Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Yes, I know, it’s been awhile. I apologize to those anxiously waiting me to tell them the secret of how to work a decent writing schedule into their day without upsetting regular life. Here’s the awful truth: it’s not going to happen.

Back in my youth, what the kid’s call my hippie days, the late fifties and early sixties, women were throwing off conservative conventions and trying on lifestyles that allowed them to work full time, raise children, have partners who were equal helpers and lovers, lead healthy lifestyles, look good and be cool. In other words, women were determined to Have It All. There were scores of self-help books advising women how to accomplish this goal. A quick look at Amazon shows me that there are still scores of books claiming the same thing: Yes, Women, You CAN have it all. There are no books telling writers that they can have it all as well.

The thing is, you can’t actually have it all. Or at least you can’t have it all and do everything effectively. Yeah, I know, I’m going to get pushback on this, so go ahead, send me your comments, take me to task.

If you’re going to write, especially if you’re going to write novels and live a reasonably sane life at the same time, some elements are going to be short-changed. Either Life or The Novel. The question now is: Can I Live a Life Where One or Some of the Things I’m Doing Are Not Going to be Done All That Well Some of the Time, or Even All of the Time While Devoting Time and Effort to My Writing? It makes for a very unwieldy, not very hopeful book title, one that’s not going to sell many copies.

The first thing that my friends and those I talk to about this problem say is they will put their novel off until they retire. This is a sound solution, particularly if you are old like Thriller Guy, but what if you die first? Or what if you keep putting off retirement because you want or need to earn more money. And worst of all, what if you wait, sometimes for many years, and when you finally do have the time to write you find that you just can’t do it, for any number of reasons: you no longer have the stamina, (trust me, it’s hard physical work and you’re not as young as you used to be,) you don’t have the ability to force yourself into the chair in front of the keyboard, you find it too painful, or it’s just too much damn work. And not fun at all. (Trust me again, if you are approaching it in a workmanlike manner, it’s not going to be much fun. See the archives; Thriller Guy has written on this aspect of The Writing Life many times.) So I don’t recommend putting it off.

For one thing, you’re wasting valuable time. It is said that scientists do all of their useful work when they’re young, and I could make an argument for novel writers as well. Yes, I can think of many exceptions, but common sense and simple numbers bear this out. If you decide to keep a notebook of good novel ideas over the course of a year you’re going to have a hell of a lot more good ideas if you actually think about them and write them down than if you put it off until you retire. Duh.

If you try to write every day, or once a week, or on vacation, or on the way to work on the train, or while on airplanes, you may not be able to scrape together enough time to write a novel in a year, but you’re sure as hell going to get more done stealing time than if you didn’t try at all.

And if you don’t want to steal the time, ask those who are involved with you in life to let you borrow some, or to even give you some, even though it might make things harder on them. You will be surprised how many partners and spouses are willing to give those they love a chance to do something they feel so strongly about.

So ask for help. Negotiate. Try to manage at least a partial plan.  Stay up later. Get out of bed earlier. Do less around the house. Do less with your family (as long as everyone understands.) Just don’t be a pig. Don’t be an asshole. And you don’t need to feel guilty. Or go ahead and feel guilty, it will make you work harder.

You can’t have it all, but you may be able to have enough of it to make your life feel all right. Not great, maybe, but good. It might take you longer, you will have to make sacrifices, but you can add pages to the pile, ideas to the notebook. At the very least, you’ll have more than if you did nothing. More than if you wait. Is that enough?

Probably not. But it’s better than quitting, giving up, or never starting.

Ask nicely.

Get to work.