Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Write Time

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

In the year since my first book was published, I’ve been interviewed a number of times and asked a multitude of questions by readers and aspiring writers. Two questions stand out in my mind.

How much does luck have to do with writing success?

Luck? Are we to believe that achieving a goal – a dream is as unpredictable as a coin toss? Success doesn’t fall from heaven—you make it. You work it – hard and not just when the mood strikes you. Don’t think for a minute that anyone is going to hand it to you.

The second question relates to when I find time to write. I work full time outside the home. I’m married with two children in college and my husband and I both care for our parents. We live in a large home in the historic section of town that has been a fantastic place to raise our children, has given us endless gardening pleasure, and is still a wonderful gathering place for family and friends—especially during the holidays.

I love to cook and have spoiled my family with homemade meals seven days a week from day one – okay, so we won’t count the occasional hot dogs and chips nights.

This October will mark our 21st year in this house. The first 17 years I spent nearly every weeknight catching up with household chores, doing laundry, and helping the kids with homework. Countless weekends were spent painting and/or papering walls, stripping layers of paint from the hardwood, ripping out carpeting, sewing curtains, and dealing with the handymen who came to our rescue when something went terribly wrong. I’ve spent untold hours scrubbing down surfaces and planting new flower beds. I’ve driven my children to ball game practices, dance rehearsals, school dances, and attended every science fair, play, and orchestra recital they were in from K-12.

And then ... in the spring of 2003, I caught the writing bug. Life didn’t change right away. At first, I used to work writing into my schedule much like I would a hobby. I set it aside and picked it up as time permitted. But the more I learned, the more I enjoyed it, therefore the more I wrote and the more I wanted to learn. My writing time quickly moved up a notch on my list of priorities and things like television got dropped from my schedule. Now that I have one book published and the second book on its way, writing has become my second job. Yes a job. It’s a passion, but it’s every bit as critical to me—my future, as my day job. Therefore I treat it as such.

If you’re serious about writing, my best advice is: Organize your time, prioritize the tasks, establish a schedule, and delegate, delegate, delegate. The first thing I had to admit to myself was that I couldn’t write and continue to do all the things that I had been accustomed to doing. Eventually I learned to say: “No.” I’ve gotten quite good at it now.

The day job is a must. It pays for my paper, ink cartridges, and the postage I use to mail out review copies of SILENCED CRY. It also helps pay for little things like the mortgage on this big old house and all the things that make it a home. However, I can still take control of my time: Weekends are chore and errand days, but I don’t drag either out into an all day affair. I usually have several places to go, like the bank, the grocery story, and the dry cleaners. I get the running around done in one shot, come home and quickly clean the downstairs—deep cleaning? What’s that? The next day, I clean the upstairs.

Everyone in my family knows how to run the sweeper and my favorite small kitchen appliance is my crock-pot; better it cook all day than me. Our son is in charge of the trash detail, mows the lawn when it’s not covered with snow and ice, and walks the dogs; my daughter helps in the kitchen. Dare I say it? She’s a better cook now than I am.

So the question remains: When do I write? It all depends on where I am in my writing. For the most part, on weekends I like to get up early in the morning before anyone stirs, fix a pot of coffee, check my e-mails and write for a couple of hours. I’ll often do some more writing in the afternoon and/or evenings. During the week, I put in four to five hours after dinner. I dedicate that time to writing, research, reading, networking, and/or marketing/promotion.

Everyone is different. What has worked for me, may not work for someone else. Each person needs to find the method and schedule that works best for them. My house isn’t as spotless as it used to be and granted, the weeds in the flower beds did get a little out of hand last summer, but it’s still home, and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family who lets me indulge in my passion.

So what’s my point? The key to success in any venture is dedication and consistency. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted. Prioritize your tasks and establish a schedule you can adhere to. You can come up with a million excuses for why you can’t sit down and write that first chapter today. Unfortunately, time will pass regardless of your action and at the end of a year or two you could either be signing your books or making another excuse for why you never got started.

No luck to it ... the choice is yours.

