Finding the Time: Full Time Writing in a Full Time Life

A couple of days ago The Huffington Post put up an article on the daily rituals of famous authors such as Joseph Heller, William Faulkner and Maya Angelou.

William Faulkner, 1954

William Faulkner, 1954 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faulkner worked as a nightshift supervisor at a university power plant. Wrote in the afternoon. Took cat naps when he needed them.

Joseph Heller wrote for 2-3 hours a night for eight years to finish Catch-22. By day he worked in the advertising departments of Time and McCall’s.

Maya Angelou checks herself into a spartan motel or hotel with a bible, a deck of cards, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry and writes from 7 am until 12-2 pm. 

I won’t pull out his memoir to be sure I have this right, but Stephen King spoke about how early on he and his wife lived in a trailer and he would type out his novels while bouncing their baby on his knee.

I don’t pretend to be in their league, but reading about how legendary authors lived their lives made me think about how I fit writing into my life. I have a full time position at the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks here in southern California, but I am also a full time dad, especially on the weekends. Full time job. Full time family. How does writing, which should be considered a job, fit in?

At first I didn’t even try to fit writing into my life. I always intended to write a novel, but once I had kids I put the idea on the back burner and told myself I would come back to it when the kids were older. And then, in the summer of 2012 I asked myself, “Why are you waiting?”

I mean, I do have leisure time. I’ve spent HOURS playing video games like Lord of the Rings Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Skyrim…Oblivion. I love role playing games. I love the story. But always in the back of my mind there was a voice asking, “What are you doing? You have a world in your head. Play in that one.”

Well, last summer I decided to start writing. Seriously. Oh, before last summer I had written about the lore of The Nyre Lands. Had written about Aedinn Finn. Janus Riberin. I’d even written the prologue to the story. But all of that writing was intermittent. Sporadic.

Last summer we went on vacation to La Push, Washington, where Alefiya and I were married in 2008. At La Push I started writing in a journal while listening to the waves crash onto the beach. Very peaceful. I wrote early in the morning or when Conor needed a nap. After we returned from our trip, I started writing 4-7 days a week, but we were no longer on vacation. Writing daily became a challenge, so I had to figure out how to fit writing into my life.

How’d I do it?

Organization. Scheduling. Obviously, but I’ve never been good at organizing my life. I waste time with the best of them. Procrastinate like a pro. But I realized that if I wanted to write, be a writer, I had to write every day. The best time in our house to do anything where you need quiet is in the morning. Again, I was never a morning person, but morning was the only time I could count on having the peace and quiet I needed for writing. So, I started waking up a 4 am. At first it was tough, but over time waking up that early became a habit. Since then I’ve conditioned my body to wake up at 4 am EVERY DAY. Nowadays I am often up before my alarm goes off.

Here’s my schedule: 

4am: Up and in the shower
4:30: Bulletproof coffee made and I’m at the computer
4:30-5: Manage social media empire
5-6: Write
6:30-4: At work
4-7pm: At home with kids
7-8pm: Hang out with Alefiya
8pm-9pm: In bed, reading

During lunch at work I write a few hundred words. Sometimes I write in the evening if Alefiya and I have decided to do separate activities, but I try to be in bed by 8pm, which doesn’t leave much time in the evening to write.

Of course that’s my schedule. When you have a family your life can’t be that structured. You can’t count on having the time to write. Usually the kids sleep until at least 6, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. If Isabella is up before 6, my writing ends then, because quiet time is over. Now it’s kiddo time.

Up until about a month ago I would become frustrated when Isabella woke up early. Dumb, I know. She’d come in to where I was writing, usually when my mind was locked in, seeing the other world, thinking a character’s thoughts, and she’d start talking about her night, the dreams she’d had, and how she now wanted food. At the time all I wanted to do was finish my thought. So, I would become frustrated.

In hindsight, silly. Isabella is 3 years old. She has no concept of the idea that dad is in the middle of something. I’ve now accepted that when Isa wakes up, the writing is done until there is another pause in the action that is life. Plus, there are going to be times when the kids are sick, or Alefiya is sick, or I am sick, or all three. When one of those things happens, writing is damn near impossible. We went through a patch during the winter where at least one of us was sick. I didn’t get much sleep when that happened, and consequently I didn’t write much.

Something else that’s dawned on me is that my kids aren’t going to want my attention forever. There’ll come a day when Isabella will be up and out the door, wanting to hang out with her friends, not needing or wanting anything from me. I need to savor these times.

What most people who pursue dreams have to realize is that the pursuit of that dream has to fit into your life. The pursuit has to fill in those nooks and crannies that life gives you from time to time. Never should you be bored when you pursue your dreams. Maybe if you land that big contract you can do what Thomas Mann did and close the door to your study at 9 am and refuse visitors, phone calls, or messages until noon. No noise allowed. But until then, the art finds its place.

Writing a novel is a marathon, a journey. Over the past year life has happened. In between, in those gaps where one would normally breathe, pause, I’ve been writing. And now I’m on the last leg of the race. Passed the quarter pole. I have something that’s looking like a novel, and along the way I’ve learned a few lessons. The most important is that patience is king. And if you ever read my novel you will see how patience (take a deep breath. Piecemeal), plays a very important role.

Do you want to know what my dream schedule looks like?

4-5am: Manage social media empire
5-9am: Write
9-11am: Nap, shower
11am-bed: Interact with the world

And now, off to work.

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