Just Write It

From time to time I run into someone who finds out I’m a writer and tells me they’ve got an idea for a book but just don’t have the time to sit down and write it. You should do it, I say, but I avoid giving them advice or anything else beyond mild encouragement. In general I don’t like getting unsolicited advice, so I don’t feel comfortable giving it.

But in my head the lecture percolates mutely. And if anyone I talked to were actually interested enough in the writing thing to ask me how I manage to get it done, I’d be happy to turn off the mute switch.

If you’re hard-pressed for time (and all of us think we are), I’d say, look at how you spend it. Besides the stuff you really and actually  and absolutely have to do (working, eating, sleeping, exercising, making sure your kids stay healthy), where else does your time go? How many hours a day do you devote to the TV, the laptop, the tablet, the phone, to something someone else has written? But I gotta relax! you say. And what I would say is that’s an excuse, not a reason. Write your book, then relax.

And when you think about writing that book, don’t think of it as a big-ass, hundred-thousand-word novel that you have to attack at one sitting like a twenty-two inch pizza. Think of it as a marathon. When you run a marathon (and I’ve run a few, slowly), you don’t do all twenty-six miles, three hundred eighty-five yards in the first five minutes. If you’re fast, in the first five minutes you do a mile. If you’re slow, you do a half-mile. But regardless of your speed, if you put one foot in front of the other, and then do it again, and you keep doing it for forty or fifty thousand more strides (one at a time, sure, but the steps all add up), after two or three or four–or more–hours, you’ll cross that finish line. Remember the tortoise!

And speaking of tortoises, when I got the idea for my first novel, I was afraid at first that I wouldn’t have time to write it. I’d written some short stories and gotten them published, but a novel? I have a job! I have a wife! I have two little kids and a big one in college and a house and car to take care of. I have TV to watch and movies to see and places to go and books and magazines and newspapers to read.

But I had a book I wanted to write. And even my short stories had taught me a lesson: a little at a time does the trick. So I looked at my schedule and realized I was spending an hour on the bus each day going to and from my job in downtown Seattle. I got a pad of paper and a pen (no laptops back then) and sat down in the back of the bus and began writing. My goal: a page a day. And I met it. At the end of a year, I had my novel. Then I went to work revising it. Much of that was done on the home computer–late at night, early in the morning–but a lot of it was also on the bus.

I began the submission process. Another marathon. But after lots of rejections, I got an acceptance. The book–SOMEONE WAS WATCHING–was published in 1993. Twenty-two years later it’s still in print. Nine more books followed, and I’m working on a bunch of others.

So if you want a write a book, do it. No excuses. It could change your life. And the lives of your readers.

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