Tag Archive for: making time to write

Book Excerpt-To Find Time to Write Your Novel, You Must Make Time to Write

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.

To Find Time to
Write Your Novel, You Must Make Time to Write

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?

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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
Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,”
published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been
optioned for film.

The Importance of Saying No

by Linda
I have always had a hard time saying
“no.” I like people, and I always want to help good causes. This has led to
years of low pay in the nonprofit sector, tons of overwork, lots of volunteer
hours, and on the good side, an awful lot of great friends. It also leads
periodically to a terrible feeling of overload, that point I get to when I have
so many urgent or overdue or essential tasks to do that I’m paralyzed. How do
you prioritize when everything needs to be done RIGHT NOW?
When I get to that point, I have to move
into To-Do Triage. I list everything that’s demanding my attention (and get the
most depressing multi-page list). Then I move down the list, asking myself,
“What will happen if I don’t do this today?” If it isn’t job loss, client loss,
contract violation, child endangerment, arrest, etc., it doesn’t go on the much
tinier list to be dealt with right now.
The trouble is that you can’t live your
life in To-Do Triage. At least, I can’t. Not as a permanent lifestyle. Sooner
or later, you have to learn to say “no.” Even when it’s difficult. Even when
it’s going to hurt someone’s feelings (whether it should or not). Even when
it’s something you’d like to do. At least, if you want to write, you will.
Sooner or later, you have to learn to guard your time like a mother eagle with
her nestlings. And sooner or later, you’ll find yourself having to relearn it
all over again. At least, I do. (Maybe I’m just a slow learner, and all the
rest of you can learn this lesson once and for all, but it keeps coming up in
new guises in my life.)
I remember the first time I learned the
lesson of no. I was a young, broke mother of two (still in diapers) who wanted
to write. The advice manuals I read were aimed at men with wives and secretaries
or women with no children or enough money to hire help with the house and the
kids. Since there was three times as much month as there was money, hiring
anyone or anything was out of the question—I was washing cloth diapers in the
bathtub by hand and hanging on a clothesline to dry because we hadn’t enough
disposable income for the laundromat.  Yet
still I wound up the one in the neighborhood who canvassed with kids in
stroller and arms for the March of Dimes and the American Cancer Society.
One day someone who knew how much I
wanted to write gave me a little book called Wake Up and Live by Dorothea Brande, who also wrote the wonderful On Becoming A Writer. As I read it, one
sentence leaped out at me: “As long as you cannot
bear the notion that there is a
under heaven who can regard you with an indifferent, an amused or hostile eye,
you will probably
see to it
that you continue to fail with the utmost charm.”
I began carving out time and space for
my writing, and to do it without shortchanging my babies, I cut out television
and most of my community involvement. This lesson had to be relearned when
those babies were high schoolers, my new youngest was a toddler, and I became a
full-time student and a single working mother at the same time unexpectedly. It
returned to be learned again when my oldest two were grown, my youngest in
grade school, and I took on running a university women’s center that also
served the community. Every time it had to be learned in a different way with
different adjustments. Once I’d given up television, that option was no longer
open to me. At one point, I switched my writing to poetry because what time I
could create or steal was in such small fragments that it made novels impossible
to write.
Now that I’m writing novels again and
publishing them (as well as poetry and freelance work still), one of the
time-eaters is the promotion work we authors must all do to win the readers we
believe our books deserve. It’s not something that can be skimped on, and yet
the creative work of designing and writing new novels must go forward, as well.
For a while now, each request for my volunteer time and work has had to be
carefully weighed, and most reluctantly rejected. At this time, my major
volunteer commitment is our local chapter of Sisters in Crime, Border Crimes.
Everything else must sadly fall by the wayside—and some people are quite
unhappy about that, as if they had the right to my time and skills because I’ve
given them in the past. I’ve had to learn to deal with that.
What about the time book promotion
takes, however? With my first and second novels (this was never a real issue
with my poetry books and cookbook), I said “yes” to every opportunity, every
event, every guest blog, every interview, every podcast, everything. And I
managed to write books during that time, as well—and had the worst winters,
healthwise, in many years, having worn my body down. This year I’m trying to be
more strategic about the promotion opportunities I accept. I’m still saying
“yes” to most of them—it’s part of my job, and I know that—but I’m examining
them more closely and deciding against some that I don’t feel will be as useful
for me, especially with travel involved. It’s hard, but once again I’m learning
that lesson, which is apparently one of my life-lessons—“no” can be the friend
of my writing and is necessary at times.
Charles Dickens, who was one of the
earliest and most successful self-promoting writers, put it best for writers in
any age when he said:
“‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only
an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again;
but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to
any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere
consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Whoever is
devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to
find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see
you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.”
Do you find it difficult to tell others
“no” when they want your time? If you’re a writer, how do you create ways to
balance the promotion and the writing?
COMMENTS–Blogger still won’t allow me to post comments on this blog or my own. (Go figure!) So I will respond to comments by editing the blog below. (I know that makes just no sense at all, but it’s the way things are.)

Marilyn, I know what you mean. I read your blogs and Facebook posts and see all the things you’re still doing. I actually was forced to finally take this whole concept of “no” seriously when I developed lupus, fibromyalgia, and COPD. Suddenly, I just could no longer do the work of several people as I had been doing. And the interesting thing was the number of people who wanted me to get out of my sickbed and do things for their organizations anyway. One woman tried to guilt me by telling me about another woman who had hosted an event for them even though she had had a stroke. (Of course, that woman was extremely wealthy with live-in help even before her illness and paid people to do the work necessary.)

And the books! I do review some books professionally and I try to be generous about giving blurbs because people were kind to me when I was starting out. Plus, I have students who send me their manuscripts or want letters of recommendation for fellowships, etc. Sometimes, I just have to say no to a blurb or review because my desk is already piled high with manuscripts and letters to do. Sometimes people don’t understand.

Thanks, Debra! I think that trick of balance is the hardest one to manage, and even if you do, conditions change and throw it all out of whack again.

Mary, my experience is that often people don’t come forward to do those things, and programs, etc., end up falling through the cracks. I’ve learned not to allow that to upset me and just say, “Well, if it wasn’t important enough for anyone else to help, it wasn’t important enough to take my time, no matter how much it seemed to be.”

Warren, I’m laughing and crying at the same time when I read your comment. That is so typical. “You’re at home doing nothing but writing, which is another word for nothing, so your time is completely available to me.” These are the same people who say, “I might whip out one of those mysteries on my two-week vacation while shepherding the kids through Disneyworld. I mean, how hard can it be, writing?”