The SILENCED CRY book cover is eligible for the 2007 Cover of the Year award. Voting ends April 15. Every voter will be entered in a drawing for the winning title.

For excerpt and reviews please go to:


Kim Smith said...

WOOT! Amen sister! My schedule and life sort of mirrors yours, and your post made me acutely aware of how much a writing life is similar across the board. We all have families, homes, kids, and a -- well, regular life. But it is our creative natures that take us out of that norm, and put us in the chair to create worlds that are far removed from it.

It's nice to know others just say no to housework sometimes!

Thanks for this one, Marta!

Marta Stephens said...

We’d be nuts to subject ourselves to the sacrifices, deadlines, and frustrations if we didn’t LOVE what we do. You and I both know how fickle this business is. What a blessing to have someone believe enough in our work to take a chance.

I’ll never forget the feeling of holding SILENCED CRY in my hands for the first time. And nothing picks me up more than to get an e-mail from someone who has just finished reading it and asks for the next book. What a fantastic high!

EYR said...

Marta, what an inspiring post. I have to say, my writing life right now is totally driven by the kids' schedules. But, I know that these years with them are precious and life has an ebb and flow. Next year I will have one in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary. I've threatened to spray paint a wall in the kitchen with chalkboard paint because calendars just aren't big enough to hold everything.

Over the years, Kim has held my hand as I lamented the lack of time and even offered wonderful suggestions on how to squeeze a bit of writing time into my day.

Hats off to both of you for making 'it' happen. Your dedication and perseverance are fantastic. You both serve as a constant reminder that writing, raising a family and staying sane are all do-able!

s.w. vaughn said...

We are all insane...


Kim Smith said...

aww Liz, you are such a dear! and believe me, your time in the sun is coming, girl.
those kids are the bomb and you just enjoy every second of them~!
thanks for stopping by~!

Marta Stephens said...

And … SW … isn’t insanity great? :)

Liz, I was in my late 40s before I became interested in fiction writing. At times, I’m envious to read posts written by young authors who have found their passion and are enjoying success at such an early age. I often wondered, “what if?” What if I had started writing when I was in my 20s or 30s? How much more could I have accomplished by now? The answer is nothing. At that age I neither had the skills nor the determination (to say nothing of the interest) I have now. My focus was completely on my family and I wouldn’t trade the time spent with my husband and our children for anything in the world. Last Christmas our daughter and son (21 and 19) gave us a family scrapbook. It’s about 4 inches thick filled with wonderful snapshots of the things we did as a family, time spent with grandparents, birthday parties, recitals, vacations – things I had totally forgotten about. Those memories are absolutely priceless. Just keep at it, your day will come and not a minute before its time. ;()

Dana King said...

No offense, but I think denying luck has anything to do with writing success is a bit disingenuous. Certain towering talents don't need it. Everyone else should always keep in mind there are writers as good or better who aren't published, or aren't particularly successful, because their timing was off, or they didn't catch the right editor or agent. Competition is too stiff for anyone to catch a break without a little luck.

Luck doesn't mean anything was handed to the writer, or that he didn't work at it; I'm a big believer in the adage, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." It just means there are others just as deserving who don't make it.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta - great piece. Amazing how similar our lives are. I got the bug when my father died, when I was 44, ten years ago. At this point my three daughters were rather self-sufficient and needed a bit less from me than earlier years. I've given up night time television for good - but I still love my movies. ;o) And yes, SW, we are indeed all insane. And completely obsessed.

Julie Ann Shapiro said...

I'm in awe of your stamina and devotion and how much you are willing to share with others. You are a true inspiration.

My writing life is a lot more simple. I do freelance writing by day and write my stories most nights and weekends. Somewhere in the mix I socialize and do the house cleaning and a bit of cooking.

Once in a while like yesterday I play hookie and write a story in the middle of the day. I believe in giving myself treats like that, particularly when some negative person tries to dampen inspiration.
And hookie was fun. I wrote a new mermaid story. I highly recommend olaying writer hookie every now and then.

Julie Ann Shapiro