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Writing The Next Bestseller!

Updated on March 22, 2014
Elephant In The Room
Elephant In The Room | Source


I like to write in the early hours of the day

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Making Time

Published January 3, 2014, by Mary McShane

Right out of the gate, I'm going to address the elephant that I placed in the room. (see elephant - stage right)

You might have come here looking for my announcement: Mary McShane wrote a best selling novel! Or maybe you are looking for a tutorial on how to write your next best seller. Or maybe you are slumming so you don't have to write today. (I get a lot of slummers!)

Sorry, but there's no announcement here, no tutorial, not even insider tips on topics to write about.

It is, plain and simple, about the mechanics of writing ... how to fit the time to do it into your lifestyle, whether you are a wife/mother, employed, Mr. Mom, retired or work at home.

  • dedicated time to write
  • your sincerity to the writing
  • prioritizing writing time vs other events
  • your goals for the finished product
  • visualization - the demographic group for whom you are writing

Writing Advice: Stephen J Cannell

From the Diary of Jules Renard, French author  1864-1910
From the Diary of Jules Renard, French author 1864-1910 | Source


I have given up trying to schedule time. I write whenever the spirit moves me

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Setting Up The Time

BTW, the words "time management" are a misnomer. You can't manage time. But you can certainly "allow time," which is the point of this article.

I know finding time is easier said than done. Hey, life happens, I get it.

But to be serious for a moment, your book is not going to get written by itself. All those ideas, scenes and scenarios you have in your head have to find their way to getting on paper (computer screen) or they will remain just ideas.

Before you know it, you will see a New York Times best selling author's book in the bookstores that smacks so similar to your idea that now you want to chuck your idea in the trash because someone has already written about it. You'll just want to kick yourself!

It's happened to me a couple of times. And I have no one else to blame but myself because I didn't write it down, I didn't nurture it and I didn't complete the project so that my name could have been on that book cover on the stands.

When it comes to making time for your writing, is procrastination your middle name?


Barbara Kingsolver, author of High Tide in Tucson, The Poisonwood Bible.
Barbara Kingsolver, author of High Tide in Tucson, The Poisonwood Bible. | Source


I have a set schedule with time blocked out so I can write with no interruptions

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John Grisham

John Grisham worked 15 or 16 hour days/60 to 70 hour weeks as a lawyer at a small Mississippi law office, finding writing time before going to the office, during court room recesses and when he got home from work. He made up his mind he would write one page a day of his first novel, A Time To Kill.

The day after he completed A Time To Kill, he started on his second book, The Firm.

A Time To Kill was rejected by 28 publishers before a small publisher agreed to publish 5,000 copies in June 1988. But, it was his second book, The Firm, published by Random House in 1991, that made him give up practicing law and become a full time writer. He is still a member of the bar and is active in The Innocence Project which works to free unjustly convicted people through DNA evidence. He is the author of over forty books.


How do you allocate hours to write in a day that has no more hours left in it to write?

Well, for one thing, it is not written in stone that your writing time has to be hours and hours at a time. If all you have is one to two hours per day, that's plenty - given your time constraints.

But you need to put some effort into helping to revamp your schedule to cut out those two hours that are dedicated just to your writing. I'm talking about uninterrupted, quality time.

"My time" used to be getting up two hours before my hospital shift every morning because that is when I had the most "uninterrupted time."

Now that I'm retired, "my time" is late at night because that seems to be when my ideas are flowing. It is when the phone has stopped ringing and the television is off because I can't stand late night infomercial racket going on in the background. Sometimes I put on some low music and alternate between smooth music, jazz and oldies. I only use music CD's (not the radio) so I don't hear breakthrough news and weather reports. I try to be as consistent as is humanly possible with my writing time each night.

I have a cousin who enjoys quite a following in the paranormal genre and she writes after her kids are in bed every night for three hours ... not a minute less. She churns out two books a year. I don't even try to match it. I only want to emulate her time management skills. After that, I'll work on writing and selling two books a year!

