It took me four years to write my first novel.
Actually it would be more accurate to say it took me four years of starts and stops to write my first novel. I kept picking up the book and putting it down. I was in graduate school when I started it, and I'd been working for three years when it finally went off to agents.
My book would suffer when I would couldn’t find the time to sit down to get a solid block of writing in. I would push my manuscript aside if I felt overwhelmed with work, relationships, living in New York, everything.
Finally I got serious. I finished the book, and I went through edit after edit until it started to look like the romances I read. I decided I would never again push writing aside. I was going to make it a priority.
How exactly was I supposed to do that? How are any of us supposed to do that when we're always swamped. It doesn't matter whether you work, raise children, or care for ailing loved ones. Time is precious.
This is my big secret: you make time for the things you want to make time for. If what you really want to do is write, you can find the time to do it.
This isn't a post about balance. Honestly, I'm a little sick and tired of people telling me I'm supposed to write, hold down a job, dedicate time to my relationship (when I'm in one), work out, cook beautiful meals, and still be social. When I'm in the middle of a draft, balance is the last thing on my mind. I go to work. I eat whatever I can make quickly. I sleep less than I probably should. I write whenever I can. My friends are used to me declining about half their invitations because I'm writing. I have very understanding friends. I try to make it up to them when I resurface for breath after a draft.
Last January I found an article I've long since lost about a NYC-based writer who works on the subway. I should do that, I thought.
Into my purse went a notebook and a pen. I promised myself that for at least one leg of my daily 45 minute commute to or from the Bronx I would scribble.* I've always thought of myself as a skeleton first drafter who does her best work during edits. The words didn't have to be good the first time they go on the page. They just had to be there. I could fix them later.
For a couple weeks I stuck to my plan. On my commute I would write. At night I would transcribe the handwritten pages and pick up where I'd left off. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. At the end of those two weeks I had close to 30,000 words of a first draft. I was stunned. Clearly I'd hit on something.
This is what I've realized since then. Fitting in writing time whenever I can isn't just about hitting a daily word count. Something happens when I transcribe from paper to computer screen. The words flow better. Perhaps it's because I'm not starting cold. Whatever the reason, it's the best feeling.
I've now written in bars waiting for dates because I am always, always early. I've scribbled in a Florida hotel room packed with 3 other women getting ready during a wedding weekend. My notebook comes out on the bus, in the back of cabs, and on airplanes. On trips home my family is used to seeing it during slow football games and while we're all lounging outside. I've even got sand in the thing from days at the beach. I'll write wherever I can lay my notebook flat.
How do you find the time to write? Do you block out time, or can you snatch a 15 minutes here and there like I do? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
*Of course there are hidden dangers in writing on the subway. I was so absorbed while writing this post on the train that I missed my stop and wound up 5 stations away on the express train. A small sacrifice in the name of getting things done.