Every once in a while, someone will ask me what my schedule as a writer looks like. When do you write? How much time do you spend writing? How have you been able to write so many books? I’m never quite sure how to answer because I’m not writing as prolifically as I did early on but am actually more regimented about my writing now than I was when I first started. That and I don’t think I’ve got it all figured out in terms of priorities and making the most of the moments I have.
That said, maybe sharing my typical schedule and some of what I’ve learned (by means of failing and trying again and again) might be an encouragement to those of you who are living busy lives and yet still want to write, still want to scrapbook, still want to juggle flaming torches – I don’t know – whatever it is that you’re wanting to make the time to do. I hope so, at least.
So, here’s what it looks like for me. To start with, I’m a homemaker. I know, I know. Most of you have thrown your hands in the air and already blown off the rest of this post because I must have all the time in the world since I don’t go to work. And I have to admit that being at home has definitely been a great blessing to me when it comes to my time and pursuing my writing. It’s been a personal choice that we’ve worked hard and sacrificed (and continue to sacrifice) to make a reality, so I won’t apologize for it, but I will put it out there as a disclaimer so that you won’t wonder what happened to those forty work hours a week that aren’t on my schedule.
Okay, so a typical weekday begins with me getting up earlier than my kids, like it does for most of you. I have my quiet time and get myself ready to go to the gym. Once the girls are up and ready (after varying levels of gentle prodding and all out threatening, depending on the day), I drop them off at school and head to the gym where I run for an hour on the treadmill, reading a book on my Kindle as I do so. I get home just in time to send Wes off to work, then I get cleaned up and do the typical homemaker stuff. Grocery shopping some days, laundry some days, bill paying some days, running errands some days, house cleaning every day (because German Shepherd hair is the thorn in my flesh), meal planning, doing dishes, making beds, etc. I’m usually done by ten, which is when I sit down and jump into my latest project. I work up until 11:30 or so, then fix lunch for Wes. He gets home at noon, and I spend his lunch hour with him. As soon as he’s back out, I’m right back to my laptop.
My goal is to have, at the very least, 2000 words written each day on my current work in progress. Back when I was getting started, I was writing 5000 words and more a day. Easily. Those early books were like verbal vomit, y’all. The stories were coming almost more quickly than I could write them down. Fifty books later (yes, I’m working on book number fifty – woo-hoo!), I’ve got everyone related and have used a lot of those initial great personalities and plot complications that came so freely at the beginning. Am I out of new ideas? No, but I find I’ve got to work harder and think longer these days to make sure I’m not falling into some patterns with my books and repeating myself. (Apart from the best pattern of all – girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, something threatens to keep them apart, they learn to love Jesus more even as they grow through that tough time, they reunite stronger in their faith, and they live happily ever after. That never gets old.) And I have to think a whole lot longer to make sure that none of my characters are intermarrying and that I’m keeping the generations lined up correctly. Because you all keep asking for Huntington books… and of course, there are more to come… (!!!)
I write until about 2:00 in the afternoon. Then, I read. I once read a quote from Stephen King (who is outside of my genre, of course, but is worth listening to given his monumental success in his niche) that said, basically, if you as a writer don’t have time to read then you don’t have time to write. The advice is good advice and certainly mimics what the professors I learned from in college said, about reading everything we could get our hands on. Well written books, badly written books, old books, new books, books in our favorite genre, books in genres we don’t even like – read it all.
I try to do this when I’m on the treadmill and when I steal this hour in the afternoon. (And any extra time I can find!) I read Christian romance, I read mainstream romance, I read paranormal romance, I read young adult romance, I read chick lit romance, I read historical romance, etc. Romance with all kinds of themes – sports players, friends to lovers, lost loves, enemies to lovers, and, yes, even billionaire romance. I read all of it. All the romance. (Except for the steamy stuff. Which really limits what I can read in mainstream romance, sadly enough, but I’m pumped that there are so many clean romance writers out there putting out such good stuff and attempting to turn the tide.) I make myself read historical fiction and science fiction – my two least favorite types of books. I read thrillers – those books with surprise twists that almost always involve the husband having some secret life that involves him murdering someone. (And I gasp, all shocked, every time that plot device is used. Because I’m your typical reader.) I read women’s fiction and crime fiction. I read traditionally published stuff and a whole lot of indie stuff.
What do I gain from all of this reading? Exposure to good writing, bad writing, well done plots, poorly done characterization, vivid descriptions, stilted dialogue, and so much more. I’m able to pinpoint my own writing weaknesses more clearly when I see those same tendencies in other people’s work. And more often than I would like to admit, I read something that is so beautifully and profoundly done that I see my writing for what it really is – not the best writing in the world. Humility goes a long, long way when it comes to writing books. After I’ve read something truly wonderful, I’m able to be more critical of my own work, which is always needed.
At 3:00 in the afternoon, I go and pick up the girls from school. Then, it’s homework time, flute and clarinet practice, and catching up on their days. I don’t write a single word once they’re home. That’s a new thing, though. Back when I was first starting, I’d write all the time, so much so that I wasn’t always as fully there with them as I needed to be. In the last year, I’ve really been trying to improve on this, making sure that they’re my priority. I only have so many years with them, and I want to make every minute count.
We make dinner together, eat once Wes gets home, and then do whatever it is that we’ve got going on at church that night. And more often than not, we have something every night of the week. Wes and I lead the student ministry for our community’s Celebrate Recovery program, and right now, that’s the only church commitment I have that requires me to do extensive prep work beforehand. (I fit that into that hour I have on week days before I get down to writing.)
On the weekends, I don’t do any writing… unless the girls are away for something and Wes is in the deer stand or at a meeting of some sort. And if that happens? I’m writing as much as I can. And as I’m writing one book, I’m mentally plotting the next two books. Once I’m good and in with a book and know where it’s going, I’ll sometimes do an outline to help keep me focused and on task. You may have wondered where marketing and doing those type of things fits into my schedule… and it really doesn’t. I know, I know. I’ve said this before, that I stink at marketing and networking and all of that. When I spend time promoting my books or blogging (like this!), my inner Jenn shrieks, “You could be writing a book right now!!!” True enough, but practices like maintaining an online presence, keeping a regular newsletter, going to the places where potential readers congregate, and doing something more than posting one “hey, I wrote a book” then being done with it (my marketing method most of the time) is important as well. So I’m working on this.
Anyway, that’s about it. I hope this encourages you and helps you to either find some time in your schedule or make the time to pursue whatever it is that you really, really want to do…