My brother recently told me about an idea he had for a book, then said, “It’s hard to set time to write with the kids,” as a justification for why he wasn’t in writing his book. This is a common excuse by people who want to write, among other excuses such as “I have so many other things to do.” etc. etc. Yet we always seem to find time to vegetate in front of the TV for the latest episode of Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, or whatever else is in the entertainment zeitgeist. Stephen King wrote his first book in the laundry room of his house. Jack Kerouac would write at night and drunk. Being a single mother didn’t stop J. K. Rowling from writing Harry Potter. Yet children stop people like my brother from placing word on page.
There are plenty of methods to get your writing done, the key is to find the one that works for you. Look at what others do, because maybe that will work for you, but if it doesn’t, don’t let it be discouraging. Just because it worked for that person doesn’t mean it will work for you. Keep trying different things until you find the one that works for you.
Celeste De Blasis was a romance writer who didn’t write her first novel until after she was diagnosed with Lupus. After the diagnosis, she realized that her life had limits, and she prioritized what she wanted to be over what she was. She still worked at a regular job, but reset her priorities for the rest of the time to finish that first novel. She ended up publishing 8 novels in 16 years before her death.
My biggest time suck is television and I know it. That is one reason I don’t write from home as I am more drawn to sitting in front of the TV watching mindless entertainment than in front of a screen creating prose. Instead, I arrange my day outside of the home around the priorities of writing, such as doing it in the morning when I get to work but before starting the workday, or instead of coming home straight after work, I will go to a coffee shop and sit down to put words to page.
Have a Support Structure
A new writer is already full of self-doubt and discouragement so don’t surround yourself with people who contribute to that. It is easy to be discouraging and not have faith that you will complete something, so stay away from the people who say, “good for you” in a condescending way. Friends and extended family can be skeptical when they hear you are working on a story or novel. If they are, keep them out of the loop.
If you have a supportive spouse or children, they will give you that needed time to write without interruption. Just be sure to set those boundaries and let them know that when you are not writing, you will spend quality time with them.
Derek Sivers spoke at a TED Talk about not letting people know what goals you have set for yourself, because when you tell people you are going to do something, it will make it less likely to happen — that you have somehow tricked your mind into thinking, in a way, that it is already done. So, for you maybe it is better to keep your goal of completing a novel to yourself. Yet others might say that you should tell people but only tell people that will hold you to those goals, that by telling someone it will motivate you to complete it.
In my case, I have a supportive girlfriend who will usually leave me alone when I request it. When on vacation, she will leave me in the room for a while to be alone and focus on completing a paragraph or two. She is also an excellent source of feedback when I let her read the content, informing me of what works, what doesn’t, and pointing out various grammatical errors I am prone to making due to the way I jump around when I write.
Set Minimum Limits
Some writers will set a limit for each writing session as to the minimum of what they will do before finishing. For me, I set a minimum of 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Usually, I write longer, but I never write less. I’ve never written for more than a few hours in a single day, but some might write up to 8 or 9 hours in a stretch. Others might say, they will write a minimum of two thousand words or at least two paragraphs. The point is writing, even if it is just a little at a time. If you don’t do it, that manuscript will never be complete.
I was part of a writing group and we would meet at a bar in the lobby of a hotel. We would meet, sit down, do our introductions, then write. No reading each other’s writing, that was a separate group. They dedicated this one to forcing people to write. I found this useful as it removed distractions that I would have at home such as TV, video games, noticing items in the house that need cleaning, and a girlfriend who would wilt without attention. But at a coffee shop or quiet bar, I could tune out what was happening around me and write. At one meeting, a person showed up and complained about the noise and that she couldn’t write in an environment like that. She never returned, preferring to write at home in silence because that is what works for her.
I’m sure you have heard the story. The author who would wake up early in the morning and write for a few hours before the kids woke to complete that fantastic novel that made them famous. For me, I’m not a morning person. Even when I get up early, my brain hasn’t woken up enough to put two sentences together, let along create descriptive prose for readers to enjoy. But that is me, and for you, it might work great.
An author might book a cabin or other isolated place to finish a book, removing distractions such as the family, friends, and access to the internet. I tried booking a cheap hotel room to get away from all distractions, and truthfully it worked well. But the cost of a hotel room or cabin in the woods is cost-prohibitive for small-time authors such as me. If you can afford a remote location such as a cabin to do some writing and are not worried about a crazed fan tracking you down “Misery” style it might be worth trying. Jack Kerouac famously wrote the first draft of “On the Road” in three weeks with a bunch of paper taped together into a single scroll. He also had notebooks of the story in the room with him he had been filling over years prior.
I recently read a book on LinkedIn marketing and the author wrote the book while on vacation with his family. His method to remove distractions was to wake up at 5:00 in the morning before everyone else and write. Kudos to him because he did what he needed to do to achieve his goal of completing the book and removing distractions from his life that would prevent him from doing that.
It makes sense to me how Hemingway and other great writers could get such great novels written in an era without Facebook, email, television, and living in a world of constant interruption by people expecting immediate responses. But, the flip side of that is they had to do it with pen and paper and old typewriters. And if something got damaged, they didn’t have a digital backup.
Create a Routine
For me, I like to write in the late morning just before lunch. My system is to go through email and other must-do work items first when I arrive at work, and by then I have had my tea and my brain has woken up enough to do some writing. This works for me because I control my schedule. For the days I am booked during my preferred writing time, I will often write in the evening after work but before going home. By taking a small laptop to a coffee shop or some other location, I can tune out the world around me and do a little writing.
We have instant grammar checkers, online forums for writing feedback, and laptop computers. I am a big fan of OneNote. I can create to-do lists, different sections, tabs and pages that can be easily rearranged as I move chapters around, and most importantly, it saves automatically so I don’t have to worry about Word or something similar crashing and losing what I just wrote. Do you have a long commute in the car? Maybe instead of mindlessly listening to a podcast take a digital recorder and record your book. Don’t worry about looking silly, anyone who sees you will assume you are on the phone with someone. That’s the nice thing about the modern world. You can then take that recording and use an app to transcribe it to get your first draft done.
At the End of The Day
It is useful to look at accomplished writers and ask what makes them successful at completing their goal of writing. There are things that most writers can agree on, specifically the need for a routine. Once they develop a system that works for them such as word counts, locations, etcetera, they will often stick with that routine. The goal is to find what works for you and whatever type of writing project you are working on. Once you have found a system stay focused to complete your project.
Note: This article was cross-published at milodenison.com