When fellow writers discover that I’ve published over twenty books — and that I’m a full-time middle school teacher — the first thing out of their mouths is, invariably, “Do you ever sleep?” I do. Pretty much the normal amount. So let’s rule out sleep deprivation as a protip for writers. To be honest, I’ve stumbled through my writing career without pre-determined strategies in any area, but in many ways that was fortunate because, if there’s one thing looking back on what worked and what didn’t teaches me, it’s that one-size-fits-all advice, no matter how confidently proffered, is bullocks. You can easily find tips for maximizing writing time on the Interwebs, so here I will balance the such well-worn advice with a dose of Dms.
They say schedule regular writing time and stick to it. More power to ya if that’s possible. If it’s not, then…don’t. Ignore the blowhards who will tell you this means you aren’t and will never be a real writer. I do write semi-regularly (on Sunday mornings), but that is a recent trend. For the first 15 or so years of my writing life, I had absolutely no routine. In return for accepting this liberating advice, you must believe that any amount of time for writing is worth snatching and that doing so is neither selfish nor wasteful. Even ten or fifteen minutes is gold worth mining. Keep your laptop, voice-recorder, or notebook within reach at all times so this is possible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened a WIP to find 60 or so pages and thought, When the hell did I write all this? If you have seven hobbies and twelve regular binge-watching appointments, or you require constant socializing…ask yourself how badly you want to be an author.
They tell you to establish a regular writing space. If you have a magical nook or niche where the muse regularly molests you, kudos and enjoy. If you don’t, again, no big deal. Better to develop the ability to write wherever as well as whenever. Practice filtering out the annoying real life going on around you. It can be done. Invest in noise cancelling headphones if necessary. If you can’t concentrate on the intricacies of your plot in a particular spot, then do something else writing-related for the time being. Research new publishing outlets. Send fifteen new queries. Read some unconventional advice from your future favorite author. Anything in furtherance of your writing career is writing enough.
They say stay focused. Ride that rail all the way home if you can. If not, work on multiple projects simultaneously. For me, having many different WIPs makes it easier to seize available writing time when it comes around. If you aren’t feeling the novel just then, work on the other one, or the picture book, or the non-fiction. Regarding those Interwebs: pull the plug if you can’t resist all those cat pics. Or give yourself a few seconds of break every short while and indulge. Personally, I find that helps.
They say don’t worry about how much your draft sucks. And about this, they are absolutely right. Kill your inner critic, that scold who says you are neither worthy nor able. Trust and believe in the process. I’m often asked when I “knew I was a writer.” I don’t know when exactly it happened in time, but I know how it happened in my mind. I used to love composing and despise revision. Somewhere along the way, that flipped. And now I’m motivated to use every moment of composing time I can get, no matter how painful it is — so I can get to the fun part.
In the end, writers are compelled to write. No writing time advice is about finding the want, only the way. There are no protips for the want. I believe that you will find the time, one way or another, if getting published is your goal rather than your motivation for putting words on pages. Shouldn’t you be writing? (For WDIW? :)
David Michael Slater is an acclaimed author of books for children, teens, and adults. His work for children includes the picture books Cheese Louise!, The Bored Book, The Boy & the Book, the Ippy Award winning early chapter book series, Mysterious Monsters, and the teen series, Forbidden Books, which is being developed for film by a former producer of The Lion King. David's work for adults includes the hilarious comic-drama, Fun & Games, which The New York Review of Books called “Hilarious,” and the non-fiction title, 25 Ideas in Education That Just Don't Work -- And How to Fix Them. David teaches middle school in Nevada, where he lives with his wife and son. You can learn more about David and his work at www.davidmichaelslater.com.