While attending a writers’ conference a few years ago, I found myself drawn to a panel titled, “Writing While Working Full Time.” This session appealed to me on a number of levels. A writer’s life is often envisioned as one where a good part of every day in spent in solitude, unencumbered by the demands of small children, a traditional office gig, caring for aging parents or other responsibilities that threaten to slice up a day into shards of time. This popular author had two small children and a regular job and had successfully published several thrillers. He was going to share his inside tricks and help me better understand what I was doing wrong, allowing me to finally get consistent about a daily word count and progress on my novel.
I was going to GET. STUFF. DONE.
I had pen in hand, ready to transcribe every bit of knowledge onto paper, committing it forever to a reference sheet that I could staple to my wall (or possibly my forehead). After an explanation of his schedule, which included a teaching position and attending his kids’ various events, he said, “It’s important for me to rise early, usually by six o’clock on the weekends, so that I can get a good six hours or so of work done on my book.
“How do you get six hours of uninterrupted work at your house with two small kids?” one person asks.
“Oh,” he says rather offhandedly. “My wife is in charge of the kids on the weekends until the early afternoon, so she takes them out to the park or to do other things so I can write.”
I closed my notebook.
I would not discover the ultimate time saving hack to help me write my novel amidst the swirling chaos of three small kids, my own work and my husband’s demanding travel schedule.
One thing I’ve come to discover is that whenever I compare myself to other writers, hoping to suss out their secret superpower for prolific storytelling while managing the real world, I realize that I’m making a mistake. I need to make my own way, tweak my schedule the best I can, taking advice but bending its usefulness in my own way.
Jane Friedman’s blog (which is filled with practical advice and counsel) includes a post titled The Secret to My Productivity, where she candidly discusses what advantages she has had in crafting a writing life. Her honesty is such a gift, and it helped me better understand that I needed to work with what I have in terms of time and resources. Yes, some people have more time, more freedom than others. Yes, sometimes that advantage matters. And sometimes it’s a reminder to just get on with it, make better use of what you have, not comparing yourself to others with different life demands.
However, there are cases when more time isn’t better, and I can’t count the number of authors I know who produce quality mystery novels in short periods of time. They have honed their skills, remained consistent and, instead of lamenting the lack of an uninterrupted eight hour day, have embraced time on the subway or early mornings before the kids wake up. They make it happen.
I now understand that comparisons can kill in so many ways. There has never been one path to success, one way to write a book, one way to tell your stories. It’s just important that you tell them, and whatever that looks like..well, that’s the right way…because you’re doing it in the first place.