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HOW I WRITE – Part III – "Finding" Time

HOW I WRITE – PART III – “Finding” Time

I had a gynecologic checkup this week, and while chatting with the doctor—whom I’ve known forever (her office was across the street from an independent bookstore, back when OUTLANDER was released, and when she darted in on her lunch hour for something to read, the bookseller pressed OUTLANDER on her, mentioning that I frequently came by to sign stock. The doctor glommed the book, came back, and told the bookseller to let me know next time I came in that she’d be delighted to give me a free Pap smear. [g] (Like I said, this business does sometimes have unusual compensations))—she told me that she was working on a book herself—nonfiction.

“But I’m not getting anywhere with it,” she said, shaking her head. “I have all the material, and a good outline—even a couple of chapters! But it’s just so hard to find the time to work on it.”

This is a pretty familiar story. I can’t tell you how many people tell me this—meanwhile expressing admiration (or disbelief) at the notion that I’ve written all these monstrous books while having children, working, or whatever. I had one good friend at the university where I used to work, who was fascinated when I got published (I kept working there until 1992, when DRAGONFLY came out), and decided that he wanted to write a novel of his own.

Now, David had a wonderful story. It was something based on the history of his family that had taken place in WWII (they were Polish Jews) and it was fabulous; had everything: romance, betrayal, tragedy, adventure…but—

“I have two consulting contracts to finish,” he told me, “and this seminar I’m teaching, but as soon as the semester’s over, I’ll have a good chunk of free time—I’ll start writing then.”

“David,” I said, looking at him sadly, “you’re never going to write that book.”

And he never has, alas.

See, the fallacy here is that you must have “a good chunk of time” in which to write. The fact is that “a good chunk of time” (one free of interruption, obligation, or sudden change of circumstance, in which one “sits down” and focuses on the work at hand) does not exist.

GABALDON’S FIRST AXIOM: You do not “find” time. You make time, or you don’t have any.

So, how do you make time? Well, this is a rare and specific skill, akin to spinning straw into gold, but I do think anyone can learn to do it, even if your name isn’t Rumpelstiltskin.

I am about to demonstrate this particular skill—it’s 11:15 AM. My husband has just come home—I hear him rattling around downstairs (well, more like banging; he’s replacing a junction box in the wall right under me), and will shortly want lunch. What I have to do today is to write 1000 words (more or less) of a “noir” crime short story, and finish reading the novel I’m supposed to review by this weekend.

I have (probably) twenty minutes before my husband’s hunger overcomes his hammering. So—do I continue with this blog entry (which would be fun, but can be continued tonight or tomorrow)? Do I go outside and pull weeds out of my garden? Do I wander downstairs and make conversation with my husband between hammerblows? Do I go collect the dry-cleaning that I mean to take in this afternoon? Do I think what to cook for dinner tonight?

No. I post this, pop over to Word Perfect and work on the “noir” piece until Doug comes to get me for lunch.

The dry-cleaning and the weeds can wait indefinitely, I’ll talk to Doug while we have lunch, and as for dinner, I know I have the makings of beanie-weenie on hand, should inspiration fail. What has to be done now is write.

So I will. [g] It doesn’t matter that I don’t have three uninterrupted hours. It only matters that I have now.

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19 Responses »

  1. Diana,

    Truer words have never been spoken! I found that when I started writing an academic paper a while back that I just could not make progress. Finally, my advisor told me to sit down a little each day. Additionally, she said one of the best papers she ever wrote was written over the course of months by using increments of 30 minutes a day.

    Alas, you have given me hope. I also have a busy schedule with kids, school, work and research. Regardless of the schedule, publish or perish.

    Thanks, T.Brown

  2. I loved this entry and you’re absolutely right. If one doesn’t make time, there won’t ever be a ‘right’ time. I think you know, when I asked about who cleans the house, that is a bone of contention with my hubby. I sit to write when the thoughts are there and if that means setting aside a clean house, so be it.

