It’s time to talk about time. So far in this series of blogs, I’ve talked about Paying the Price in general, with your family, and with money. If you haven’t read the ones before this one, scan down and read them now.
Time. Any long term professional writer’s eyes just glaze over when a newer writer says to us, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I just can’t seem to find the time.” I can’t even begin to tell you how many thousands of times in the last twenty years that sentence has been said to me, in one way or another. Now understand, normally I’m a pretty nice guy, or at least I pretend to be, so I just nod to the person and say something like, “Yes, that’s the hard part all right.”
There is never any malice from the newer writer in saying this, but if you look at the statement closely, it’s like walking up to a brain surgeon and saying, “I could do your job if I just had the time.” It’s flat insulting, to be honest. It assumes that the only reason I am where I am at is because I had nothing else to do.
So let’s get to a fact. I am a professional fiction writer because I paid the price in time.
With every minute, with every hour, with every day, with every week, with every month, with every year, and with every decade, I paid the price to do this job. I’m where I’m at not because I was talented to start with. I wasn’t. I am here simply because I worked harder than everyone else around me. I spent more time at it than anyone else who started off with me. It really is that simple, and yet that hard.
Now, I can hear the sighs out there. The thoughts. “Oh, where will I find the time? I have a job, I have a family. There is no time.”
Hogwash. There is always time. You just have to want to be a writer bad enough to find the time, and be clear enough in what this business is to understand the time you are using and make the time productive.
So, back to some basics. A writer is a person who writes. (An author is a person who has written, but that’s a topic for another blog.) And it is completely normal for writers at any level to NEVER (and yes, I shouted that) be happy with the amount they are writing. Never seen it happen. So how much writing, how much time spent makes you into a writer?
Depends. Go back and read the goal series of blogs I did in December, look at your own goals, and then decide what you are planning to do this year. Now, as I did in the December blogs, let me do a little math for you to blow up this “If I could only find the time” issue you might have.
A page of fiction writing, for this discussion, in manuscript format, is 250 words. (This blog, at this point is just over 500 words.) Most writers, working hard, can type one page in about 15 minutes. If you do one page per day for 365 days, you will have a 90,000 word novel.
That’s right, you must spend 15 minutes per day writing to do one novel in one year. Now do you understand why professional writers roll their eyes when they are insulted by beginning writers who don’t have enough time? We all know that what the writer is really saying is simply this: “I don’t have the courage to sit down and write and learn. Therefore, I’m going to blame my family, my job, my hobby, and watching Lost this week for my lack of courage and desire to become a writer.”
See why I don’t say things like that out in public to newer writers?
So, for a moment, let’s talk about time in your life by using my life early on to illustrate a few points. Yes, I had day jobs. Actually, I had three jobs if you don’t count going to school or running to Vegas at times to make enough to keep paying for school. I tended bar four nights a week until 2:30 in the morning and five mornings at 5:30 to 8:00 I drove school bus. Five afternoons I drove school bus from 2:30 until about 5:00. And I owned and ran my own bookstore. And I was married to a nurse and student who worked full time while going to school as well.
Yeah, there was lots of time to write in that schedule. Not hardly. But I had decided I was going to be a professional fiction writer, so I looked for the time. I sat in an all-night restaurant for a half hour after getting off work as a bartender to write on a story in a notebook while getting something to eat. I positioned a typewriter up on the desk near the cash register in my bookstore so that when no one was around, I could type in a story. I never went to a movie, I didn’t watch television much at all. I spent every spare minute I had writing.
Now understand something: Not once for those first few years did I ever have an entire day to write (except for my short stint at Clarion). And I would go for weeks and weeks and never have even a complete hour to write. Yet I produced one short story per week and mailed it and kept it in the mail. How? Ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there, five minutes waiting for someone, or something scribbled on a bar napkin in a slow time.
Never once did I say I didn’t have the time.
So some basic help on this problem.
Helpful Hint #1: Right now, stop using time as an excuse to not write. And every time you hear yourself saying that, stop and take it out of your speech. Thinking you have no time is not an excuse.
Helpful Hint #2: Go back to my December posts on goal setting, set your goals, and then come up with some reasonable amount you want to write each day. Many full-time professional writers are happy with four pages a day. One hour per day will get you over three books finished per year. If you take weekends off, you’ll get two books per year done at that pace. (I did all the math in December for you.)
Helpful Hint #3: Look at your normal day, write down each thing you do each day in 15 minute (one page) chunks. You will find a ton of time that is just wasted when you do this. In fact, it will shock you. Say your goal is to write two pages per day, that means you just need to find an extra 30 minutes and not in one chunk.
Helpful Hint #4: Come unattached from a single writing location and a single way to write. In other words, teach yourself to write in notebooks, on your laptop on a bus, waiting in a dentist’s office, and so on. Start telling yourself you can write anywhere at any time on anything. If you think you must only be at your computer with silence and two entire hours ahead of you before you can write, realize you are just making excuses to not write.
Helpful Hint #5: Follow Heinlein’s Rules to the letter.
The truth of this is that you don’t have to quit your day job to be a writer. You don’t have to neglect your family to be a writer. You don’t even have to give up much of anything, to be honest. But you do need to carve the time out of each day and write new words on a story or novel regularly. And you must finish the story or novel and you must mail it and keep it in the mail.
Helpful Hint #6: Take all games, all e-mail, all web sites, all internet connections off of your writing computer. When you sit down with that computer, you are only writing. Computers are cheap these days. Invest in a used laptop for your writing. All you need is a word processing program on it and the ability to take the file off of it and and print it.
Why do this? Simply put, it will make you schedule your writing time and the moment. The 15 minutes you planned on writing won’t get eaten by that Facebook comment, that e-mail, or a giant need to get on Twitter to tell someone what you just ate.
Give the writing a place of importance in your life. Treat writing with importance and those around you, given enough time, will start to respect the writing time and help you find more.
And my last Helpful Hint. Start now. If you wait until you have the time tomorrow, the time won’t come, and then at some point down the road you will find yourself, without meaning to, insulting some professional writer, telling them that you want to be a professional writer if you could only find the time.
15 minutes per day equals 250 words per day equals one novel per year. If you can’t find that amount of time, you really don’t want to be a writer, so either get to work or stop claiming you do.