“If only I had the time, I’d write a book, too …” How many times has every author heard that? And smiled. Because … no one ever has enough time.
I wrote my first book (my first mystery – Shadows at the Fair) when I was a single parent working full time (10 hour days and on call the rest,) with four children, one grandchild and an elderly parent at home, and occasionally (very occasionally) trying to have a social life.
But writing fiction was what I wanted to do. What I hoped would be my future. That first book was written late at night, early in the morning, on lunch hours, on scraps of paper during boring meetings, vacations, and in my head, while I was doing everything else. Multi-tasking can include writing. Agatha Christie once said she got her best ideas while washing the dishes. Long baths and driving work for me.
To be sure, I’m lucky now. My children have their own families. I’m married, and I’ve left the corporate world behind. For the first time I have a precious “room of my own.” But life still creeps in through the telephone and mailbox and through email and social networking sites and even through my own body whose aches and pains remind me that exercise is important and hibernation, unfortunately, works for chipmunks and bears — not for writers. Family is still needy sometimes, friends are important, and, if a writer is lucky enough to have readers — they’re important, too.
Research takes months. Marketing books, writing blog entries, keeping mailing lists, making visits to schools, libraries and bookstores and speaking at conferences, eats up writing days and weeks.
The joy is that I’m working for myself: living my dream, not someone else’s. I love every part of an author’s life. My husband does most of our errands and cooking, although since he’s become a serious artist we’ve found our culinary life seriously simplified. And that’s OK. Art and words outlast dinners. In the past couple of years we’ve treated ourselves to the services of a lovely woman who comes every two weeks to give our house what my grandmother would have called “a lick and a promise.” She works miracles with a vacuum cleaner, and forces me to keep the house straightened enough so its needs don’t pull me away from my desk.
I keep reminding myself that an average book is about 375 pages long. If I write one page a day, a book will be finished in a year. Of course, that doesn’t count the research or the 50-60 edits BEFORE anyone else sees it!
So I give myself deadlines. Ten pages, or one chapter, a day. Or maybe 25 pages a week. Whatever is challenging, but not totally impossible. (The most pages I’ve written in one day? 33. Five-ten is more likely.) I revise the pages I wrote the day before. Once or twice a month I print out the manuscript and edit the whole mess in hard copy. I do little “things I forgot to check” research tasks along the way. (Yes, it’s time consuming, but not doing them drives me crazy – and might open up another plot angle.) While I’m writing I make notes to remind myself what should have gone before – and what should come afterward.
I read my chapters out loud to pick up inconsistencies, repeated words, and awkward phrases. I revise. I revise again. Writing is a craft. Like all fine crafts, its mastery takes time.
And, ultimately, we all find time for what is most important to us.