    What I find interesting is, I had my first piece published recently in CSM and suddenly, he wonders when I’m going to sit down and write again, to which I remind him, the small amount of money I received is mine but thank him sweetly for his sudden willingness to overlook the dirt and encourage me for the greater good…

    Hmmm…maybe with my small check, I can hire that cleaning person I’ve always wanted. After all, I don’t need to be the world’s greatest writer. I just need to find a way to never have to clean again….



  3. Diana,
    I have learned the art and necessity of prioritizing my time over the past few years after my husband learned he had prostate cancer and retired. Where my weekends and nights had been filled with go-here-and-there, I decided family was much more important and could put off things like laundry, gardening or shopping a day, weekend or week at a time. I write the same way. But I must admit, sleep is still at the top of my priorities.

    Glad to hear writing is still at your top.


  4. Diana,
    It’s good to see someone who has a similar philosophy on priortizing things. ; ) Luckily, the DH doesn’t seem to mind too much. When I apologize that I didn’t sweep the floor, he is forgiving! Funny too about the junction box thing… my DH is currently re-wiring the house in the evenings, banging too! The boys haven’t been too bad about pestering me. Our computer is in the living room… more like a family room. When they get noisy, I give them the ‘evil eye’ and they disappear! I am lucky that I am not at work on Fridays, so I can squeeze writing in there. I also can squeeze some in when I get to work early, or eat a fast lunch. I sometimes stay after work and write too for about half an hour. I am going back to the greenhouse to disbud mums… again… and work on my story line in my head while I do that mundane task. : )

    Have a good day!

  5. Dear Diana:

    I think you hit on a couple important points today, one obviously stated, the other is subliminal — do it vs. plan for it, and women are the best multi-taskers on the face of the Earth.

    Men _can_ multi-task but ONLY when it comes to work — how absorbed they are when this customer needs a design, that customer has to be met at this time, those folks need drainage and irrigation blueprints in at the city for permits in two hours, etc., (can you tell I’m peeved with my beloved hubby at this exact moment?), but God help me if I ask him to throw a load of laundry in while contemplating a new planting palate or signing off on a fuel modification plan for the Dept. of Forestry! NOOOOOOO! Women, on the other hand, can write novels, raise babies, wash loads of laundry, kiss boo-boos, wipe butts and boogers, cook dinner, and pay the bills. All at the same time with very little sweat, blood or tears. Humph.

    How apropos your post is today! I have good news….. I have, in earnest, actually begun to write. Whether anything ever comes of it remains to be seen, but I finally recognized the fact that I had placed a rule upon my self: if I couldn’t envision the whole story, then I wasn’t ready to write it. After weeks of fits and starts, it started to flow out about two weeks ago. My fingers are flying and the juices are flowing. I have about twenty-five complete, contiguous pages, and about seven or eight bits for others parts. I am alive!!!


  6. Love your entry today, Diana!

    I will admit that I harbor secret longings to write. But I will _not_ complain, boast or confess to those around me (except right now, *g*) about these urges, because I know that I am not willing to make the time yet. If you ain’t gonna do it, don’t brag about it!

    I do appreciate most sincerely that you _do_ carve our a few minutes here and there to bring our favorite characters to life!!

    Enjoy the beanie weenies – one of my husband’s favorites as well.

  7. Okay, I give up….

    Exactly what are beanie weenies?? Franks and beans? Or is there something special about them?


  8. Dear Midge–

    Wow! [g] Great feeling, innit? Congratulations, and long may you flow! (Don’t worry if it stops flowing, btw; that’s normal. Just keep doing it, and it comes back.)

  9. Dear Nightsmusic–

    Fastest dinner known to man. [g] Slice up four frankfurters in a skillet, add a large can of baked beans (I like Bush’s Original, though Bush’s Homestyle are good, too), and heat for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with a full-bodied white, or maybe Mt. Dew.

  10. Diana:

    Aha! I see how you are finding time to write–but it looks from your picture on this post that you may be writing from jail with all those bars in the background…:-)

    However you do it, please just continue to write for us!!

