Sunday, December 19, 2010

Finding a Natural Rhythm

Big Sky - October 2010
"Don't quit your day job." This is the advice many authors, and publishers alike, give to writers. And it is a well known fact that writing alone doesn't always pay the bills.

But, here's the dilemma. If one doesn't quit ones day job, how does one have the time or energy to get a collection of work together? If I was a visual artist it would be difficult to become known without having a collection of work, a show, or something more than a few pieces of work to display. This is also applicable to writers. And to get published one must send stuff out; to send stuff out one must have stuff to send out and at the rate I was going it would take another 3 years to get 10 stories together never mind anything else.
For Sale 

Of course, writing residencies would be perfect and afford me the time necessary to dedicate to my writing and do this – but many require you to have specific publishing credits in order to qualify and these are the very things I need to build. So, how does one keep the day job and amass work without taking a decade to do it and still write what one wants?

At the end of last summer I was forced to make some decisions about work in order to avoid a second burn out and take care of my health. I chose to cut my work load in half and work a 6 – 7 hour work day instead of 12 (at least when school's in). This has enabled me to spend more time on my writing and I have now come up with a system which works for me.

I divided my days into open hours, business paperwork, writing and market research. I'm open 5 hours a day, I spend an hour or two a week on business paperwork, 5 – 10 hours a week (ideally) on writing and 1 – 2 hours doing market research and the rest gets eaten up with errands, volunteer time and my children.

If I find a place I can send something which I already have finished, I do it that day. If I need to do some minor adjustments to a piece in order to send it out, I do it that week. In this way I have recycled, reworked, or finished many of the projects I was close to having done and polished. To date I have sent out 8 things, 3 of which are new pieces.

I have also learnt that regular writing exercises and word play are hugely beneficial in this process. If I find a magazine looking for a postcard story, I rise to the challenge. These shorts take a week or two to finish and allow me to explore different ways of conveying information; they also force me to focus on specifics such as action as opposed to narration, creating the suspense necessary to grab the readers attention and hold it, and including only the details which are pertinent to the story. This makes them pretty tight and helps my writing improve.

And in alternating between finishing projects, plugging away at longer term projects like my 2 novels, starting new short stories and sending stuff out I finally feel I've found my natural rhythm. And that is personally satisfying and relaxing in many ways.

On the dike in Dawson - facing West. July 2010


  1. It's always a challenge to find the time I agree.

    For me, by the time I get through the daily tasks of work, etc. my ability to concentrate is severely limited as is my impetus to begin. During those times I tend to read rather than write.

    Perhaps I, too, could get some finished material if I organized better; good suggestion :-)

  2. I think everyone's rhythm is different and it can take awhile to find. Mine has taken a few years and sometimes one has to do what one must to subsist and just try and work around it.

    I also sometimes wonder if a persons perhaps rhythm changes slightly over time... It's definitely thought provoking.