Bottom line: Don't wait for someone to give you time to yourself. Take it. Find the time to write any way you can. Once you find it, keep it. Don't deviate off your chosen course.

Interesting Fact

Barbara Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees, published in 1988, told the story of a young woman who travels from Kentucky to Arizona, and adopted an abandoned child along the way.

While pregnant with her first child, Barbara wrote at night because she struggled with insomnia. - Source: Wikipedia

Erma Bombeck

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything you gave me."

-- Erma Bombeck

Writing, With Kids

The satirical and humorous writer Erma Bombeck used to write right after she "shoved her kids out the door to school." She knew she had a solid three hours before either "someone called to say she had to come pick up a sick kid from school, or the school would call it a snow day and her kids would be walking in the door". (Excerpt from "At Wit's End" by Erma Bombeck, Published 1967)

After they got older and more independent, she blocked out three hours every day at the end of her day when she had the most time. This lady had time to raise a daughter and two sons, be active in her church, attend school functions for her children and her teacher husband, write consistently to feed several newspaper columns, write thirteen best selling books and still travel on the lecture circuit. She dealt with breast cancer with humor but ultimately succumbed to polycystic kidney disease, diagnosed when she was 20. She died at the age of 69 in 1996. A young age to be sure, but look at all she packed into those years!

With her time management skills, her accomplishments and the legacy she left behind in her books and many quotations that are still being bandied about today, many of us should look at our lives, and not knowing when the Good Lord wants to take us, to just ask ourselves - Did we get to do all (or even some) of what we wanted to do in this life so we don't exit with regrets?

Are you waiting for ideal conditions?

E. B. White, Author of Charlotte's Web
E. B. White, Author of Charlotte's Web | Source

Stephen King

"My own schedule is pretty clear-cut. Mornings belong to whatever is new - the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait. Basically, mornings are my prime writing time."
- Stephen King

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.

-- Jules Renard (1864 - 1910)

Work Equals A Job

Is your day jam-packed? Do you have multiple "to do" lists? If your life has more than five dedicated activities which use up most of the hours in your day, and you still don't have time to write, you obviously need a written schedule. After you make the schedule, enter the words "writing" into a time slot.

If it helps you to treat your writing as your job so that you will put aside time to do it, then by all means call it "a job." Just as some people rely on quirks and superstitions, writers also play games to get themselves motivated to "work".

Yes, I said that "W" word. Work.

Because writing is hard work and don't let anyone tell you anything different. It is not easy to formulate a story, the characters, bring it to a successful outcome and somehow get it all down in writing to make it an enjoyable read. I'll leave the submission, agent and publishing topics to billybuc because he is the expert there.

But I'm the queen of time management. lol. In my previous employment as a nurse practitioner, I managed a department of over 40 employees which meant making sure each one not only performed their duties within the time constraints of the position, but I also had to chop the heads of those who were not contributing to the well-greased machine - my department.

In the 1970's and 1980's, one might have labelled me an "efficiency expert." Efficiency experts were not well liked back then and they are not well liked now. Someone inevitably ends up unhappy with outcomes.

Hopefully by the end of this article, you will become your own personal efficiency expert and be happy with your outcome, which is making time to write your book.

Randy Pausch

The most difficult part of writing a book is not devising a plot which will captivate the reader. It's not developing characters the reader will have strong feelings for or against. It is not finding a setting which will take the reader to a place he or she as never been. It is not the research, whether in fiction or non-fiction. The most difficult task facing a writer is to find the voice in which to tell the story.

Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon Commencement Speech, 2008

If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.
-- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Setting Goals

Once you are able to carve out time each day to write, it is advisable to set a goal for yourself in order to feel any sense of accomplishment.

That can be in:

  • Hours
  • Pages
  • Scenes
  • Chapters

Don't start out on the high side in hours, pages, scenes or chapters. Start out small and work your way upward.

