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musings on the artist's life

Posted in: The FAB Book

How to write a book, 15 minutes at a time

What, am I nuts?

I work full time at a high-stress job. I go to school at night. I’m the sole caretaker for my 84-year old mother. And I think I’m going to write another book? Me? I don’t have time to write. That was a year and a couple months ago.

This week I’m taking a look at a test book — effectively a press proof — and my book will be available on blurb.com on Valentine’s Day.

How did it happen? What I’ve learned is that I can write anywhere, any time, with any level of distraction. (I’m writing this draft while waiting for class to start.) Two years ago, I would have sworn up and down telling you I needed optimum conditions to write: blocks of uninterrupted quiet, mental calm, my comfortably messy desk and falling-apart chair. That’s a myth. No wait, that’s bullshit. And just an excuse.

Thinking the book is the hardest part, and the brain doesn’t care where you are. Getting started is the next hardest, and I just did it. Weekends, between bouts of homework.

Waiting for a doctor or dentist appointment, I always had a notebook and a red pen with me. Or a book to read with a fresh supply of those little colored flags, part of my research. Waiting for takeaway dinner at a sports bar, or intermission at the opera gave me more 15-minute bursts.

Between work and class, I’d never go home, but instead went to the library. Or sat out on the quad or in the cafeteria. At first the chatter and laughter going on around me was what I heard, but after a few weeks, determination kicking in, I just zoned it out. Soon, I didn’t hear it at all.

I started getting up at 4:30 each morning, weekends included, because morning is a productive writing-time for me. I found a thousand ways to get an extra quarter hour to read through a draft of the current book section or write a paragraph, something that struck me.

Sometimes I pushed everything else aside and would spend an entire weekend day, 10, 13, 14 hours, working through stuff. One foot in front of the other, keep doing it. Some days it was tough. I was the queen of multitasking, talking a couple instructors for my communication and design classes into doubling up the book’s early layout or a project calendar as a course project. I positioned the last class I needed for an AA degree to coincide with the last of the writing. (Actually, I thought it would be too late, but six weeks of delay between an explosion of office work and a summer cold made it work out.) So my classmates in Writing Creative Nonfiction workshopped the first third of the 8,900-word essay. A+ all around.

And the book evolved. I worked out the complexities, smoothed over the rough edges, the extra time letting the work ripen and mature. The journey of a thousand miles, yadda ya. And here I am.

The down side of writing this way? that’s a topic for another post.

Don’t have time to write a book, you say? That’s a lame excuse… better find a new one.

3 comments

  1. Jennifer - February 13, 2010 11:14 am

    Great post. I agree. write in the interstices of your life. Only way to do it.

  2. Kate - February 18, 2010 10:51 am

    Great post! Most inspirational piece I’ve seen in a while!

  3. Pingback: Falling in Love Again by Martha Hart | #Amwriting (dot org)