Don’t worry, we’re about to get practical.
So, second, set yourself reasonable and achievable goals. If you set unrealistic goals, you will fail and become discouraged.
I was working as a safari guide (photo safaris, thank you), trying to make a living, without writing my first book, when I heard a radio interview with the great Joseph Wambaugh.
He was a homicide detective in Los Angeles who wanted to be a writer, so he decided to write 10 pages a day, no matter what. I was, and am, a big Wambaugh fan, and I thought, “I can’t write 10 pages a day, but I can write five.”
I promised myself to write five pages a day no matter what. I wrote early in the morning and late at night. I wrote in tents, hotel rooms on trains and planes.
Two years later, I had my first book. (The first 15 editors I sent it to didn’t agree, but the 16th bought it. Like I said, never give up.)
Look, maybe you can’t write five pages. Maybe one page is a more reasonable goal. It is very good. Do the math: If you write a single page a day, you’ll have a book in about a year.
One sentence per day
The key to writing a book when you can’t write full time is not trying to write a book. Write a page, a paragraph, a sentence. They pile up.
Not to fake clichés like “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – but it is.
You have a job, you have a spouse, you have children – I get it. But I know you can write one sentence a day. And I promise you that very soon, this sentence will become a paragraph, these paragraphs will become pages, and these pages will become your book.
If you start now. Like today.
Which brings me to the third thought – Spend your time, don’t waste it. Time is all we have. That’s it, that’s our life. If you want to write a book, you have to make time for yourself.
The book that finally allowed me to become a full-time writer? I wrote it on a train. I had a 70 minute commute to and from work, so instead of reading a book, taking a nap, or playing cards, I decided to write a chapter each way. (Yes, those were short chapters.) Those train rides were sold to the cinema one Friday and to a publisher the following Monday, and I haven’t taken a commuter train since.
If you don’t have time, you have to make time. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s more time to sit still than we sometimes realize.
I know aspiring writers who have great book ideas and spend hours a day on social media. The book is never written. Lots of tweets, texts, Facebook meanders and Instagram posts are written, but not the book. And there’s a perfect place for a writer’s PlayStation 5 – it’s called the trash can.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was “Never waste 10 minutes”. You know when you have a few minutes before you go somewhere? And you’re trying to “kill time”? Instead, sit down and watch a single sentence. I bet you can improve it.
Listen, if you can save yourself an hour, great. But if you can’t, don’t worry – find half an hour, 15 minutes or 10. The point is, you commit to it and you do it. It’s best if you can do it on a regular schedule, but if you can’t, that’s okay. “Catch as catch can” is always taken. Just do it.
Please don’t wait for inspiration. Here’s something that’s never happened to me: I’ve never walked through a field of flowers with flutes in the background when a muse landed on my shoulder and whispered my next book. What I did was sit at my desk and type until I wrote something decent.
Finally – and this is important – define yourself as a writer.
Whether you’re (still) published or not – if you sit down in front of the blank page, or a screen or whatever, and commit to putting down words, you’re a writer.
Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
You have a community of sisters and brothers here, you are our colleague, and you belong.
Writers write. Full time, part time, whatever. So write. What you can, when you can, and you will write this book.
Don Winslow’s new book is city on fire (Harper Collins).