Like many writers, I’ve got a full-time day job. The demands of working and family have always competed with writing time and creativity. More often than not, the day job and family won. I might squeeze out a few words between dinner and bed, do a bit of plotting, but those days were rare. There simply were not enough hours in the day. Other people seemed to figure out how to find twenty-six hours in twenty-four, but I never found the time-stretching secret.
I’ve read and blogged about a lot of writing books over the years. Kissed a lot of frogs that promised a more efficient way to write, others that were going to help me write my novels in ten-minute increments. A few years ago, I discovered Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000. At the time it was e-book only, but much to my delight, it’s now available in paper and it graces my bookshelf. This was the book that turned a diehard pantser into a semi-outliner.
Aaron’s book taught me to bullet-point outline each chapter. That meant this pantser now had a beginning, middle, and end instead of wandering in at the first line and seeing where it led. Productivity went up. I hated to leave chapters unfinished. That created another problem. Writing entire chapters is time consuming. Time I didn’t have.
In a moment of serendipity, I received an email from Rose’s Colored Glasses. The course is no longer available, but it promised to teach you how to write fifty books in a year. An exaggeration, of course, but I took it hoping to learn how to organize my time. The Roses were two sisters who each held full-time jobs and were bestselling Harlequins authors. They typically cranked out four or five books a year. All high quality. Their spreadsheets are tools I use today. Every now and again, the course pops up for free. If you see it, take it for the spreadsheets if nothing else.
I’ve taken and recommend Nick Stephenson’s courses. He, Joanna Penn, Bryan Cohen, and Mark Dawson often team up and cross pollinate writing courses. Nick’s Story Engine course was another gamechanger for me. The concept of outlining finally made sense. Doing it on Scrivener made it easy. In one day, I plotted, outlined, and color coded (that’s the Scrivener part) my chapters. I rough wrote the final blow-up scene and outlined my first chapters in bullet point. I was on my way. Not so fast. I outlined Pirates on Parade in August of 2018. I typed The End on Sunday. Why didn’t all of these delicious systems work? Time. No time to write.
I mentioned Joanna Penn in the paragraph above. It was her book, Productivity for Authors, bought on a whim, that changed my life. There’s an old saying that showing up is eighty-percent of life. That was the problem with my writing schedule. I wasn’t showing up. Penn’s book suggests it’s not enough to say you will write. It’s not enough to mentally set aside a time to write. You need to actually schedule it. Make it an appointment with yourself, write it down, put it on your iCalendar, chisel it in stone. Know what? It works. I read the Penn book in mid-December. My desk calendar now shows three to six in the morning as writing time. I haven’t missed a day. I added twenty-thousand words to the manuscript, and I finished the first draft. That’s life-changing. If I ever get to Bath, I’m buying that woman a beer!
Writers, how did you discover a workable system for your writing? Readers, have you encountered a similar can’t fail-path for your obligations?