AuthorsGetLit is a series on This is Lit that focuses on tips for authors, self-published or otherwise, from both bloggers and other authors.
Today we have Miriam Seidel, author of The Speed of Clouds, giving us writing advice that’s partly confessional. Miriam talks about how she managed to find time for her writing in this post. Read my review of her amazing YA/Sci-Fi book here.
Over to Miriam.
Putting your writing first
I’m hard-headed, and I need to figure things out for myself. That’s why it took me so long to accept the wisdom of putting your writing first.
For a long time, I fit my own writing in between other things, writing whenever I could. When my son was little, I wrote while he napped (he was a great napper). When I worked as a freelance writer, deadlines came first. And sometimes, life’s intensity knob just turned way up, and I would lose months at a time.
I knew the stories about famous writers, who would put in several hours every morning. Ernest Hemingway, who got up at dawn to write, hangover or not. The great Alice Munro, who wrote from eight to eleven every morning without fail. Charles Dickens, who began first thing in the morning and continued, with short breaks, through the day.
Then there’s Toni Morrison, whose novels have gained numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature. She wrote her first novel while holding a demanding job in publishing, and raising two children as a single mother. How did she do it? By getting up at 4 a.m. and writing for a few hours before the kids woke up. I’m in awe at her ability to do that. I’m in awe of anyone who can do that.
I actually did try getting up at 4 a.m. to write. It was one of those crunch times that happen when you’re freelancing, but I really wanted to get to work on a new version of the opera libretto I had written. Being up that early was wonderful—the enveloping quiet and dark gray sky seemed to welcome a dreamy state, just what I needed to find my way into a new structure for the piece. But as soon as I was done, I gave up that schedule—it was just too hard for me to get up that early.
Somehow I stubbornly kept writing. I told myself that these writers’ inspiring work routines didn’t apply to me. My life was too complicated! They must have had everything else taken care of for them! As I said, I’m hard-headed. I kept on going as I had, fitting my writing around other things—phone calls, meetings, deadlines. Telling myself, “Once I get this next thing out of the way, I’ll be able to sit down and concentrate.”
Fast forward to three years ago, when I had a few sessions with a very empathetic life coach (offered at a low rate so she could fulfill her training requirements). In our first conversation about my priorities, one thought bubbled up immediately: I need to have a regular writing routine! We worked together, developing a calendar and a time-planning process. The upshot: on my new calendar, every weekday morning is marked off by default for my writing.
The calendar is color-coded, and the color for my writing time is green. I love seeing that default ribbon of green flowing across the coming week. When I look back at my actual time worked, it’s more ripply—moving up and down, going thinner and thicker, even stopping some days, but then starting again.
I’m finally making regular time for my writing. Even though life still intervenes, on most days, all the other things I need to get done have to fit themselves around my morning writing hours, rather than the other way around. And It turns out that, for me—following the examples of Hemingway, Dickens, Morrison and many others—working in the morning is best. Writing is hard, and that’s when I’m at my freshest. You have to find your own best time, of course. Maybe you’re a night owl, or maybe the only time you can work is after you get home from work, or once the kids are in bed. It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning; if you keep writing, you’re putting your writing first.
Thanks so much, Miriam.
If, like yours truly, you’re trying to write while holding on to a full time job, this must have helped you out. I’m certainly inspired to go out there and write more.
Are you an author with a WIP? Do you want writing and publishing tips from published authors? Stay tuned to AuthorsGetLit! Posts go up every Sunday.