Finding Time to Write

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A big question for many beginning writers is, “How do you find time to write?”  I think all of us have asked that from time to time.  We have an idea of a great book… but weeks and months go by and the book doesn’t get written.  There just never seems to be enough time!

I’ve read advice from some seasoned authors who recommend disciplining
yourself to write a certain number of hours each day, or turn out a certain number of words each session. If that works for them, that’s great. I know that approach would not work for me.

My problem is, I have never had time to write. I  In my “day job” I’m a teacher, conference speaker and dean of a school. I also spend a lot of my time travelling. For most of my adult life, a typical work week has been 70 or 80 hours. Every week. There’s always been more to do than I have time to accomplish. I’m not complaining. I love what I do! I teach, I travel, and I speak. But it’s a very demanding career.

Yet I’ve also had a strong urge to write. I always seem to have four or five books simmering on the back burner of my mind, just waiting for the time they can make their escape onto a printed page.

My first non-fiction book was written on vacation. The book had been burning inside me for months. So while my wife and kids relaxed and visited with family and friends, I sat with laptop open, writing.

My second book found its way to paper while I was stranded for two weeks on the Island of Cyprus, waiting for a kidney stone to pass (not a fun experience!) I didn’t even have a laptop along, so I sat on the terrace of our friends’ home, overlooking the beautiful Troodos mountains of Cyprus, typing my book on a PDA (remember those?) using a portable fold-up keyboard! (Turned out to be one of my best sellers!)

For me, writing always has had a pregnancy aspect. I have a book on the inside and it’s growing and developing, looking for a time it can be birthed. And when that time finally comes, there’s no holding it back.

Because of that, I find it hard to relate to statements from writers who have to discipline themselves to grind out a certain number of words a day. To me, writing is not a job or a chore. It’s a consuming passion. It’s not a task I must remember to do, like cutting the grass and cleaning the garage. The book growing within me becomes a living thing, demanding to be expressed on paper, threatening to explode if I don’t let it out.

Let me share how I wrote Iona Portal, my first fiction book. Iona Portal is a Science Fiction thriller that views the ancient battle between good and evil through the lens of Science Fiction. I like to think of it as Lord of the Rings meets The Matrix. (As of this writing, it’s the top-rated science fiction book on Amazon, and rated #2 for mysteries and thrillers.)

At the start of the project, I had a vague idea of what the book would be about, but not a clue as to any details.

I started with the characters. I wrote a biography of each one, formed a mental picture of them, even scoured the internet to find photographs that matched my mental image of each one.

These people became more than names on a page. I knew their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles and fears… even the sound of their voice. (Michael Fletcher sounds a lot like Sean Connery.)  I knew them so well, I’d be walking through an airport and see someone walking the other way and think… “She looks just like Lys Johnston!” In short, these characters became real people to me. I CARED what happened to them.

Stephen King once said, “I try to develop sympathy for my characters, then I turn the monsters loose!” That was my next step.

Once I had the characters, I let the action start. Iona Portal begins with a gripping scene where our strong female lead, Lys Johsnton, finds herself driving a narrow mountain road in the middle of the night pursued by two strangers with blood-lust in their eyes.

I wrote the first version of that chapter with no idea where the story was going. Lys Johnston was in a dire situation, but I cared about her, and willed her to survive.

In the next scene, I added the next character. The characters began to interact. Then, as the story progressed, the direction of the book became clear. More characters were added, and “the plot thickened!” How would these people manage to survive and save their world from disaster?

And so the story gripped me. It burned within me. I didn’t have to schedule times to crank out words.

I’d often wake up at 3 in the morning with the next part of the story racing through my mind. I’d get up, pour myself a coffee, turn on my laptop, then lean back in my recliner … and write. I had no choice! Lys Johnston needed me! She had to find a way to overcome the armies of darkness and save the planet from destruction!!!

So that’s my advice for time management for writers. Don’t allow your writing to become a mechanical chore. Don’t let it be a job or an obligation.

It has to be a passion! If the story doesn’t grip you enough to draw you back to write, how will it ever draw your readers back to read?

So, be excited about what you are doing. Be passionate. And the time to write will come.

NOTE:  This was written a few months back as a guest post for Dean Rich’s blog, The Write Time.  Please check out Dean’s blog for more tips on time management!

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9 thoughts on “Finding Time to Write

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I also have a very busy life outside of writing. My husband and I own our own buisness, and are very active with our families and church. I get up at 5am every morning and write for as long as I can: I have to get the voices out of my head. :) while I tend to write the action first, and then go back a develope my characters more, it is a passion for me. I don’t have time to be on a strick schedule, other than just getting up at 5, so I always have my flash drive, notebook and notes with me-the iPhone is great for notes.
    And, yes, I have seen my characters out and about in grocery stores and movies…makes for an ackward moment when you stare, dumbfounded, at a total stranger. :)
    Thanks for the post!!
    -Abby

      • Sounds like! I have to share this story with you: one day, I was out shopping before work. I came around a corner and I saw a guy that looked just like one of the first characters I ever killed. (His death wasn’t pretty.) I had to pick my jaw up off the floor and resist the urge to run up, hug him, and tell him I was sorry I killed him. So silly! The life of a writer is never dull.

      • I love it! Wish I could have been there! … a story only an author could tell. (Fortunately, I’ve never run into anyone I’ve killed… and the guy Catherine Campbel blew away with her shotgun was so slimy I would not have been sorry!)

  2. I don’t do discipline either. I agree with you that writing has to come through with passion and spontaneity, although so far I have not attempted a novel. For me writing stories is like that Escher painting where one hand draws the other. I have a rough outline in my mind of what the story will be and the punch line. However, when I start writing them strange things happen. Sometimes the characters will do things I had not anticipated. Sometimes plot twists and turns develop that I had not foreseen. And not everything is for the better. Sometimes I have a character rebellion on my hands and I have to bring them back to order and make them toe the storyline. That is my magical writing world but each of us opens a portal not unlike that on Iona every time we engage in creation.

  3. Ditto that. If for one moment, I felt like my writing had become a discipline instead of artistic exploration, I would have slammed my notebook shut and walked away from the desk never to return. While I vastly admire my writer friends who schedule their writing into their daily schedule, my Muse has told me that she calls the shots, not I. Since she tends to be quite dyspectic, I don’t dare argue!

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