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Finding the Time

As a working attorney with two kids and two published novels, the most frequent question I get asked is, “where do you find the time to write books?”  My stock answer is that I don’t play golf, which frees up a lot of time.  The real answer, though, is that I find time wherever I can, and it’s usually difficult.  Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about time management for the moonlighting author, which I’m happy to share with you today.

Always be prepared to write.  I prefer writing on my laptop, but I don’t always have it with me.  Even when I do, it’s not always convenient to open it up, power it on, and start tapping away on my next chapter.   So whenever I think I might have a few quiet minutes to concentrate on writing (for instance at the beach, on an airplane, or sitting at a bar on a business trip), I put a few sheets of folded paper in my pocket along with a pen.  That way, when inspiration hits, I can jot down my thoughts wherever I happen to be.  I fold each paper in eighths and treat each section like a “page” (I write very small).  It’s amazing how much you can fit on a few sheets of paper using this technique.  I number each sheet sequentially and keep them until I find a chance to transcribe them into my manuscript.  Whatever method you use (ipad, pen-and-paper, tape recorder, etc.), the key is always be prepared to write.
 
Write first, edit later.  This does not come naturally to me, but I’ve learned to force myself to write quickly without thinking too much about grammar, punctuation, syntax, and the absolute best choice of words for each sentence.  All of that can be taken care of later during the multiple rounds of editing that will follow.  The first task, at least for me, is to get words on the page that will provide the bones of a great story.  The polishing comes later.
 
Never delete anything.  During the course of writing a novel, you will inevitably write much more than what actually makes it into the finished product.  On many occasions, I have removed entire chapters—even groups of chapters—from my manuscript, either during original drafting or during the editing process.  But I never truly delete these blocks of prose.  Instead, I save them in a “reserve” file for later use, because you never know when that great description of an alleyway fight in Chinatown or Istanbul at dawn will come in handy.
 
Just do it.  I’ve found that writing is a lot like running.  At first, you may not feel like doing it.  But if you force yourself to start, either out of habit or because you have a deadline looming, you can usually find a groove and accomplish your goal for the day.  For me, the first few sentences each day are often awkward (and destined for the “reserve” file), but the words eventually begin flowing, and before I know it I’ve put paragraphs, pages, and entire chapters behind me.  The key is, “just do it.”
 
Don’t forget to think.  Although the physical act of writing is obviously important, don’t overlook the value of just thinking about your plot.  This can be done anywhere and at any time—in the shower, during your commute to work, on the treadmill, or just lying in bed.  Turn off the TV and the radio, and simply walk through the plot in your mind from start to finish.  Put yourself in the shoes of one of your characters and imagine what they are experiencing and thinking during each particular scene.  I have found this helps create intimacy with my characters and also helps me solve plot problems, such as “how is this character going to get out of this situation alive?”
I hope this helps.  Good luck, and happy writing!
 
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James Barney is the critically acclaimed author of THE GENESIS KEY (a Thriller Award nominee) and THE JOSHUA STONE.  A Booklist starred review says: “Imagine a mix of Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, and Dean Koontz, with a sprinkle of Brad Thor—and maybe a touch of Stephen King’s 11/22/63. The Joshua Stone is completely original and totally terrific. Readers will quickly be looking for Barney’s previous novel, The Genesis Key (2011), and will likely become a fan of his writing for life.”


1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for the post. There's some really good advice here that may be applicable to more than just writers ... like don't forget to think!

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