  11. Marcia wrote:

    “Aha! I see how you are finding time to write–but it looks from your picture on this post that you may be writing from jail with all those bars in the background…:-)”


    Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to comment about that? Every time I log onto this blog I look twice because Diana appears to be housed in the slammer — awfully happy about it, though!

    It’s a lovely picture, Diana, but you do look guilty.


    PS: Thank you for the encouragement. As I said, I don’t know if anything will come of the story itself, but the loosening of the knot around my heart and gut proves to me the rightness of it.

  12. Im so glad you have two new posts!!! I check practically everyday to see if you have posted, because I love the thoughts. Thanks for entertaining me at work, home, and school.

  13. By the way…. im so jealous you can get away cooking beanie weenies for dinner. When I get around to cooking my husband expects me to have at least 2 side dishes to go with the main. Its this obsession he has with my moms cooking… mother like daughter??? I dont think so.

  14. Dear Diana,

    Oddly enough, I do not recall hearing in any interview about your favourite television shows … I wonder why that is? I think more than enough free time gets sucked out the tube, so to speak!

    A person really can’t do everything. For me writing is important, but I am a single mom and do work fulltime. However, I have managed to intergrate writing in ‘free-ish’ bits of time. As an Exec Director of a Family Resource Centre I established a Writing Group for parents. This allows me to focus on the craft of writing during work time – no guilt or questioning eyes! Amazing how that has taken off. Family Literacy at its finest! My boys (9 & 13) are proud of the writing I do and often comment on their own writing abilities – “just like mom.” So that is positive parenting for sure. I have the Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage on my nightstand to help me master the language I did not get drilled into me in school (suggested purchase by Jack Whyte in Surrey, actual reading motivated by this BLOG!)

    I think it is all about determination, discipline and devotion. The mantra in the Centre’s Writers Group is … Writer’s Write. It is that simple. We devote as much time as our busy schedules allow, however, when you are passionate – schedules become somewhat more elastic!

    Thanks for this post! Always motivating.

  15. Dear Marcia–

    Bars?….oh! That’s a swimming-pool fence. [g] Why am I signing books inside a swimming pool? Well, this was taken (by the ever-kind and gracious Nancy Castaldo) at the Historical Novelists Society conference last April in Albany.

    They held the conference at a Really Peculiar (though very interesting) hotel whose name has slipped my mind for the moment. It had sort of “villages” arranged around a huge, long central roofed courtyard–with at least two swimming pools (fenced) in said courtyard. And when it came time for the mass-author signing, evidently they figured that was the best place for crowd control [shrug]. (Yes, one lady _did_ fall in the pool!)

  16. Diana

    I believe you are referring to the Desmond Hotel in Albany. I went there for a conference once; and yes, it is peculiar, almost like they are trying to channel Colonial Williamsburg.

  17. I love this response to that question, where do you find the time?! I have three children under four years old and a home to take care of. I do all kinds of things and people are always asking me where I find the time to do all the things I do. (novice bee keeping, gardening, keeping chickens and other assorted animals, making soap, sewing) When I tell them my kids don’t watch tv, and I make most everything we eat from scratch, they nearly loose their eyeballs. I think it has to do with actually being a high energy person. Are you an high energy person? I cant just sit. I have to be doing something while sitting. Pregnancy was such a break for me b/c even though I was sitting, I still felt that I was doing something. :)

  18. This is slightly off-topic, but something rather odd happened to me. I was flipping through channels on the T.V. and landed on “Scariest Places on Earth” just long enough to hear someone say “the White Witch” in a Jamaican accent. Curious now, I watched some more and found out that they were at a place called Rose Hall. There was some more about how the White Witch gets angry and jealous and that she is very very evil. So, the point here. Diana, is Rose Hall a real place you used for Voyager? And have you heard this ghost story about the White Witch?

  19. I’m fairly certain we don’t have a resident White Witch, but at the school my daughter attends, (and I work at part time) the Gym/Exam Hall is called the Rose Hall.

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