by Linda Rodriguez
This is an excerpt from my new book on writing, Plotting the Character-Driven Novel.
I wanted to give you a taste of what it's like. As I explain on the very first page: "Writing a novel requires several things—time, motivation, the willingness to keep learning the craft of fiction, and an ability or process to access your creative thoughts. We’ll deal with the first two in this chapter briefly since they’re mostly beyond the purview of this book, and the rest of the book will concern itself with elements of the craft of fiction and a process for accessing your own inner knowledge of your novel by freewriting, brainstorming by yourself, and thinking on paper. I will be including samples of actual work documents I have used with this process to create published novels in order to give you examples of how these techniques and tools work—and also to show that behind those perfect books you pick up at the bookstore lies a great deal of hard work, messy process, and flailing around. This book is designed to help you keep the flailing around to the minimum."
So, this is from the first section of the book.
How do you find time to write the novels which are your vocation in the midst of job and career demands, family and housework demands, community and societal demands? When everyone else expects so much from you that there’s nothing left for your own dreams, what can you do about it?
First, we have to change our terminology from “finding time to write” to “making time to write.” The sad truth is that no one finds time to write. There aren’t big pockets of time just lying around waiting to be picked up and used in most of our lives. For most of us, we’ll have to give up some comfort or pleasure to make real time to write—in some cases, to make any bits of time to write at all.
The first step is to make the decision to own your own life. Time is not a commodity--the time we’re talking about is the substance of your life. When it’s gone, so are you. If you want to write anything, you have to claim your own life and find out what you want.
How do you find those pieces of time and the regular schedule for writing that leads to a body of work? The trick is to create order and make a tourniquet for a time hemorrhage, but first you must destroy all of those 'shoulds' and 'what will people thinks' that are standing in your way. Make it easy on yourself by asking for help and accepting help when it’s offered to you. Take the time to de-stress. When you’re not frazzled by stress, you’ll find it easier to set limits and boundaries and hold to them.
Whenever you find your desk or day becoming chaotic, take time to reorganize. It will repay in more time that you can steal for your illicit love affair with the novel. To make sure you stay on track with those things that absolutely must be done, make a brief list of the way your time was spent at the end of each day and week. Check it for places where you abandoned time reserved for writing or other truly necessary tasks to engage with lower priority urgencies or comfort activities. After a disastrous day, sit down with a notebook and figure out how to handle things differently if you face the same situations again. Review the situation and just what happened step by step, pinpointing the spot(s) at which you could and should have made a different decision or taken a stand against someone else's urgency with your time. Figure out a strategy for dealing with this situation when it next arises, and write it down. Then forget the day and relax.
Worrying about the myriad things, some great but most small to tiny, that we must take care of wears us down. When you find yourself doing this rather than being able to write or revise the passage you want to work on, keep an ongoing master list and write down each task or obligation the moment you think about it. Get it out of your head and onto paper to free your mind and stop the energy drain. Then, later, you can decide which tasks can be delegated to someone else and arrange the remaining tasks in the order that will allow them to be done quickest and most easily.
We can also free up energy by developing habits and systems to take care of the mindless stuff. We already do this every day, brushing teeth, driving to work, without having to make decisions for each tiny action that comprises these tasks. Develop a system for handling things that recur, and stick with it for twenty-one days. Then it will be a habit, and you can forget it and set your mind free to be more creative.
Much time use is sheer habit. Work smarter. Find the ways in which you want and need to spend time. Steal those minutes and hours from low-priority tasks. Break down everything on your to-do list into small tasks and estimate the minimum time to accomplish them. (Double all time estimates!) Schedule into your calendar. If they won't all fit in the time allotted, then something must go. Nothing is fixed in stone--renegotiate and eliminate whatever you can. Of the rest, what can you successfully delegate? It pays to invest time (and money, if possible) in training someone to do it.
Become assertive. Don't be afraid to approach someone with a request, and don’t take it personally if they refuse you. Learn to say 'no' kindly and firmly and to receive a 'no' without letting it affect your self-esteem or your relationship. Be secure.
Author of many published novels and teacher of writing, Holly Lisle, says it the best way I’ve ever seen it. “Realize that real writers who write multiple books and who make a living at it have systems they use. A process for brainstorming, a consistent way of outlining a story, a certain number of words or pages a day, a way of plotting, a way of revising, a way of finishing. Writing is work. It doesn't fall out of your head by magic. It doesn't just happen because you want it to.”
Linda Rodriguez's book, Plotting the Character-Driven Novel is based on her popular workshop. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in June, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.