8.18.2009 | By: Alisa Callos

A Novel in your Spare Time?

Well, I’m back from the Willamette Writers Conference, and yes, I had a wonderful time. I thought I’d take a page from my friend Valerie’s book and give you a few posts for writers—a little of what I learned while there.

Thriller writer Phillip Margolin taught one of the classes I most appreciated. He was working full time as a lawyer when he wrote his first book and spoke about how to write a novel in your spare time. As neither I, nor most writers I know, have the luxury of not working while writing our breakout novels, what he had to say was especially helpful.

Let’s start with a couple of general rules.

First, writing is writing. This means that whether you write poetry, lurid romance novels, literary fiction or graphic novels, that writing—the words you use to paint a picture—is just as valid and worthwhile as any other writing. You don’t have to be James Joyce or F. Scott Fitzgerald or write a classic, to write something worthwhile. Write what makes you happy, what excites you, and it will shine through and excite your readers also.

Second, writing is hard work. Many people have the idea that writers goof off most of the time, great ideas float into their heads like magic, and it all get onto the page and off to the publisher with minimal fuss. This is totally bogus. The biggest thing that distinguishes published writers from non-published writers is doing the work. Everyday.

Lastly, writing is a learned skill. Like any new skill, the more you do it, the better and easier it will become. This brings us to ‘rejection’. It is normal to have early works rejected. Don’t give up. It may take awhile to be published but it definitely won’t happen unless you keep writing.

So you’ve got a full time job, kids and husband, a house to clean, friends and the latest movie to see. When to write that story you’ve had in the back of your head for years…

The obvious answer would be every chance you get. Here are some ideas:

Change your concept of time. Don’t put artificial deadlines on yourself…it will take as long as it takes. Some books take years to be written and that is OK.

Turn off your TV. The average American watches 151 hours of television a month. That works out to four to five hours a day…time that could be spent writing.

Write one page a day. At the end of one year, you’ll have a 365-page story. Write two pages a day and you’ll have War and Peace.

Analyze your day. What activity could you cut back to get a little extra time? Just 30-minutes a day and your novel could be written in a year. The key is to be consistent. Make excuses, and it will never be done.

Sometimes things come up and you can’t write for a few weeks or months. OK—don’t panic. As soon as possible, pick up your writing again. Read through your entire novel to date so you can get back into the head of your character and resist the desire to edit. Your entire goal should be to get the story onto the page. Rewrites are for editing and cleaning up your manuscript. This is only done after your entire story is written.

So…writing a novel in your spare time can, and has been done…get to writing yours!

Good Luck and happy writing!


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