No Time To Write—And Yet I Continue To Write

These days I have no time to write—and yet somehow I keep on writing. Between long hours working, handling a complicated estate, and the dramas of family life, I’m finding virtually no time to sit in front of the computer and type out work. And yet somehow I end up being productive. Maybe being busy is the best medicine for getting things done.

How can this be?

People always tell me that they could never write a book. That it is too long and daunting a task. That they have no time to write a three hundred and fifty page novel with complex ideas and a consistent theme. I can somewhat understand their apprehension. Writing a novel is a long and daunting task. It does take time. But it is a hard process in different ways than many think.

People’s assumption about the grueling process are wrong, in my estimation. At least the way I write. I don’t regularly sit for ten hours a day writing. In fact, during the first draft, I usually write my 1300 words in an hour of so. Sometimes faster if I’m on a roll. I know you’re asking, where did I pick the random number of 1300 words a day? The number just developed in my head throughout the many years of my writing.

To be honest, I do write the first draft lightning fast. It’s the best process for me. I come up with an idea and then develop it as I write the book, changing things when the characters whisper to me to go in a different direction. I view my initial blueprint like directional poles that I can pull up out of the ground if I feel the plot is going in a different path. A writer must be adaptable, flexible and willing to listen one’s characters’ voices. Fitting a square peg in a round hole never worked for me, as far as rigid outlines go. So I guess you could say I’m in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to being a pantser or plotter.

The faster I write, the better I stay focused and into the plot. When I take a week off from writing, I find myself lost. I have to go back to the beginning chapter to see where I am. Themes stay consistent when I write every day. The characters never leave my mind. Voices stay unique. The flow of the plot moves with lightning speed when I write fast and often. And I hate leaving my story during this phase, because I am often curious to know what will happen next, as if I am also a reader and not just the master and commander of the story.

I view my word tally like earning money. The more I write that day, the more words/money I can deposit it my literary bank. If I know I have a weekend where I cannot write, I write extra and bank the words into my account so I don’t fall behind. Having a certain amount in my bank each week is an absolute requirement for me during this initial phase, and if I don’t have it my account, I have to work harder to catch up. I view myself like a worker trying to get as much overtime pay as I can, greedily earning as much as possible before the OT runs out. Writing that fast, on the first draft, I usually have a working manuscript in one or two months. And all that time I had only written maybe an hour a day.

Now that I have a working manuscript in two months, it’s time to edit. It may not be the best manuscript, but at least I have something I can work with. This requires an hour a day reworking sentences and developing plot themes and subplots. I love editing, so the work comes easy to me. I edit while watching TV or listening to the radio in my free time. Again, an hour a day, usually. Sometimes longer if I’m really enjoying myself. And I do all this around my hectic schedule, knowing if I don’t do it in my free time the work will not get done.

In six months I have a finished novel to submit.

I love writing, but it’s hard in ways non-writers don’t understand. It’s a heartbreaking and often painful endeavor. It’s like continually beating one’s head against the wall. While I’ve done pretty decently financially at this, it’s not something one does to get rich. Many times I’ve wanted to quit. Many many times. Often I wish there was an AA meeting for writers like me to attend. Because writing, in my case, is like having an addiction, albeit healthy one. I keep going back to it for some crazy reason, even if I don’t want to. It’s selfish. Egotistical. Isolating as hell. Hard on the back and hands, as my carpal tunnel can attest to. And yet it gives my life a certain richness and purpose. It completes me in ways I can’t describe. I dream with purpose. On the other hand, being a writer continually eats away at my soul: rejection, bad reviews, the monastical life—then having to be an amazing public speaker after months of talking to yourself and dealing with your multiple personality disorder.

Oddly, I hate speaking in front of a crowd about my book. I can happily speak about anything else, but not my book. Why? How do you talk about a thriller novel, a book with many twists and turns, without giving away the plot? There was one of my books where the mere mention of the plot gave away the huge twist midway through. I’d rather talk about music or my favorite pizzas. History. Sports. I wish authors could be like musicians and play our books onstage like music, entertaining without ruining the very nature of the art. And reading a passage seems silly to me. The act of reading a novel is subversive and a profoundly private experience. It loses steam when spoken out loud in front of a crowd.

And getting published today is getting harder and harder. The pandemic made it punishing. I had a hardcover novel set to publish in April of 2020 and then everything shut down and the COVID killed my book. Now there is a paper shortage and books are getting pushed back. In fact, my publisher asked if any of their authors wanted to delay the publication of their book. Since the first of my thrillers comes out in the summer of 2023, it didn’t affect me.

The point is, writing the novel is an incremental process that you can do every day if you allot a small part of the day to it. It’s like becoming a millionaire; you invest a little every year and let your wealth build. Like Einstein said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.”

So if you want to write that book you have stuck in your head, don’t look at the whole. It’s too daunting. Break it down into its parts and do a little writing each day. You’ll be surprised what you come up with in a year’s time. But be prepared to become an addict.

As for quitting writing, I’m not sure I could ever do it. Maybe one day I’ll conquer this addiction of mine. Maybe not. Through all the ups and downs, on the whole I think it has enriched my life. We’ll see if that continues going forward. Yeah, we’ll see. It might take the Grim Reaper to cure what ails me me.

About joesouza

I am a writer of crime novels
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6 Responses to No Time To Write—And Yet I Continue To Write

  1. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    Let’s home the Grim Reaper stays far, far away for a long, long time. I used to write much faster, but find it’s slow-going lately. I could blame the state of the world, but I think it’s just me. 😉

  2. David Plimpton says:

    Speaking as an 81 year old who has written an unpublished novel and a number of published short stories, there are many challenges to creative writing at this age. I’m not complaining, but they are good to keep in mind as time marches on for all of us:
    1. Lack of focus and motivation which comes with aging (time for more mindfulness work?)
    2. More competition in getting published. Many venues tell me they receive hundreds or thousands of submissions for every piece published.
    3. Practical need for a literary agent, which is another competitive endeavor
    4. A fee to submit, so how many submissions can you afford?
    5. Long response time by venue due in part to staffing limitations and # of submissions.
    6. Negative impact of pandemic on publishing?
    Thanks, Joe, for this post and the food for thought.

  3. jselbo says:

    Great read. Literary bank – like that a lot. You may have put your finger on why I don’t look forward to a writer (or anyone) reading a passage from a book out loud. It’s so daunting finding a passage that makes sense without set up and explanation.

  4. Frank O Smith says:

    Great piece, Joe. Sage wisdom hard earned.

  5. Really enjoyed this, Joe. A lot of wisdom and good advice. There was something in a story my kids liked years ago…maybe it was a poem…about how to eat a whale. One bite at a time. Same with writing. The whole is daunting, but taken piece by piece? That can be accomplished. Of course, it takes me a lot more hours to write my daily 1-2 thousand words. I do love to watch the plot evolve. And if it feels boring to me, it will feel boring to a reader…so that forces me, even in first draft, to go back and revise the scenes.

    Do you dream your story and wake up with ideas or scenes?


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