Welcome to part two of The Only Thing, our series on the process of becoming a full-time children’s author. You can read the first post here, and if you have questions, feel free to ask using the form at the bottom of the page! We’ll be sure to cover all questions in future posts.
Don’t be a writer. Be writing. ~William Faulkner
Writers often joke about the things we’ll do to procrastinate writing, yet we’re always going on about having more time, more peace and quiet, writing retreats out in the wilderness, if we just had that, oh, we would write some words.
And sometimes we get our wish – a day, or even several days, of uninterrupted writing time. Fabulous! But if your goal is to become a full-time writer, waiting for those rare times is about as effective as taking an annual trip to Disney World in the hopes of one day becoming Mickey Mouse.
Writers write every day. And many, if not most, writers do not start out full-time – far from it. I’m friends with several children’s authors who are in completely different careers by day: teachers, librarians, nurses, doctors, advertising, retail, military service…wildly different careers with wildly different demands and schedules, yet they’ve all found time not only to write a novel, but revise it and sell it.
It’s not easy.
When it comes to writing around your “real” job, there’s no one way, no magical solution. You simply resolve to make a commitment, and you see it through, in whatever way works best for you. Some strategies may work like gangbusters for some authors, and not at all for others. But if you want to write – not be a writer, write – you’ll have to find something that works for you.
Structured writing time
This is probably the most common advice given to aspiring authors who want to know how to make time to write: choose a specific time and a specific place and write then and there, every day, without exception. This is how I completed my very first first draft. I taught until 6pm, came home, ate dinner, then sat at my desk and wrote from 7pm to 9pm without stopping.
Plus: This method is great if you’re the type of person who craves organization. Creating a writing environment – a nice work space, music (or silence), etc – can help get your brain in writing mode.
Minus: Distractions are inevitable. Of course, sometimes things happen and you have no choice but to stop working and address them. But writers often use minor distractions as an excuse. If you need to have everything just so when you write – dead silence, a hot cup of coffee, a lucky pair of socks – that’s great! But you’ll produce fewer words in your lifetime than if you learn to write while the TV’s blaring and someone keeps ringing the doorbell and the air conditioner’s broken and your sock is missing and your dog is giving you The Eye and so on.
Unstructured writing time
That’s right – no structure, no organization. All you have to do is make sure you always have something to write with on your person, whether it’s a pen and notebook, an iPad, a cool app, your laptop, whatever. And then, you write. Whenever. Anytime. Got a minute between classes? Write a sentence or two. Come up with a brilliant line of dialogue on the bus? Scribble it down. When I taught kindergarten, the kids had ten minutes of playtime before class every day. I had a special notebook just for those ten minutes, five days a week. After a month, I had about 8,000 words in that notebook. It really adds up.
Plus: If you really embrace this, you’ll find an incredible amount of writing time throughout your day. Waiting in line at the bank, sitting at a stoplight (but, you know, pay attention to traffic please), lunch break, dinner break, recess, a seriously dull meeting you don’t really have to pay attention to…you get the idea.
Minus: You’ll end up with bits of your story scattered around on napkins, slips of paper, phones, etc. Personally, I love it. But if you’re one of The Organized Ones, the thought will likely make you twitchy. (All the more reason to try it, of course!)
Set writing goals
From what I’ve seen and heard, most writers set a daily word goal, be it two hundred words or two thousand. But for some people, that might be too much pressure in the beginning as they try to work this new writing habit into their already busy lives.
If that’s the case, cut yourself a little slack. Make it a weekly goal, or even a monthly goal. If you miss a day here, you’ll make it up later. And most importantly, make it a reachable goal. Everyone writes at a different pace; don’t put pressure on yourself to meet an outrageous word count. I wrote one of my books in daily 250 to 500 word increments, with some days off. It took a few months, but hey – a finished draft is a finished draft.
Don’t find time, make time
Unless you find yourself with an hour or two every day with nothing to do but stare at the wall, you’ll probably have to sacrifice some things in order to make room for writing. Maybe what you want to sacrifice is your job – and you’ll get there eventually, if you really want to! But in the beginning, it’s likely you’ll have to give up something else. Internet scrolling is the first thing that comes to mind (*cough*). Sleep is the second. Maybe it’s time to start setting the alarm an hour earlier.
Repeat after me
I’m going to go into this more in-depth in later in this series, but for now – writing is working. If you have made the decision to write a novel, then your write time is your work time. Accept that, and then make others accept it, too. Unless it’s an emergency, it’s okay to not answer the phone, not respond to that text or email, ignore the knock on the door, and work.
Want to write a novel? Congrats! You just took on a new part-time job. Treat it like one, and you’ll be typing The End before you know it.
We’re taking questions! If you’re curious about the process of becoming a full-time children’s author, feel free to ask away in the form below, and we’ll address your question in a future post.