TIME, SELF-DISCIPLINE, AND COMMITMENT by Cynthia MacGregor

Writing—it’s a wonderful life…if you have the self-discipline. When I taught a writing class (for adults), I always told my students that the most important rule to remember about writing is to write—every day, if possible. (Give yourself the weekends off if you want, or if your family situation necessitates it.) My mantra was: “Apply tush to chair, fingers to keys, and write.”

You don’t get a book written by simply talking it up, thinking about it, or doing endless research but no actual writing. Do you want to call yourself a writer? Then write!

I don’t expect my fellow writers to keep the insane hours that I do. I mostly work a 12-hour day, seven days a week. But you do have to commit serious time to writing. Now, if you have a dayjob, a family (or other obligations), and you can write for only an hour a day, that’s your reality. It’ll take you longer to finish your book (or articles, stories, or other projects), but work with what you’ve got, as they say, and make the best of your hour a day.

Besides, you can “steal” some of your non-writing hours to do some not-actually-writing work on your current (or next) writing project. Want an example? What does your mind usually focus on while you’re doing mundane chores like washing the dishes, waiting in line at the supermarket or Home Depot, or commuting to work (especially if you’re not driving)? Instead of thinking about your upcoming vacation, reminiscing about your high school prom, or wondering whatever became of good old what’s-his-name, devote some thinking to your writing project.

Got a dayjob? You get a lunch hour, don’t you? Does it literally take you an hour to eat? Eke out some time during that hour to do some plotting or other planning on your writing project. Instead of lunching with a co-worker, eat alone…with your thoughts, and an electronic tablet or old-fashioned pen and paper to make notes, so you don’t forget them.

Plot out your novel, decide on the subject of your next essay, work out in your mind what are the most relevant points to get across in that how-to, or think about the distinguishing characteristicts of the lead character in your children’s book. Writing a mystery? Think of what red herring you can introduce to liven the plot and baffle the readers. Itching to write a cookbook? Think of a new angle or subject, ingredient or region that hasn’t been covered a million times before.

Then when you do sit down at your computer, you won’t spend your limited time staring off into space, trying to figure out what to write about or how to approach it, or what happens next in your Gothic, or what the most important points are to cover in your self-help book. You’ll already have your answer, and you’ll be ready to—say it with me: Apply tush to chair, fingers to keys, and write.

On the other hand, your problem may be too much writing time available. If you’re a full-time freelancer, the concept of spending, let’s say, eight hours a day working on the same self-help book or collection of humorous essays may be overwhelming.

I have an answer for that, too. Juggle projects. You can choose to literally write two different books in the same timeframe, or perhaps one of your projects will be something short-form. Then too, you might have galleys of your about-to-be-published book to read or research on your current book to undertake. You can divide your day, devoting part to actual writing and part to reading those galleys, doing that research, or sending out query letters to editors, or sending inquiries about circulating manuscripts that have been out for three months without a response. (Even I, workaholic that I am, rarely spend all or most of a workday writing one single project.)

But don’t let yourself be tempted into spending all day on the research, queries, galleys, inquiries, or other non-creative if necessary tasks. Be sure to spend a serious chunk of time creatively engaged. You know what you have to do. One more time now, all together: Apply tush to chair, fingers to keys, and write!

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Prolific freelance writer/editor Cynthia MacGregor (www.cynthiamacgregor.com) has over 100 published books to her credit. She also writes business materials and ads, webcopy, and more, as well as ghosting books for others, and edits books, magazines, and webcopy. All but one of her one-act plays, both for adults and for kids, have been produced, mostly by the (now defunct) Palm Springs Players in Florida, her home, although one, a play for kids, was also produced in New York. “There’s no one in the world I’d want to trade lives with,” she says. She can be reached at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.