It’s the Return of the Revenge of the Ass in the Chair series of blog posts that I started…a long frickin’ time ago. Where have I been? Haven’t I been following my own advice? I have, actually. I was paying the bills. The last entry in the AitC series was two years ago. In that time, I released an anthology I edited, two full-length novels, a novella, a guidebook, and a handful of short stories. I ghost-wrote a novel. Twice. I also edited dozens of books and formatted over fifty. I dealt with personal problems like everyone else, too. Life got in the way. But I still got writing done. I’m going to tell you how. It wasn’t pretty.
So yeah, I’ve been busy. Too damn busy to keep my blog updated, but now you see it is shiny and sparkles with the intent of the serial blog non-updater. I thought I’d start out the return to blogging for 2015 with another installment in this series—especially since I just saw that the amazing Chuck Wendig did a post on the topic of the oft-repeated writing advice of “Put your ass in the chair and write,” right around April 2013, two months after my last installment. It’s a good post from Chuck though, so go read it. I’ll wait right here. This is it.
Chuck, as always, makes excellent points. “It does tell you where it begins and where it ends: with you.” That’s my point with this series, too. I’ll cover all kinds of things to do with writing, but if you aren’t… actually… typing… the… words, then no matter what advice I give you (or anyone else gives you), you won’t write that book.
Put your butt in the chair (or these days alternate between a standing and sitting desk) and write the words.
It is the most simplistic of writing advice, but it’s simplistic because it’s foundational. And I should know. I’m the guy who spent ten long years thinking about writing my first novel instead of doing the actual typing.
So let’s get down to it: How do you actually put your butt in the Staples Special Executive high-back? How do you find the time? “I want to write” I hear you say, “but I just can’t find the time.” You don’t find it. It isn’t lying on the ground somewhere for the taking. I used to hate advice like “put your ass in the chair” when I heard it from established authors. I would always counter (mentally) with “but I’m a full time student, and I work full time, and I’m a husband and a father. How?! Don’t just throw platitudes; tell me how.” So here’s how.
You have 24 hours. Same as the rest of us. So how do we do it? I get 6-7 hours of sleep a night. That’s it. I work a 40-hour-a-week job, editing and formatting and marketing books. I work from 9am to 5pm. Sound like a similar life? I am tired as hell in the mornings. At 5pm, I’m wiped out. But here’s where my life differs. I stay at my new office until 7pm, when I go home for dinner. I’m writing or doing other writerly work up until that time. I spend an hour home for food and time to play with my kids. Then, I go back to the office. I’m there until 11pm. That’s Monday through Friday. Saturday I spend about half the day in the office now. Sunday I hang out with the kids all morning and then I spend another 10 hours in the office. Writing. That’s the secret. That’s it. You steal the time where you can. Do I wish I could have stepped outdoors last Summer? You bet. But I had a book to write. This schedule is my schedule now. In the past, I wasn’t able to do this schedule. So I stayed up later than my family, and got up earlier than them, and wrote. In some cases, I took a few vacation days and checked into a cabin somewhere and wrote for long days.
Does that sound simplistic? It isn’t. I miss my kids. I haven’t read a complete novel for recreation in months. I’d like to watch more movies at the cinema. And once Spring hits, I’m going to be glancing out the window to my right and wishing I could play. I might trade in some sleep to do it, too. My spouse doesn’t like the schedule. My kids are always shocked that I can’t stay and play. My friends wonder why they don’t hear from me more often. My skin is pale, and my chiropractor is one of my only local friends. But I just got a novella/guidebook/short story hybrid book out (Endgame. More on that in another post). I hope to get a out a few more books this year.
The point is, the work never just magically finds its way from your brain to the page/computer monitor. Because it’s a bastard. It requires you to bleed it out of your forehead and onto the page. You have to work for every word.
So your life is complicated. I get that. I faced a bankruptcy, unemployment, uncertain freelance workloads that ranged from too little to far too much, health issues, a newly born family member, automotive breakdowns, problems with my son at school, a broken marriage, family drama, and a healthy addiction to pop culture from film to comics to Facebook in the last three years. I also wrote eight books in that time.
Here’s what I didn’t do in that time: have any kind of a proper vacation, sleep well or long enough, spend as much time outdoors as I wanted, go clubbing, join any groups or clubs that required my attendance, eat out at fancy restaurants, hang out at coffee shops, go to film festivals, watch every movie I’ve ever seen again (for the tenth time), go to rock concerts, go to amusement parks, travel, etc. I think you get the point. I cut out a bunch of the fun. Not all. I did still see some films. I did still see some good TV shows (if they were terrible, or even mediocre, I stopped watching immediately. I have no time for entertainment that doesn’t do its job). I did still get out a few times. I did still see family. But it was always with the mind set that “this is taking away time that I should be writing.”
That’s how you do it.
Unless you have money, a working spouse to support you, or a patron of some other sort (like parents), then that’s what you do. I used to always think “yeah, but I have a full time job.” But this is the dirty secret: If you really want to write, and you need to also work a full time job, then you need to work at writing like it’s a second job. Your health will suffer. Your family will suffer. Your social life will evaporate. But you will get the work done. The alternative is to spend ten years thinking about writing, and that helps no one. Ultimately, if you’re lucky and good, your writing will pay you enough that you can cut back to a 40-hour week, and just do the writing instead of the day job and the writing. That used to be pretty unlikely for lower selling and mid-list authors. But indie publishing has changed all that. You can make a living writing now and not being Stephen King. I’m not making a living at it yet, but I’m getting closer.
I mentioned before that it isn’t about writing your book and getting it out there. It’s about writing the next one. Always. As Michael Connelly said in Castle:
“You know what I did after I wrote my first novel? I shut up and wrote twenty-three more.”
That’s about the size of it. Write the next one, and then the next one. Eventually you might be paying the bills with it, and you can quit the day job and actually sleep and see your family.
If I had known this fifteen years ago, I’d have a much larger body of work. There is no secret easy way. You kill yourself until you don’t have to anymore.
The only bit where I disagree with Chuck? The part where he said as long as you’re writing, then 10 words or 10 thousand a day, it doesn’t matter. Because it does matter. Ultimately, it only matters when the book gets done. And if you have enough hours to get 10k done in a single day, then do it. A typical thriller novel is around 100k. At 10k a day, it’s done in under two weeks. I don’t have that kind of time, but if you do, go for it. But if you have only time for 10 words a day? Well, your masterpiece won’t be done for 27 years. No one has that kind of time. So steal some hours. Give some shit up. And yes, put your ass in the chair.