Archive for May, 2011

Part of my novel-writing commitment has been to post daily progress updates (excluding weekends, those are for other responsibilities) in the form of status updates to Twitter, Facebook, etc. It discourages shirking, and having friends root you on is great motivation. This is a process, so why not share its success and failures?

Along the way there have been several comments from people admiring my dedication but lamenting that their lives were too busy for their own creative pursuits. I say bollocks. It’s not that I don’t respect other people’s hectic schedules, trust me I do, in the way that only a fellow workaholic can. It’s just that I made that excuse for years, I know what it really means. I used to say I would find time to write, and I did, but as soon as other deadlines loomed large on the horizon all progress would grind to a halt. The problem was in the basic terminology: “find time to write.” Time is not something you ever find. If you wait for that to happen you might just find yourself waiting forever. Life does not work that way. It took me a long time to learn that, even though much of this advice was originally passed on to me by successful, busy novelists with day jobs.

The correct terminology should be: “I will make time to write.” Ask yourself, how important is writing to you? What are you willing to sacrifice to buy yourself an hour a day? Assess your routine. When do your creative juices flow the best? Now, what would it take to clear yourself a 60-minute block sometime during that time? Could you get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later? Play fewer video games or watch a little less TV? Reduce your online surfing? The decision is yours to make.

If you do decide to make writing a priority for an hour a day, then treat it like a religion. You are making a lifestyle change. Let your loved ones know and ask them to respect your process. Then stick to it, be consistent and only skip days when circumstances are completely beyond your control. Do it even if you’ve got writer’s block or are plagued with interruptions or being haunted by a deadline. The point is to get into a habit and get something – no matter whether it’s ten words or ten pages – done on your project every single day. It may feel like baby steps, but it will add up.

Three weeks into my own personal commitment, I have nearly 50 pages of solid output to show for my efforts. If I keep up this modest pace, in a another month I’ll have roughly 100 pages and by the end of August I’ll be well past 200. By late October, over 300. Meaning I should be hitting completion very near to my Dec. 6th self-imposed deadline. (Xmas holidays will hopefully be spend editing, reworking, tweaking and polishing.) A novel under my belt by the end of the year for the low, low cost of one hour a day, five hours a week.

I have no excuses.

How about you?

When 2011 began my best friend and I felt as if we were about to share a magnificent adventure together. By my birthday at the beginning of March those plans were in ruins, and we found ourselves on different and arguably much more difficult personal journeys than I think either of us had expected.

 For me, the incredibly gut-wrenching months that kicked off 2011 led to more soul-searching than I have done in years. I realized that it was high time to reassess my wants, needs, dreams and failures, and make a positive plan for the future. A plan that included me.

 And, surprisingly, the most important thing that came out of being forced to focus on myself was the realization of how little I did that in my day-to-day life. For years now, all my other responsibilities have come before my responsibility to myself. My personal priorities have always ranked last on the to-do list. And, believe it or not, I never stopped to think what effect that might be having on my emotional well-being. As it turns out, it was making me unhappy and much more prone to burnout.

 Something needed to be done. Something that would actually work.

 So once I got my clean bill of health, I set upon changing my life. Of course, I’ve tried these sorts of overhauls in the past with only limited success. This time I needed to take a different approach. To try to change everything at once would ultimately change nothing. New habits needed to be broken in one at a time. Hence, my thirty-day plan. (Popular wisdom suggests it takes thirty days for a new habit to become rote.)

 But where to begin? That choice ended up being remarkably easy. My biggest regret has always been not having enough time to write creatively. I’d get on a good tear with the YA novel, then production would hit at Rue Morgue or a Burning Effigy release date would approach and I’d drop my own writing entirely just to facilitate getting that other stuff done. Then afterwards it would be hard to go back to the novel because by then all momentum had been lost.

 So I began with making a commitment to myself. One hour each weekday (either from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., or 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.) would be “me” time to work on the novel. During that time, I’d write whether I felt like it or not, until the thing was done. And my beta reader would hold me accountable for delivering new pages each day. I’m proud to say, it’s worked like a charm. I needn’t even have worried about what I would do if I suffered writer’s block because I don’t. That one hour has quickly become the most anticipated and sacred part of my day. I also challenged myself to work chronologically on the book for as long as possible, and even that’s turning out better than expected. Just over two weeks into my new habit, I have nearly 40 solid pages of first draft to show for my efforts. And my story is evolving and solidifying faster than I can churn out the words.

 The best change, however, has been the return of my personal happiness. I love my job and my press, but somewhere along the way I forgot to love myself. And while I wouldn’t wish what I went through at the beginning of this year on anyone, I’m very thankful now for every horrible moment of it, because if none of that had happened I doubt I would have found the courage or the commitment to embark on changing my life, even just one hour at a time.


Stuff I Wrote