Saturday, January 28, 2006

Finding Time to Write

Several years ago, I was signing with C.J. Box at the Mysterious Galaxy table at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and he told me that he heard that only 200 authors actually make their living writing fiction in the United States.

I don’t know where C.J. got his numbers, but I’m inclined to believe him. I once calculated how much I made writing my first book and it came out to something like 12 cents an hour. (Of course, now that Bleak House Books is reissuing The Immortal Game in March, I have a chance to bump that number up a little bit.)

The consequence of my fiction financial straights, of course, is that I must work full time to support myself and my family. My “day gig” is as a software engineering manager, and it keeps me pretty busy. (If you’re interested in a little more color on my full time position, take a gander at this blog entry about a recent Eclipse Foundation meeting. Clicking on the first picture, you can see me talking with my hands in a conversation with PHP co-creator Andi Gutmans while sitting in front of my laptop. And, no, those aren’t beer bottles on the table.)

So how do I find time to write? With difficulty. I write mainly in the early morning before I go into work, and on the weekends. I’m not exactly a morning person, so I was worried when I adopted this scheme that I would find it difficult to “flip the switch” at that time of day and get immediately down to it.

It turned out that it wasn’t as hard as I expected. I do have a clear mind in the morning, and am certainly a great deal fresher than I am when I return home from work—which would have been the other alternative. Also, there’s something about the fixed (and limited) schedule that helps me to avoid dilly-dallying before I start the actual writing.

I don’t necessarily produce a ton of pages during my morning sessions. If I get one, I’m happy—and two is an absolute bonanza. Even through there’s limited output, I think the other advantage of writing most every day is that it keeps your book in the forefront of your mind and you benefit from that continual processing throughout the day. I’ve had some of my best ideas about plot while standing in the shower, driving into work, running on the treadmill, etc., and I doubt they would have come to me if I hadn’t had the recent contact with the novel.

My writing sessions on the weekend are less structured, but I can typically find at least a half day or so to devote to my book. I often end up finishing chapters during the weekend, and I try to start them during that time as well. I find it makes it easier to write in the morning if I’ve got a running start from an extended session over the weekend.

But no matter when you do it, writing is hard work. As Red Smith said, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

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