It’s the question I’m most often asked: How do you find the time to write and publish fiction while you also have a family (three young kids, dog) plus a day job. My usual answer is to flippantly say, "I don’t know. I’m not sure how I do it." Sometimes I’ll go with alternatives like "I get up really early" or "I have a very patient and understanding spouse."
All of those responses are true: I’m a little mystified by the fact that I complete anything (aren’t all writers?), I do wake up early (even earlier when I’m on a writing jag), and my wife helps make it possible for me to find time to write (thank you, Maria).
But for me, making progress on a book, and not getting overwhelmed and derailed by the daunting task of writing an entire book, comes down to finding, achieving, and maintaining a sense of daily momentum—no matter if the progress is large or small, and most of the time, in my case at least, it’s the latter situation.
That’s how I managed to finish my debut novel, The Miracle Girl, which came out in 2015, and my short story collection, Where You Live, which comes out this month. It was slow, steady accumulation. Waking up early and putting in about an hour’s work (more on the weekends, sometimes). Also working at training myself, convincing myself, not to rush, not to despair if I only revised one sentence. What helped me immensely was to feel like I had moved things forward in some small yet significant way.
Unlike many writers, I don’t do daily word counts or weekly page counts (too much pressure for something as fragile as writing), and I try not to get fixated on writer friends posting about their productivity on social media. Instead, when I’m working on a book or short story, I’ll ask myself a few simple questions before I go to bed at the end of the day: Did it get better? Am I farther along than I was yesterday?
If the answers are yes, then I consider that a successful writing day. I may have only removed a comma, fixed a consistency issue, written a new sentence or paragraph or several pages. But it got better; there was cumulative advancement. I checked in and engaged with the work and the characters and the world I’m creating.
So I strive for that daily momentum. But if it’s not daily (and that does happen, often, because of my schedule and day job/family commitments, and also because my energy level inevitably wanes), that’s OK; I try to avoid beating myself up about it. And time spent away from the writing chair counts, too. Reading, doing research, settling on a structure solution or resolving a character dilemma while driving to work or playing Uno with my kids—that’s momentum as well. It all adds up.
Just last night, I jotted down an idea on a Post-it for a structural change that will improve the new novel I’m working on. That was progress, that was something that would carry me forward into the next day, the next week, the next month. It got better.
And that, to quote Robert Frost, has made all the difference.