Wednesday, August 6, 2014


The great poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, said there is an ancient enmity between daily life and the great work.  Many of us can relate to that.  Every day we have dozens of things to do, all of which pull us away from the novel.  How do we overcome this challenge and stay productive and finish what we start?

One way is to learn how to write even when you’re not writing.  What I mean by this is that we’d all love to have four or five hours of peace and quiet in front of a computer to finish a new chapter but what if we only have fifteen minutes in a school parking lot waiting to pick up the kids? 

My suggestion is to use that fifteen minutes, use every second you have in your day that allows you to focus your imagination on the story you want to tell.  Keep a pen and notepad in your car.  Whip it out whenever you get the chance, even if you’re just jotting down notes about a new character, a character you don’t have a handle on yet, a character who is one hundred pages away from being born.  All work matters, even two or three lines.  It all adds up.  Most importantly, it maintains the connection between you and your novel.  You need to keep that connection strong and vibrant. 

Completing your novel is of paramount importance to you.  Do whatever you have to in order to keep making progress.  Get in the habit of using the voice recorder on your smart phone when you’re out walking or grocery shopping and an idea pops into your head.  You will feel better about yourself and your creative journey regardless of how small the output.  You’ll feel like you’re doing something.  And you are doing something.  You’re being creative.  You’re being resourceful.  You’re remaining steadfast.  Five minutes here, ten minutes there, do whatever you can until a block of time opens up that will enable you to get rolling.  They key here is not to drive yourself crazy.  We don’t want to get neurotic about trying to pack an hour’s worth of writing into five minutes in a parking lot.  What we do want to do is take the little chunks of time that seem ripe for creativity and plant something in them.  Keep planting and some day you’ll have a garden.


  1. Great post! And really, if I'm squeezing some writing in most days of the week, I'm making progress, even if it's in little chunks. And if I'm making progress, I'm better at utilizing the bigger chunks, too.

  2. To everything you say...yes! Those chunks of time add up.

  3. I love this post, James! It is so so true. There's a popular website about getting control of the mess in your home that touts the "Power of 15 Minutes." I do find it takes me time to reorient myself to my writing work and little chunks can make it a bit maddening, but then if I am consistently using the little chunks, it should take less time to reorient, right? Thanks for this encouragement today.

  4. Yes, this is very encouraging, James. Especially in the dog days of summer vacation with 3 kids baying for blood--I mean, competing for my attention. Thank you!

  5. I love your idea of a voice recorder! M

    1. Try this. Record some story ideas or whatever onto your voice recorder then transfer the audio file into i-tunes and burn a CD of yourself reading your work. You're very own audiobook. That process takes about five minutes. I've done it. It's a great way to build excitement and momentum around a project. There's something magical about popping a CD of yourself into your car as your cruising down the street.

  6. I think there's a certain inevitability to this. When a story lives in your head, you're always thinking about it and developing it as you go about ordinary things. My work in progress has changed dramatically since Monday, even though I haven't actually written anything since Sunday.

    But of course, ultimately, you do need to set aside those substantial blocks of time as frequently as possible, because thinking about and developing the story in your head will only take you so far.

    Harrison Demchick
    Developmental Editor, Ambitious Enterprises

  7. With a deadline hovering, I'm definitely in write in my head while away from the work mode. Good stuff here!

  8. If you're in a diner and jot down some descriptions of the booths, the counter, the hustle and bustle with your pen onto a napkin, you'll be surprised how good and useful those descriptions will be later on.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!