours, eat strange foods, and find ways to feel alone among teeming hordes. If you have a job and family, you probably don’t have the luxury of blocking out nice four hour chunks of time when you are rested and feeling creative. Such extravagance is reserved for people who have somebody else supporting them. Don’t despair, though. Hard working parents have a kind of mental energy and drive the pampered artists can’t channel. So I recommend looking at your life and finding time, regardless of when or where, when you can snatch part of an hour. Lunch break? On the bus? After the kids go to bed? In the morning before they are up? Don’t just try it once and think, “I’m too tired, it doesn’t work.” Force it to happen for a few weeks. Give your mind time to adapt. Once you train it to know when the time for writing is coming, it will step up to the plate and deliver. I know somebody who wrote a whole novel during his lunch hour at work. For me personally, I discovered I write best in the morning when everybody else is still asleep. So I get up early on Saturdays, holidays, and vacations to bash out a couple thousand words. If I plan for it during the week, my limited writing time is remarkably efficient and productive.
Fourth, stay off social media. Maybe I should say STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA! Do not check e-mails. Do not go on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else. Don’t check it first before you write. Don’t peek while writing. You can do that when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, but you can’t write in line at the grocery store. (Maybe you can, I’ve never tried. I assume it’s possible.)
Fifth, get your family on board. Talk to them about your adventures. Get their ideas. Share your heartbreaks and successes. When you meet your goals, celebrate with them. Hopefully, they will see a benefit to helping you and ease up on your stresses when you write.
Finally, don’t stop writing after your first book. You wrote one! Yeah! Have a party! Send it to friends and family and a critique group. Do NOT stop. There are no one-book-wonders in the writing world, not really. If you are going to be a published author, you will need to write more than one book. Don’t get out of the habit. Don’t lose your writing time. Take a small break. Think of a new story. Then get yourself two chapters into the next book. It took me a dozen books to get published. If you take a long break after book one, it can easily become the only book you ever wrote.
The journey is worth it. Good luck!
(If you want more authors’ ideas on how to write with kids and/or a job, see the rest of the Writer Mama #Bloghop. I know I could use some new ideas.)