Thursday, July 03, 2014

Thief of Time

Lets get practical in our quest to write a novel. Forget for the moment about all the things we've discussed for these many months. Don't worry about character, story, pace, dialog, structure or setting. Forget about the hundreds of other elements that go into making a novel not just readable, but so readable that a publisher wants to buy it and people other than your friends will read it.

Today lets talk about finding the time and working efficiently. This is one area where I would put up my expertise against anyone in the country. The United States, not people who live in rural areas.  It's tough enough to live in these hectic times without taking on the added stress of another project. A project that must be focused and nearly perfect if you want it to be more than a cute quirk your friend's giggle about behind your back.

Lets look at our day and cut out eight hours for sleep (necessary), eight hours for a job (for many of us) and two hours for food prep and taking in and letting out (sorry) sustenance. I went to Florida State, so I know that leaves us six hours of dead time. Really? That seems like a lot. Oh yeah, there's an hour of commute, an hour of waiting for others, and an hour of ranting about how little time there is in the day. Three hours. Great. That is if you don't have kids. How much work could they be? What's the worst that could happen if we ignore them? Think a Clockwork Orange or Lord of the Flies.

My point is life is tough. It's tougher if you're stupid (Sorry, had to throw in a John Wayne quote); it's tougher if you are not efficient. I break down writing into several phases. The most important is thinking about what you're going to write. Making notes for weeks in advance of starting a novel. While I'm running or swimming, commuting or chatting with my wife, I'm actually thinking about characters, plot and conflict. Who says we really need to live in every moment. Do you need to pay attention at a school talent show after your kid has played the sax? Do you need to pay attention to a Cleveland Brown's game after the third quarter? What about the State of the Union speech? You get the idea. You need to be a thief and steal time during the day. If you become a master thief, no one will know you're doing it.

Years ago, while writing Escape Clause, I knew something was missing in the story. I was well into it with over sixty thousand words written when I was stumped and contemplating scrapping the whole thing. Then, early one morning while running, I had an epiphany. It was truly a remarkable moment, as far as writing goes. I knew exactly what was missing: A female character in a specific role. I had a Seminole Indian character named Billy. He was the key to uncovering the mystery. As I was running on the sidewalk at the end of our street, preparing to go onto the wooded trails, the idea to change Billy to Billie, a beautiful Seminole Indian woman changed the entire dynamic of the story. It took a couple of hours to fix what I had already on paper and then it zoomed along. Until my editor, Neil Nyren, had other problems with it. Nothing to do with Billy/Billie. And, even then, I had to admit, he was right and I took it as a learning opportunity. I always think about his explanation about suspense and rooting against a bad guy from the start of a story.

The point of that somewhat long-winded anecdote is that I was not frustrated at my keyboard, but doing what I did every day when the idea came to me. To this day, when I turn that same corner, I think about the bolt of inspiration that came to me.

It's vital to be efficient if you want to write a novel while carrying on a normal life. (One important etiquette note: Never say to a published novelist, "I wish I had time to write a novel."  That infers your life is so much more important than theirs and that the only thing needed to publish a novel is time on your hands.)

Once you've started your novel, and are actually on the computer, don't get distracted by things like surfing the internet or writing @#$#@ing blogs.

Next week we're on to something new.  What, I have no idea.  But I'll worry about it while I'm riding my bike.

This week’s quote is:

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” ― Ray Bradbury


  1. Love this! I am totally undisciplined. I need a life coach. You?

    Off to Tweet to my legion of followers...

  2. James O. Born7/03/2014 10:19 AM

    You seemed to have worked it all out. It's Jackie I worry about.

  3. One of your best pieces yet on writing. Will post on Facebook. (No more John Wayne quotes!)