I’ve entered a phase of novel-writing which partly resembles novel-writing and partly resembles something else—something furtive, like low-level espionage, or a secret drug addiction.
For the past two months or so I was writing full time, flat-out, or as flat-out as you can get in this age of modern distractions like Twitter and Kingdom Rush and babies-who-for-some-reason-don’t-feed-themselves. Now I’m back at work.
But when you’ve got enough momentum going with a novel, and you’ve got a bunch of deadlines for that novel that you’ve agreed to, in writing, you can’t just stop. So you don’t stop.
Instead you go dark.
For example: in the mornings I work from home for an hour or two before I go into the office. Not because there’s any particular reason for me to do that, except that by the time I hit the subway rush hour is over, which means I can probably get a seat, and if I get a seat I can crack open my MacBook Air and steal 20-25 minutes of writing time.
I’m always on the lookout for little gaps like that in my schedule: anytime I can get a block of 10 minutes or more, I take it. I write in waiting rooms. I write in cars while other people are driving (this is very boring for them, but I do it anyway). I write while pasta is boiling.
Sometimes when I’m taking care of my kids they fall asleep, or lose consciousness for other reasons. The second they do I’m at my keyboard. Ninja writer strikes! Then I go back to changing diapers.
It’s not ideal. It’s tough to keep your concentration, with your time chopped up like that. But on the plus side you tend to come at your writing from new angles, freshly, the way you would somebody else’s book. And there’s plenty of time for your subconscious to process things and toss out ideas while you’re distracted by other things. I get my best ideas 10 minutes after I’ve stopped writing and gone on to something else.
And since you’re writing in the spaces in between work, your brain automatically categorizes writing time as play. Which is as it should be.
But it means leading a bit of a double life. I don’t always feel great about it. I don’t know who said, ‘books are written with time stolen from other people’ (Paolo Bacigalupi? Anyway I heard it from him), but it’s true. I’m engaging in petty time-thievery, all day, every day.
If nothing else, it motivates you. What you’re writing had damn well better be worth it.
p.s. People sometimes ask me, don’t you make enough money off your books at this point that you can quit your day job? Answer: Yes, theoretically. But [personal stuff].