I started writing my first novel in 2011 and have been writing fiction pretty consistently ever since. I write almost every day. At first, it was just something to pass the time while I was unemployed (unemployment has been a sad recurring theme in our lives, I guess – womp womp). But I did eventually find a job, and a little bit to my surprise, I wanted to keep writing. So I did. And then we moved abroad, and I kept writing. And then a baby came along, and I kept writing. And then we made another international move, and I kept writing.
Don’t get me wrong – there have been good chunks of time when no writing was really happening (looking at you, sleepless postpartum weeks…) but, if I had to estimate, I think I’ve probably written at least half a million words of fiction. Hopefully, some of those words can be published someday, but that’s a story for another time. Today, I want to talk about how I make time to make those words happen, even with jobs, babies, and getting dinner on the table now and then. Here are my biggest tips for fitting writing a novel into your life:
- Small, consistent steps. Yep, it turns out, my biggest tip to finishing a novel is to actually sit down and do it. Earth-shattering, I know. But there’s just no getting around it. Small, consistent efforts really do lead to something big. It reminds me of the gum wall we visited a few months back in San Luis Obispo. No idea how this started, and it’s a little gross, but somehow, one chewed stick of gum at a time, an entire alley has become covered in sticky wads of color. Take it in small little pieces, and just keeping adding to it.
- But also, sometimes, go big. Every November, thousands of kind of crazy people participate in NaNoWriMo (which is National Novel Writing Month), where you try to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It’s enough writing squished into a small enough time that it feels kind of like a mad dash to the finish line. The writing’s often not very pretty, and the plot’s usually pretty meandering when you’re sprinting through it, but the momentum you get from making such giant strides in just a few weeks is crazy fun. If you’re feeling stuck, or having a tough time starting, try making a crazy goal for just a few weeks.
- Create time and space without distraction. I write every day, five or six days a week, during Sander’s nap time. Sometimes that’s an hour, usually it’s more like an hour and a half or two hours. That’s usually the entirety of the time I get to write. And because it’s so limited, I’m super protective of it. I don’t make plans during that time, I don’t do chores, I don’t do dinner prep, I stay off of social media (ummm, mostly #truth), I don’t take phone calls during that time (which makes me sound like I get a lot of phone calls – false! ? I hardly get any phone calls, but I have one sister who has an uncanny ability to call to chat right during nap time – she can’t ever remember what time nap time is). I know every day exactly what I’m doing at 1:30 pm. And I don’t have a dedicated office, but I know exactly which spot on the couch I’m headed to when it’s time to write.
- Figure out what you’re going to write before you write it. Some people like outlines, others don’t. I’ve tried both, and both ways have their pros and cons. But whether or not you’re working with an outline, one of the best tips I’ve seen is to figure out what you’re going to write before you’re going to write it. So the first thing I do when I sit down to write each day is to hammer out how the scene I’m about to write is going to go. This has made such a huge difference. Instead of writing a few hundred words, then realizing that I’m going in the wrong direction, then either trying to fix it or needing to scrap it, instead I jot down super fast what’s going to happen. If it’s not working, I can just scratch out a couple sentences and start again. This makes the progress happen a lot faster than it used to. And when there’s progress happening, it’s a lot easier to sit down again the next day and do it all again (back to that consistency thing with the chewed gum, right?).
Have you ever tried (or wanted to try) writing a novel? What are your tips for getting it done? Or do you have another hobby you’re dedicated to?