My daughter, Ruby, is an 11-year-old athlete. Her main sport, the love of her life, is soccer. She’s a goalkeeper and nothing makes my little girl happier than having people kick balls at her head.
I was thinking the other day as I was watching her soccer practice about what an amazing work ethic she has.
It’s February right now and her coach is offering voluntary indoor practices and scrimmages. No one has to come. These practices are mostly just to give the girls something to do and help keep them in shape between seasons. Her official indoor winter practice with her U11 team is one hour on Friday evenings. There’s also a keeper practice on Saturdays for an hour.
Ruby wanted more. I told her she should ask her coach for more practice time. She did and wound up with permission to stay an extra hour to practice with the U14 girls who come in after the U11 practice is over (and she can stay up to two more hours to practice with the U13 and the U12 girls if she wants to–although four hours of soccer is a little much, even for her!), another hour with the U10 girls on Wednesdays, and an extra hour with the older keepers on Saturdays. So, at least five hours a week instead of two.
And then this morning she burst in to tell me that she had a FANTASTIC IDEA. She wants to ask her coach if she can practice with the U12 girls as well as her own team when the regular, mandatory practices start in March. Her regular practice schedule is two hours on Monday and Wednesday and Saturday (until games start, then just Monday and Wednesday, plus games.) Her FANTASTIC IDEA is to add two hours on Tuesday and Thursday.
That’s especially amazing when you learn that last Friday, Ruby was the only girl on her team to show up at all (she got a private lesson from her coach) and the Friday before that there were only four girls total.
Ruby is a Rock Star and I really believe that one of these days I’m going to be writing a blog about being the mom of an Olympic hopeful.
Writing requires a similar kind of work ethic.
You have to put the hours in to learn the skills that will give you a shot at being successful.
Not everyone is going to be a bestseller, just like not every 11-year-old with a dream is going to make it to the World Cup, but it’s a guarantee that everyone who does reach the pinnacle of the dream had a stellar work ethic and put the hours in.
There’s a theory that you have to write a million words before you write something publishable. That’s 1000 words a day for 1000 days, or about two and three quarters years. If you don’t write every day, let’s say you can get your million words in by averaging 500 words a day for five years. That’s 2500 words on the weekends or 1000 words every weekday during your lunch break. That’s getting up at 5 a.m. every day and writing two pages.
Are you willing to put in the time?
I know a lot of writers who are so invested in their first book that when the first draft of it doesn’t become a big success, they give up.
Are you willing to keep going if it’s your second or fifth or tenth book that’s publishable?
Becoming a successful writer requires behaving like one long before it’s obvious to anyone else that you are one. It means writing, even when you’re not sure there’s any hope you’ll ever be published. It means putting your butt in your chair, even when you could be doing something else. There’s always something else.
Are you willing to choose writing, even when it’s hard and self-doubt is trying to kill you?
Here’s the other thought I had, watching Ruby negotiate her extra practices.
She didn’t do it because she was thinking about the Olympics. She’s in the fifth grade. She did it because she loves to play soccer and she wanted more time doing what she loves.
Your work ethic needs to come from a place of joy and excitement, rather than being driven by a desire for success at the highest level. Especially in a field (like writing or sports) where very, very few ever reach the highest levels. Practice because you love it and you’ll be surprised by the success that follows.
Here’s a fundamental truth: the only way to make sure that you don’t succeed on ANY level is to stop trying.
Your work ethic is just about the only aspect of this business you have complete control over.
Negotiate with your calendar for more writing hours. Put in the work. Don’t worry about where you’ll end up. Trust that every time you sit down at your computer, you’re getting a little bit closer to being the kind of writer who gets published.
Here are my five best tips for finding hours to put into writing.
Wake Up Early
This is my number one go to. I wake up at 5 a.m. so that I have about an hour and a half to write before I have to wake Ruby up to get ready for school. Luckily for me, my best creative energy comes early in the morning. If that isn’t the case for you, you could flip this one and find an extra hour to write at night.
Waking up that early was tough at first. It’s still dark. My bed is so warm. The biggest adjustment was making myself go to bed early enough that I was still getting enough sleep. That meant ten instead of midnight. It’s still hard for me to go to bed so early, but most nights I manage it. It helps that a 5 a.m. wake up time means I’m pretty tired at night!
Give Up A Little Entertainment
That leads me to tip number two. If you’re a night owl, what are you doing after the kids go to bed? Whatever it is, could you be writing instead? You’ll never catch me saying to give up TV altogether. I love my stories however I get them, and often that’s on television. But utilize your DVR and record your shows so that you aren’t tied to the tube every night. Pick an hour or two and claim them for your writing. TV can wait.
I’ve found that what works for me is writing early in the morning and at night, when I’m watching TV, using a notebook to plan my next project. I use the method I outline in The Plotting Workshop and go through the steps in the evening. That way, when I’m done with my first draft of my current story, I have another all ready and waiting in the wings.
Figure out what works for you and be willing to sacrifice a little of your down time.
Use Your Day Job’s Down Time
Whether it’s during your commute or your lunch hour, there are probably moments during your day job when you could get a few words down. This is the equivalent to Ruby playing pick up soccer during recess. It’s only ten or fifteen minutes, but it adds up to at least an hour a week. Give your day job what it needs, but when you have a few minutes here and there for yourself, give them to writing.
Break it into Chunks
If you have lots of kids, a day job or two, and a house to run–maybe you legit don’t have an hour or two a day to dedicate to writing. So, break your hour into chunks. Write for fifteen minutes while you’re waiting for dinner to finish cooking, half an hour on your lunch break, another half an hour while your kids are doing their homework. Don’t let not being able to find a big chunk of time to write keep you from your story.
Learn to Write With a Pen
This is a big one. These days we’re used to writing on a keyboard with a screen. Start carrying a notebook, though. You might find you have a few minutes to write some lines while you’re in line at the grocery store or something. I’m serious! Get in the habit of always having a notebook and a pen with you. As an added bonus, when you go to transcribe those handwritten lines later, they’ll kick start your next computer writing session.
A Little Bonus
I’ve created a Finding Time to Write printable worksheet. You can find it on the Super Secret Page, which you can access by subscribing to What is a Plot below. It’ll help you analyze your current schedule and find time to put the hours into writing.