How I Wrote A Book With A Full–Time Job and a Brand New Baby
Stealing back minutes and how I go about getting creative in my day-to-day life.
“Be willing and unafraid to write badly, because often the bad stuff clears the way for good, or forms a base on which to build something better.” —Jennifer Egan
The Blank Page
It’s a real thing. But it doesn’t have to be. The ideas that form in my mind come in all shapes, all sizes, and from all walks of life. Primarily when my mind is free to wander, like while out for a run, or pushing the stroller, or sitting quietly at a coffeeshop, people-watching. You’d be surprised how many characters have developed from observing a real person going about their daily routine. Let your mind wander, give it the gift of boredom, and it will reward you with creative genius. Then write that shit down quick because it vanishes as fast as it appears, sometimes even while I’m in the process of recording it.
Just Press Record
It’s all well and good to get these ideas in print somehow; on your phone, a notepad, scribbles on any available surface, but when do you review these magical ideas? My answer is as soon as possible so as not to lose the train of thought. Failing that, make a date with yourself, once a week, after the baby has gone to sleep to transfer those snippets of creative brilliance into a document that you will see the next time you sit down to write. The goal here is to cement the ideas in your memory for quick access when it’s time to get creative. More on this later but juggling the characters and events of a novel-length work is no small task and requires constant and consistent review.
Stealing Back Minutes
This is a whole blog just by itself. Raising a family, working a full-time job, and finding time to write is difficult. It’s a second job, and it requires time and more importantly, energy. But in the liminal spaces there are minutes, and you’d be surprised how many you will find once you start looking.
While living in Prague this summer, my commute to and from work involved riding a tram, then a subway, then a bus. All in it was an hour each way, but not all of it was spent sitting while someone else did the driving. In between each mode of transport I needed to walk through crowds of tourists and other commuters, often at rush hour. Not a great time to have my head buried in the pages of a book. My answer? Audiobooks. So on the tram and the subway, I read. Sometimes physical, sometimes ebooks. But on the bus, which I found a little nauseating if I had my head down, I listened. While I strolled between tram stops and metro stations, I listened. One book I listened to was Invasive by, narrated by . Possibly the perfect combination of narrator and protagonist, this book grabbed me by the short and curlies and hung on from start to finish. Ants. Genetics. What a concept. A must-read genetic thriller, a genre I also write within.
But I digress. My point here is that by identifying the fact that I had the better part of two hours every work day wasted on transport meant I got to read more books than I normally would. The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson, the aforementioned Invasive, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, Descendant Machine by, among others. What does this mean? That I no longer needed to steal quiet time at home in order to read widely, as all authors must do, which in turn freed up more minutes that I could dedicate to writing. I stole those minutes, nobody offered them to me, and nobody ever will. If your minutes are scarce, take them back where you can, steal them if you must.
Schedule and Routine
During a workshop at last year’s Whistler Writer’s Festival, one author suggested that the best time to write is when your mind is fresh, ie. in the morning. I agree, and the idea sounds great in a world with no family commitments; a quiet space to write, no full-time job leeching forty hours a week, no meals to cook, no commute. Full-time writers have this luxury, we do not.
As any parent knows, mornings are busy. There are no spare minutes available to steal. Perhaps your partner happily cooks, cleans, and raises your child alone (not advised!), perhaps you have established a writing schedule that allows you hours of uninterrupted creative space without the need to respond to your phone, or your child, or that partner, but I’d suggest those scenarios are unlikely. You are probably like me, trying to finish that novel in the margins of your life, and that means writing when the conditions are less than ideal.
And that’s OK.
I remind myself daily that these weeks and months with my six month old son are precious, to not exchange them for writing minutes. Rather, I choose to adjust; to write while he naps during the day, to watch NHL highlights rather than full games, to forego social time while on layovers and dedicate those quiet, hotel room days to completing the next chapter. It’s these changes in priorities, ensuring they are the changes I need, ensuring that those closest to me recognize how important the completion of this novel is to me, and working with them to maximize my needs while not minimizing theirs. It’s a juggling act with a non-linear progression, and I’m certainly no pro, but I’m working on it and over time, improving.
I don’t have a normal schedule. I essentially do shift work with the added complication of time zone crossings. Hotel rooms are not the quiet solace that we envision. My solution? Noise cancelling headphones. I use Bose QC45’s. The silence they provide is more than worth the price.
Follow Successful Authors and Do What They Do
There’s plenty of opportunities here on Substack for this. Many have their own blogs dedicated to helping new authors develop their craft, most also have books. Stephen King andhave fantastic books about writing.
Eventually the commitment and dedication to my creative process will lead to the completion of my second novel, and more satisfied readers.
I’m taking creative criticism seriously, and this recent review and first round cut from this year’s SPSFC3 competition is a reminder to cut no corners in my writing. The readers notice.
All for now. Thank you for reading!