Two hours per day is not an unreasonable amount of time. You want give your new schedule a fighting chance to succeed. If two hours seems impossible to manage, either because of responsibilities, interruptions, or health reasons, be flexible. Cut down to an hour. Even if you have to change your duration each time you sit down - an hour on Monday, two hours on Tuesday, half an hour Wednesday, etc - at least you are making the time and that is the point. Once you establish a rhythm for yourself, you'll find it easier to allow yourself more time to give to your writing.

Lastly, share your goals. This is good on two levels: 1) helps to keep you accountable to yourself and to significant others in the home, and 2) allows others to be aware you are "working" toward this goal. Hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door to the room you are using for writing, if you must. Do what you have to do to keep your writing time uninterrupted.


“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King

The Word "No"

Part of the reason people have been so busy from the 1990's onward is because they can't say the word "no."

Someone needs a ride, you're right there. Someone needs a replacement at the church bake sale? Yes, I can do it. My Mom can't pick me up, can you take me home? Sure, no problem. The boss says he needs someone to come in a few hours on Saturday, and you volunteer for the hours.

It is all right to say "Yes" some of the time, but not all of the time. You need to set personal boundaries for your time and not feel guilty about it. Focus on your goals and start remembering there are other people in the world who can say "Yes" in your place.

A sign to hang on your door while working.

Door sign - to save and print. Right click, select open in a new tab or window, save to desktop. Print at your leisure.
Door sign - to save and print. Right click, select open in a new tab or window, save to desktop. Print at your leisure. | Source


I jot down (or record) notes that I put aside and probably will never use in my writing

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Multi-tasking and Delegating (Bribing)

The use of the buzzword "multi-tasking" is a runaway train. Many people are great at multi-tasking. The word "super" almost always is associated with them - SuperMom, SuperDad, SuperWoman, etc.

The truth is that they probably have a hard time saying "no" and often feel obligated to say "yes." If you consider yourself a super "multi-tasker," and you don't have time to put aside for your writing, here's a newsflash for you.

You're not that "super," or you would have incorporated writing time into your schedule.

If on the other hand, you already have writing time built into your schedule, then congratulations! You have mastered the art of multi-tasking.

Your next test will be when you want to allocate even more time to your writing. This will be when your multi-tasking skills will be truly tested, so you can free up more time in that already busy schedule. It'll be time to chop some heads.


Delegating, on the other hand, is a perfectly acceptable way to maintain your multi-tasking moniker and your "super" powers. The art of delegating tasks to others requires finesse so that it doesn't look like you are bossy, dictating or forcing someone to do something for you.

If you must delegate household or civic activities to an older child or teen that you normally would do, I don't think it is beyond reason to offer to pay them. lol Bribery always works in my family and I know it works in many other families too.

I would say that bartering with someone could be a way to manage your time, but bartering might require you to reciprocate the barter with a certain amount of time investment. So I would steer clear of bartering unless you can do it without imposing on your time.


I do a lot of research so I know my subject inside and out.

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The Internet

While the internet can be a major resource for research, verifying facts, and even inspiration, turn it off. That mean's Facebook, Twitter and any other social network site you belong to because for the amount of time you have allotted to your writing, you are officially "at work" and you are unavailable to everyone online.

Interruptions or distractions from chat boxes, "You've Got Mail!" Twitter and Facebook feeds will all contribute to keeping you from your writing.

While your home phone and cellphone can be considered disruptions, I draw the line at turning them off, especially if others are dependent on you - spouses, family members, children at school, real life employers, etc.

Using An Outline

Late Night

I burn the midnight oil for marathon hours trying to make up for the days I didn't write

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Quitting Time

So that other parts of your life don't suffer for your writing, give yourself a stop time. Even if you have to use a timer or an alarm clock, do what you have to do so that other members of your household respect the time you are giving to your new chosen profession.

By having a stop time, and consistently parceling out these hours each day, your household members will soon get used to "your job" hours.

If no one is demanding your time when the alarm goes off, it would be a shame to call it quitting time. Write until you are interrupted.

As with most things, if you want something bad enough, you will find the time to do it.

© Mary McShane

© 2014 Mary McShane


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