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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Making Time for Fiction When You Already Write All Day Long

Like many freelancers, I write primarily nonfiction. My work is a mix of articles (mostly service and how-to pieces) and my own books along with different projects for ghostwriting clients as well. Yet I keep a hand in another world--that of writing fiction. I sold and published two "chick lit" books (although I prefer to call them contemporary women's fiction) in 2002 and 2003, and often have some kind of fiction project in the works. 

That's one reason I was so excited about author Kelly Stone's 90-day writing challenge, which started last month. It was the impetus I needed to get back into and finish my current novel, which is a "hen lit" (in other words, the "chicks" have aged a bit) story set in the Chicago suburbs. I'd be lying, though, if I said it was easy to balance all the work I have to do with the work I want to do. So I was happy to post on Kelly Stone's blog about this subject. Here's the post: 

I write for a living, and have for 15 years. So you might think that it’s easy for me to make time for writing fiction. Think again. Because I already spend my working hours writing (as opposed to, say, digging ditches, stocking groceries, or drawing blood), I find it hard to gear up to use my “spare time” to write. After all, I’ve been using the wordsmith part of brain much of the day. There’s often little mental energy or drive left over for my own work

Yet for me writing fiction provides a satisfaction that ghostwriting books, writing articles, and speaking do not. So I make time for it. Here are five ways strategies I use to stick with fiction:
1.                   Do it first thing. When I speak on time management, I suggest that people “eliminate the ugliest”—that is, do the thing that you most do not want to do. By tackling the dreaded task first, you get it out of the way and free up the rest of your day from worrying about it. You also have the satisfaction of checking it off your to-do list.
2.                   Write every day. When I’m working on the draft of a novel, I work on it every day—even if it’s just writing a scene or a few lines of dialogue. It keeps my hand in, so to speak, and keeps my characters and my storyline constantly swirling in my mind. I’ve had some great insights into my characters walking my son to school, lifting weights at the Y, or eavesdropping at my local Caribou Coffee—because I’m always thinking about them.
3.                   Keep a cheat sheet. I keep a running “cheat sheet” for every in-progress novel that includes my primary characters’ names, background information about them, and other characters’ names and identities as well. That way if I can’t remember, say, a character’s daughter’s best friend’s first name, I just check my cheat sheet and save time. (The cheat sheet also helps prevent me from reusing the same or similar names.)
4.                   Write about what you’re writing. This may sound confusing, but what I mean is that I take time to think about what I’m writing about before and while I’m working on a novel. So, for example, my first novel, Did you Get the Vibe?, explored the question of what would you do if you met someone you were overwhelmingly attracted to—but were in a happy, stable relationship? Would you act on it, or not, and why? Writing about the theme or issues you’re exploring can provide you with additional insights into your current project.
5.                   Wear a hat. Sometimes I need an external reminder that I’m in fiction-writing mode. I have several hats that do the trick. I plop one on my head, close my email program, and get to work, focusing on the task at hand—working on my novel. (I’ll admit with two little kids, this works better at night when they’re asleep.) You might burn a certain candle, sit in a certain chair, or wear a certain sweatshirt to signal your brain it’s fiction-writing time.

I’m fortunate to be able to write for a living, but that means I sometimes chafe at having to give up time to work on a novel. I’ll tell you, though, that I’m always glad when I have—such as with this 90-day Writing Challenge! Getting a novel published, and hearing from writers who love my work, only makes it even more rewarding.

Stay tuned for the announcement about new "hen lit" novel, to be released by end of March, 2012. And in the meantime, readers, what about you? Are you writing fiction and nonfiction as well? How do you balance both? 

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