Originally published in OPAL Point of View magazine in November 2016.
When I released “The Man of Cloud 9” at the end of September, I took a moment to appreciate that it was my fifth novel and my 7th book. Since January 4th, 2014, when I started writing the first one, I have stolen every scrap of time I could to help transform a distant dream into a real indie author career.
The most common question I get these days is “Where do you find the time?” What better topic for my debut article than to help those aspiring, or struggling, writers find the time.
It took two medical events to make me stop being the “someday” dreamer and change my life. I wrote my first two books in 2014 while having a high stress, full-time job outside of the house. The rest I’ve written while being the overseer and shepherd of our progeny (aka stay at home dad with three kids). As a dyslexic, severe asthmatic with chronic pain, I have a million excuses to take it easy, to slow down. But instead, I use it as extra motivation, and it’s made me ruthless with my time. Here are some of the strategies that I used:
I took inventory of how many hours per week, and per month, of television I was watching. It was an unbelievable amount. Immediately I understood why at the back of my mind I felt like I was wasting my life, because I was.
When I cut out TV completely, I would write like a demon for weeks and then crash, bingeing hard for weeks. Over time, I found a pattern that worked:
1. Put the kids to bed.
2. Write for about an hour to an hour and a half. Often I stop around 9:30pm.
3. Spend time with my spouse, which often is watching a show together but not always.
When I can sense that I’m getting to the end of the book, I’ll put the afterburners on and go all out. If I’m lucky, I’ll look up at the clock and see it’s 11pm, if not, it might be midnight or 1am. That’s fine if you don’t have kids who get up at 6 o’clock on the button. After a few weeks of that, I need to ease off the throttle. When a book’s done, I take the evenings off for a week or two. Then it starts one evening a week, then two, then slowly it works up to four or five as the norm.
Recently at a school presentation I was doing, a grade oner asked me where I got my stories from. I told her I kept the little wondering kid in me, and I feed him all the time.
Whenever I have a spare moment, like standing in line, I’m thinking about my current story. Where are the weaknesses? What part do I want to write next? How do I fix that plot hole that’s been bothering me?
I kick ideas around like it’s a can on an empty street. If thing clicks, I pull out my phone or notebook and make some notes, maybe even roughing out a scene. Five minutes at the grocery store, ten minutes waiting for the bus, it adds up.
This also does wonders to get me energized to write and eager for that slot of time in my day. Instead of sitting down and staring at the menacing blank page timidly, I’m standing on the keyboard with a saber in hand yelling, “PREPARE TO BE BOARDED!” My wife stares at me every now and then, shaking her head.
For a year, my sons were home three days a week. Whenever they were playing peacefully (which didn’t last), I’d try to make the most of my time. I couldn’t fully get into story-writing mode, because I’d invariably get interrupted, however, I could sketch ideas. I could look at my story from a 10,000 foot level and find some gaps, or identify things I needed address when I had time in the evening.
But then I happened upon the idea of writing a serial, and I found I could draft an entire episode in a single sitting. It was a lot easier to mentally get in and out of, and my ideas could survive the interruptions. Which brings me to…
While writing my latest novel, The Man of Cloud 9, I decided to experiment with writing a serial. I gave myself a goal of writing an episode a week, on top of everything else that was going on. They would end up being between 500 and 1200 words.
Over the course of a couple of days, when my sons were playing, I would sketch out an episode, and then I’d steal one evening from my novel and write the episode.
When I hit episode 18, and could see there were only two left to go, I wrote them in two days. To my disbelief, there it was, “The Wizard Killer – Season One.”
This opened my eyes to looking at different lengths and styles of stories and being strategic about how I use my time. Even after I’d thought I’d squeezed out all the extra time, I’d found the time for a serial.
For about a year and a half, and less frequently these days, I would look after the kids and let my wife sleep in until 8:30am. After she got up, I’d give her a coffee and some toast, and I’d be off to the coffee shop for the next hour and a half.
I knew throughout the week, that even if something nuked all my evening time, I would have that time to write.
I guard my writing time, but more importantly, I don’t let it take away from my family. They are the ones who make everything possible, and getting a book out at their expense is not worth it. So when I’m with my family, I’m really with them. When I’m with my spouse, she has my attention. And on those all too infrequent occasions when I’m with friends, I’m all there.
Outside of that, I try to make every minute count. When I’m waiting for my kid to finish soccer practice, when I’m at the grocery store, or just taking myself for a walk, I keep the stories running in my head. All because I’m not at a keyboard in that moment doesn’t mean that I’m not writing. It just means when I finally sit myself down, those keys are going to be smoking.