Recently I completed the manuscript for my second novel. It was harder to complete than the manuscript for the first novel. It has been pointed out to me by experienced novelists that this may have been due to the fact that the maximum amount of time I had to complete the second novel—if I had started when I received a signed, sealed and official contract—was seven months. The first book took more than four years. Can you see my
problem opportunity? Not that I’m complaining. I’m just saying it took some getting used to. It was a crucible of sorts, a fiery little crucible containing an abundance of what my friend Hal calls “ass glue.” But in the end (no “ass glue” pun intended), it worked.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, where you have a limited (read: oh-my-god-why-did-I-not-get-more-done-sooner-I-thought-I-was-doing-so-well-but-this-is-an-impossibly-small) amount of time to complete a task, here are some strategies you might find useful.
1. Go into mole mode. No means no. You decline invitations, no matter how alluring. (Well, unless it’s super-duper alluring and a once-in-a-lifetime deal, like Susan Elizabeth Phillips asks you to go to Iceland with her to lace her hiking boots.) You can go to stuff later. For now, you have to write. It will all be better soon, I promise.
2. Avoid the temptation to nap. See photo of dog on bed. This is a warm, soft dog who is really nice to pet. He is Supreme Pillow Commander on a warm, soft bed. You tell yourself you would only sleep for a few minutes. Do not be fooled. The dog is tantamount to a strumpet (just look at those demonic eyes!). No good can come of this! Run away! Run away!
3. Buy frozen entrees. If I do say so, this was genius on my part. I started out believing in my heart of hearts that I’d grill things. After all, grilling is healthy (except for the char carcinogen factor, but let’s not go there), quick and easy, right? Except that even throwing a chicken breast or burger or steak on the grill with asparagus or peppers or eggplant requires time. I didn’t want to spend time dealing with olive oil and salt and pepper, and cleaning up the dishes, because even though I wasn’t doing Julie and Julia, I was still taking time to cook and clean up. So I looked up “healthiest frozen entrees,” and voila! my writing time expanded. It takes much less time to pop something into the microwave than to grill. Or to make a pb&j, which I did for lunches.
4. Don’t dry your hair. This was difficult for me, a relatively vain person whose hair has no inclination to do anything attractive unless forced. I showered daily, but only dried my bangs (because believe me, if I had to catch a glimpse of my bangs if I hadn’t styled them, I wouldn’t have been able to write anything other than curses). I wasn’t going anywhere, I looked presentable if there was a fire, and I saved more precious time.
5. If your characters refuse to speak to you, write anyway. Oh but this was tough. I had read about this phenomenon but hadn’t experienced it. Those days are over, because it happened several times. I knew what I had to write, but my characters were all listening to their iPods or texting their friends or doing their nails—anything except helping me. What to do? Write anyway. Write crap. Make yourself do it. It’ll either get easier and some of the characters will actually pitch in and help, or at the very least you’ll get the all-important words on the page and fix it later. You don’t have the luxury of waiting for your muse to return your call. You don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration. You’re not a waiter, you’re a writer. You write.
6. Go offline. The Internets and the Googles and the Facebook are fantastic places to goof off and not write. They are not your friends. Do not associate with them. They are there to suck up precious time you need for writing. Ignore them. I sometimes went to Ted’s Montana Grill and wrote at the bar because they didn’t have wifi. It was a godsend to be cut off. (No, the bartender didn’t cut me off, smartie.)
7. Shoo away distractions. If you have a spouse who is the equivalent of a Labrador retriever puppy, as I do, you must put up the equivalent of a verbal doggy door to block off the area where you write. I found that a simple, sharp “Eh!” accompanied by a stern look did the trick. He would slink out of the kitchen and leave me alone.
8. Make your desk purty. Even though I was thrilled to have to write a second novel with a deadline and everything, it was still work. As Nora Roberts says, “If writing a book was easy, everyone would do it.” I cut some roses from my garden and put them in a vase on my kitchen table/desk. I also got a little lamp and used it when the sun went down because I abhor overhead lighting. This made my writing space all cozy and happy and inviting and for some reason made me feel more like a “real” writer.
9. Eat things you like that aren’t too messy. I viewed grocery shopping as gathering supplies for the foxhole. This is not an excuse to go crazy and eat poorly (although…). This is a strategy to keep your creativity fueled. I stocked up on healthy snacks and allowed a couple splurges in the unhealthy category. I also allowed myself a glass (or two) of wine in the evening. (My characters thanked me.) Apples are good because they are easy to eat while you write. Same with those mini carrots. (Please note these are also horse-approved foods.) Dark chocolate is a must. And I don’t like to drink water, but if put it in a fun little bottle, it becomes appealing. So do that. I used an 8.45-oz. San Pellegrino bottle. It made me feel European.
10. Move. I know I said you have to stay put because you have, after all, applied a generous amount of ass glue. But exercise is important. I mostly walked my dog every morning (if you don’t have a dog to walk, borrow one. Or try walking the cat. A plant? How about a spoon? Then the neighbors can call you “eccentric,” which is perfect for a writer.), and sometimes took two walks. I did crunches. I did push-ups. The beauty of exercising is you can think about your book while you do it, and often those scenes that weren’t quite working miraculously sort themselves out in your head when you’re busy doing something else.
Well, there you go. My wisdom broken into digestible bits. If you have more (and I know you do!) please share. Go! Write! Win!