Rather than write a monster blog post, I’m breaking this up into three pieces:
2. Part 2 – Finding the Time – This post!
I’m incredibly adept at dropping everything to help a friend, even a stranger. There was very little in my life that I wasn’t willing to put aside, to help someone. A friend have a startup that needed some technical advise and assistance? I’m there. Moving? I’ll see if I can rearrange my schedule.
What I was terrible at, what had built up to the point of being a phobia, was not being able to complete any project that I came up with. I had a graveyard of apps, all somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 done, I had a small country’s worth of short-stories that should have, could have, been submitted somewhere.
I knew I had to tackle this fear, because I believed I had to break my thinking that my projects weren’t worthwhile. That was when I started writing my memoir.
After going attacking my imposter/fraud syndrome head-on and mentally rebuilding myself for a couple of years, one day I found myself having appendix surgery and everything changed. 13 months into what would be 15 months of horrific pain later, I started that memoir.
I’d taken my daughter to soccer practice, and while she ran around, I started pecking out this idea. It was the beginning of carving out my me time.
Soccer practice, became writing whenever I took my daughter to dance classes, but when those ended in May that year, I was at a bit of a loss.
After a couple of weeks, I felt adrift and wondered if this writing thing was just going to collapse. I turned to my wife and said that I would really like to be able to go off and write a little bit, each week.
Now to understand how that felt to me, that felt like I was asking my wife for permission to have an affair. TOTALLY BLOWN out of proportion but it felt so intensely selfish. I wasn’t used to putting myself first, other than maybe health-wise and that was because I had no choice.
She gave me that “You’re a lovable idiot” look, and I started a Saturday ritual that I’m still doing today a couple of years later.
Sometimes for one reason or another, I can’t get to the coffee-shop for that hour and a half, but I make sure I get back to it. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m going to work on, but I go. I get writing done, and my wife gets a husband who is happier, centered and ready to take on the world. A world often overrun by 3 young kids who want everything now, and if I’m not watching, will pile chairs up, secured by ropes to the fridge door and what not, to get at the jelly beans on a top cabinet shelf.
By the time my wife and I had that meeting I mentioned in part one, on November 28th, I had been doing that bit by bit for three and a half years. Sometimes I’d take some time in the evening, but I wasn’t fanatical about it.
From that meeting I decided to try and write two books in 2014, one fiction and one non-fiction. I got myself all organized with a real piece of author-centric software called Storyist (I’d later switch to Scrivener), and started … doing very little.
I felt like the ignition just wouldn’t turn over. I wasn’t really having fun. I started doubting myself. Then my daughter asked me SINCE I wasn’t writing either of those books, could I please write The Hoods, a silly story I told her some nights before going to bed. Imagine the tale of the poor little wolf being terrorized by three pigs, and saved by a little blue riding hood (Cinderella) who with the help of little red riding hood, brought Forest Justice for all. For those of you familiar with Along Came a Wolf – Book 1 of The Yellow Hoods, I’m sure you see the similarities.
I decided that I wasn’t going to push that off any longer, and so I started writing. Every night I’d read to her what I wrote the night before. I found myself writing almost every evening, even if it was only for an hour. I saw my word count go from 6k to 9k to 15k to 20k, and I started to wonder just where it was going. It settled around 30k.
I’ll skip over the whole process of going from draft to the booth at CalgaryExpo’14 where we launched (read about that here).
The big thing that I discovered about myself was that I could write in the evenings, and edit in the evenings, that I wanted to. That I found myself able to focus on getting that Damn Book Done and wanted it more than (almost) anything in the world.
When I held the printed proof in my hands, I realized that finally I had defeated the fear that I just couldn’t bring an idea of mine to life. It didn’t matter at that point if I only sold 1 copy to a stranger, or ten thousand, it was real. The reviews from people after were just icing on the cake, and meeting the mayor of Calgary, a fun thing along the way.
From a time perspective, I now saw how valuable every spare hour or half hour or fifteen minute window was. If I wasn’t using it to further my author career, I needed to make sure that it went somewhere of value so that I could then feel I’d “earned” the time that I was going to spend writing, editing, etc.
I don’t write or edit every single night. I’m learning when to take a breather and when I should spend some time with my wife.
It’s probably that chronic pain that still bites me most days, though it’s only a 2 out of 5 instead of 4 out of 5 every day, that serves as a constant reminder that I don’t have any time to waste, or maybe it’s looking in the mirror and seeing all the early grey that showed up over the past ten years. Or maybe it’s looking at my kids and wanting to have a series of books they can enjoy as they ‘arrive at that age’ before it’s “too late.”
My Saturday time is sometimes Sunday time, but my wife is so much my partner in this, that this past weekend she sent me to the coffee-shop for a four hour block to get caught up on my editing. This isn’t a “ME” thing, this is an “US” thing.
I’ve also learned how to keep the hungry work monster in its place. Sometimes I need to do overtime, and that takes precedence, but it’s rare that it’s allowed to do that. And when I need more time for writing or editing to hit a self-imposed deadline, I use every lunch hour, time on the train, time from anywhere to get it done.
Not everyone has a support structure like I do, but the feedback that I’ve got from the people that I’ve shared this part of my story with have said, is that it really got them to think about what are they doing and how they are doing it. How can they flip things around so that they have some portion of nearly GUARANTEED time to move their author career forward?
What you might need to help you is an accountability partner which can also help with focus (in part 3 of this blog series). It’s the same idea as a gym buddy. Someone who will kick you if you’re not getting your stuff done, someone who you can kick if they aren’t getting their stuff done (not all relationships here are bi-directional). Sometimes what you need is a coach, which I’ve been for a couple of people. This is someone who checks in on you, someone who you can’t fake out about what you’re really up to, and ultimately trust. Someone who can motivate you when you don’t feel up to it or don’t feel worth.
For me, my daughter is my accountability partner / coach in some ways. She asks me questions about the story, she pokes holes in what I’m doing and challenges me. She isn’t writing, so it isn’t peer to peer, but she does help keep the fires burning in my mind.
IF you just want to write, and there is a difference between being an author and a writer (in my opinion at least), then you don’t have to ruthlessly manage your time, setup the conditions to be successful, etc. For 25 years I wrote short-stories on the side and could have continued that way, all I really needed was a kick from someone to submit it. I could have continued that way.
But to be an author? Particularly an indie i.e. authorpreneur? That requires you to really manage your time. Maybe you’ve got a spouse who allows you to write full time, but aren’t making the best use of your time. Maybe you’re a single parent of four kids and really want to get that debut novel out the door, either way, you’ve got to be ruthless about getting it accomplished because there won’t ever be a “better time” and doing a little bit by little bit is a lot better than waiting for an avalanche of nothing.
I started my first book, Along Came a Wolf, on January 4th. I released it at CalgaryExpo in April 2014. Along the way I spent my time not just writing, editing and figuring out what the hell goes into a cover, but also learned about printing in China and marketing.
In the months since I’ve written the 2nd book in that series, called Breadcrumb Trail, and revamped book 1 for a 2nd edition w/a new cover. In the next couple of weeks it’ll release. During that time I also managed to write a DieselPunk short-story and submit it for an anthology.
I’ve found the time to answer emails and Twitter DMs and read other writer’s works to provide feedback. I also have found some time to banter and engage with my Tweeps because 1. I know that this adds value to me and I enjoy it, 2. it helps other people which helps make me better.