by Donna Andrews
Finding time to write is one of the toughest parts of the business. It’s especially hard for aspiring writers, who don’t have the useful pressure of contract deadlines to keep them on the straight and narrow, and who lack the validation of published books and royalty checks to justify to their family and friends—and sometimes to themselves—the time they spend on writing.
The terminology’s part of the problem. We’re writers right? We believe in the power of words, don’t we? So let’s delete "finding time to write" from our phrase book, and replace it with "making time to write."
Finding time to write implies that it’s there, somewhere, if only we could find it. That luck might have something to do with it ("Oooh! Look! I found a spare half hour!") That maybe someone else has the secret key that would help us locate it. That perhaps, alas, it just isn’t there to be found.
Making time to write, on the other hand, makes it clear that this is work—sometimes the hardest kind of work you have to do in your writing career. That it might require sacrifices. But that accomplishing it is ultimately up to each one of us—and within our power.
In the first few years of my life as an aspiring and then a published writer, people asked me how I found time to write while working full time. "I gave up cooking and cleaning," I replied. People would, inevitably, laugh, and assume I was kidding.
I still remember the time, in the middle of writing "Murder with Peacocks," when my parents’ plane got grounded at Dulles Airport and I had to rescue them and take them home for the night—to my apartment, where there were, quite literally, paths between the piles of stuff, and enough dust to choke a camel. I was mortified that they’d seen my apartment in that state—and remember these were the people who raised me, helped me form my packrat personality, and survived the sight of my wrecked teenage room.
But I didn’t die of the embarrassment. And I was getting my writing done. I finished "Peacocks" and submitted it to the St. Martins contest. And that year, finishing and submitting were my priorities.If you’re not finding time to write, you could try doing what I did: taking a look at your life to see what you can cut out to make the time. Giving up cooking and cleaning was easy for me, because I'd never been that keen on them anyway. But I also cut down on my computer game playing, my reading, my first run movie-going—things I loved, but things I could live without if the price of having them meant that I’d never finish my book. Or things that I learned to do a little less and to use as rewards for finishing my quota.
That’s the other thing I found was essential to my effort to make more time to write. If you cut out everything you enjoy and vow to spend every possible moment writing—that way lies burnout. A more sustainable plan is to figure out how you can carve out some time . . . experiment to see how many words you can reasonably expect to write in the time you can make available . . . and set goals and quotas for yourself.
If I want or need to finish a manuscript by a certain date, I calculate how many words I have to write and how many days I have to do it, and then I know how many words I have to write each day if I’m going to finish my project by the deadline. When I finish each day’s quota, I reward myself—with a book, an hour or two of playing a computer game, a chat with a friend, or maybe just a hot soaking bath. Making time day after day for something where the reward is a long way off gets old very soon. But if every day you have a small but real celebration to honor the fact that you made time for your writing and met your goal for the day, it will help sustain you for the long haul.
So what if you can only find a few hours to write on Sunday afternoon and can only produce, say, five pages a week in that time? Yes, it will take you longer to finish a book—maybe a year or two. But if you keep making that time every week, you will finish—and in the meantime, you’ll have had fifty or sixty or a hundred little victory celebrations to make the journey more enjoyable.
And now I’m going to follow my own advice, and reward myself for finishing this blog entry with a game of Sid Meier’s Pirates (Arg, matey!)
Donna Andrews is the Sisters In Crime Chapter Liaison.