28 January 2017

Hiding in the Garret: Seven Tips for Writing Novels when you are still gainfully employed...

It’s a sad fact of life. The gap between wanting to be an author, and actually becoming a published novelist is a huge crevice bridged by hard work and a lot of time. Writing is a solitary job with no shortcut. You become a writer by spending hours and hours alone in a room with your computer.

I wrote ten books in ten years, while working full time at an executive job. People often ask me how I did it. How? How did I find the time?

It’s simple. You have to make writing your hobby, your passion, and all you do in your spare time.

Anyone can do it. But it means making sacrifices. Like it or not, if you want to be a published writer, and you don’t have anyone to support you financially while you write, time is going to be an issue.

Writing takes time. If you are going to write, you are going to have to give up something. Probably several somethings.

Here’s my list:

1. No television. Those hours at night from 8-10 (or 10-12, if you have kids) are writing hours.

Okay, what do I truly mean by no television? I allow myself one hour a day. (Crime shows, of course!) That’s it, on weekends too. Sometimes I don’t take that hour. I write instead.

2. Forget the gym. I know exercise is good for you. But we have to make sacrifices, people! I cut out every extracurricular activity that didn’t relate directly to writing. No more hours at the gym.

3. Turn your cell phone OFF. Until this year, I didn’t have a smart phone. I had a dumb phone that just took calls. Even now, when I write, the smart phone is in my purse in the hall. Oh yeah – and I don’t pay for data on it. This means, when I’m in a doctor’s waiting room, or on transit, I don’t surf the net. I write.

4. Ignore those facebook alerts! Turn them ALL off. You can check your page at break time. You don’t need to be notified for every post.

5. Make your vacation a writing vacation. I cannot stress this enough. If you are serious about becoming an author, then the prospect of two weeks with nothing to do but write should fill you with delight. (If it fills you with anxiety, we have a problem.)
For me, there is no better vacation than going to a tiny villa in Arizona where there is fab weather but no resort distractions. Going out for every meal. And then coming back to sunny weather on the patio and writing. And writing. I get so much writing done on vacation. It starts on the airplane.

6. Get a dog. Yes, there is a tendency to overdo the author-recluse thing. Having a dog will make you get outside for short walkie breaks (your new exercise.) A dog will keep you company as you slog away at the computer. And a dog is an essential audience for when you read your work out loud to test it. My pooch thinks I’m talking/performing just for him. Win-win.

7. Finally – and most important – collect friends who are writers. As I look back on my writing career (27 years, 100 comedy credits, 12 novels, 40 short stories) I can see that my body of friends has changed over the years. Most of my friends are fellow authors. They encourage me. Inspire me. Rage with me. Drink with me. Most of all, they understand me. Author-friends are the magic that keeps me writing. God bless them.

Melodie Campbell writes crime capers and other comedy-infested work. Check out her comedy blog at www.melodiecampbell.com


  1. Good advice!

  2. Great advice here! ....and I'm guilty of breaking some of these, even though I know I shouldn't.... Thanks for the suggestions, reminders, and nudges!

  3. Thanks, Janice and Art! I've had so many writing students who hope they can become published by writing for two hours on a Sunday afternoon once a month. They really don't understand that writing takes huge amounts of time, and you are alone for most of that time.

  4. Excellent advice. FIND the time and to hell with the rest.

  5. I have a full-time job. I write during my lunch hour. I can count the number of times I've gone out to lunch with my co-workers on one hand. They all know to leave me alone.

    I can ignore Facebook and my phone. Don't have a dog (the hubby won't let me have one). I watch an our of TV with The Hubby a night. It's "our" time together.

    Weekends and vacations are - problematic. Because I also have two teenagers. And they have needs/wants to fulfill (the oldest is getting close to driving, but not yet so I'm still a chauffeur). I can scrape time during a vacation, but weekends I sleep (have tried writing early in the morning and, um, no)? Still working on it.

    But great list otherwise.

    Mary, writing as Liz Milliron

  6. Yes, yes, and yes.

    The difference between a writer and those who claim they want to write is the amount of time you spend with your butt in the chair at the writing desk.

    It's not a matter of "finding the time," but of "MAKING the time," and your own experience proves that. Non-writers will never understand this.

    Great post.

  7. Thank you, O'Neil! Yes, it really comes down to what you do with your disposable time. If writing isn't first on that list...it's telling you something.

  8. Mary, I so understand. I was a hospital director and then association CEO for years. And I had two kids. Obviously, the kids must come first. In those years, I wrote comedy on a freelance basis, and had many short stories published. The novels came when they left for university. Thanks for commenting.

  9. Steve, thank you for that comment! As I read over the list, I think the one point that strikes me as most telling is how you react to a week of free time. If you are excited about being able to write for an entire week (with doing little else) then you are going to make it as a writer. You're one of us!

  10. Good advice, Melodie. I find that one of my most important writing tools is a little plastic timer I keep on my desk. In the morning, I set for twenty minutes and check my e-mail. When the timer goes off, I leave e-mail. Anything I haven't read yet will have to be worked in during breaks later in the day (or, often, the next day,which is how I sometimes get horribly backed up on e-mail). During the afternoon, I set the timer for twenty minutes again and check Facebook. When the timer goes off, it's back to writing. I know I miss many announcements about new books and new kittens, and I probably hurt people's feelings. But it's all too easy to let Facebook eat up the day. And I couldn't agree more about turning off Facebook alerts. I don't know how anybody can focus long enough to write a paragraph with alerts going off constantly.

  11. What a good idea, using a timer, BK! I use the "WC" timer. (and if I have to explain that, then people haven't been reading my comedy posts...)

  12. As Anthony Trollope (who wrote more than almost anyone on earth and worked full time for the British post office) said, the great secret to writing "is sticking plaster on the chair." And I try. B.K. - I'm going to get a timer. What a great idea!

  13. Eve, that is a wonderful quote. I would add, "sticking plaster on the chair and no internet connection."

  14. Awesome blog, Mel! I went back to work in August and these are exavtly the things I've been doing. I used to work from home part time and found it easier to write. Being out of my home office now most of the day I've had to reconstruct my writing times. It was difficult at first, getting into a new routine, but i can finally say I am there. I love being an author and it was something I was not willing to sacrifice to work out of the home. Bottom line is if you want it you have to work at it. ��

  15. Kat, that is so true. And I am *so* glad you are still making time to write. Thanks for commenting!

  16. Sensible tips for the rest of us, Melodie! Nicely put.

  17. Thank you, Leigh! I sure wish it were easier.


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