Don Brown

Don Brown is the author of /Malacca Conspiracy/, The Navy Justice series, and /Black Sea Affair/, a submarine thriller that predicted the 2008 shooting war between Russiaand Georgia. Brown served five years in the U.S. Navy as an officer in the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps, which gave him an exceptional vantage point into the Navy. His stint as an action officer assigned to the Pentagon gave him further inside-the-beltway insight. He left active duty in 1992 to pursue private practice but remained on inactive status through 1999, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He and his family live in North Carolina, where he pursues his passion for penning novels about the Navy. Learn more about Brown at

Author By Night

Mastering Two Careers

“How do you write novels and do everything else you do?”

That’s the one question I am asked most often these days.

People want to know how it’s possible to maintain a full-time law practice that demands fifty to sixty hours per week, and at the same time maintain a full-time writing schedule and all the business that goes with that, along with coaching my son’s basketball team, serving on the board for a military museum, staying active in church and Sunday school, being actively involved in my children’s lives, and watching an occasional football or basketball game.

As I write this article, I’m in the initial publicity push for my brand-new novel, Thunder in the Morning Calm. At the same time, I’m working like a madman trying to finish the manuscript for my next release, Fire of the Raging Dragon. Tomorrow my son and I will attend a college football game in Chapel Hill, NC, a two-and-a-half hour drive each way, something I don’t have time for but father-son bonding is high on the priority scale. On top of that, I’m trying to finish an endorsement of a novel for a fellow author. Whew!

Get the picture?

But that’s my world.

I am breathless just thinking about it!

But before I dispense wise advice, let’s get real. The issue of time-management—how to divide one’s writing life from one’s “other life”—is an issue for every author.

For those of us who do manage two professions, either because we have to, or because we want to, the very thought, much less the reality, of the workload can be overwhelming.

For me, having been blessed with a modicum of talent and ability, I take seriously the mandate of the master teacher who said, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

The truth is, there are not enough hours in the day. But somehow, someway, it all gets done—eventually.


Here are eight tips I use while trying to balance it all. I hope they will be helpful to you.

Tip 1: You Are Not Alone

The notion of maintaining a writing gig while working a full-time job can be daunting. But don’t think about that. Think about this: You are not alone and it can be done.

One of my favorite dual-gig stories is how Tom Clancy got his start. Clancy was an insurance agent who wanted to write books. But having never made a dime selling anything he had ever written, he had to keep selling insurance while he wrote. Though he never served a day in the Navy, Clancy was so fascinated by Navy stuff that he spent his spare time reading technical naval magazines like Proceedings Magazine. So obsessed was he with the Navy, that while operating his insurance agency full time, he began penning Hunt for Red October. He submitted the manuscript to a small publisher, the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis, Maryland.

At first, the Navy thought that Clancy had accessed classified materials. But then, when convinced that Clancy had gotten his material from unclassified sources, the publisher printed 5000 copies of the book, and Clancy went back to his dual-gig of Insurance Guy and writer. Later, when President Reagan endorsed the book, lightning struck for Clancy, and the dual-gig came to an end.

But remember, Clancy did the dual-gig thing. Many others have as well. And you can too! So don’t be deterred that you’re working another job. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can, with enough self-discipline, work by day and write by night. You just have to prioritize!

Tip 2: Stick to the Best Ability

For those who have never written a book or a novel, a task that seems overwhelming, my daddy taught me a number of lessons when I was a boy, but one that sticks with me the most is “The best ability is stickability!”

This is so simple but so true. Commit to your writing goals and stick with it. And while the thought of a 100,000-word, 320-page novel might sound daunting, remember the simple riddle of the elephant.

Riddle: How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time!

And so it is with novel writing. One word at a time, one sentence at time, one page at a time.

You’ll be amazed at what you’ve accomplished if you write thirty minutes to an hour a day, five days a week, writing one page a day.

The time frame in completing the draft of my novels varies, depending on several factors. It took me about twelve months to write my breakout novel, Treason. The sequels Hostage and Defience took about eight months each. The longest project was Malacca Conspiracy, which took about eighteen months. I wrote my newest release, Thunder in the Morning Calm, in ten months.

Remember Stickability and the Lesson of Eating the Elephant! Works every time!

Tip 3: Live with Your Laptop!

Okay, this tip is slightly exaggerated for effect, but not as much as you might think.

If you’re serious about managing two careers at the same time, one of which includes writing, and then handling family and other matters on top of that, from the get-go there simply won’t be a lot of free hours. That’s just a sacrifice one makes for the love of writing.

For years, I’ve taken my laptop with me everywhere. If I go to lunch alone, I take my laptop and work on my book. On a plane? Charge the battery and write until the battery is about to die. Large chunks of Treason were written on a laptop in three places: a Waffle House across the street from my office, a McDonald’s dining room, and my local Barnes & Noble.

Now you can find me writing or working just about anywhere, anytime. Labor Day weekend, while my nephew drove five hours from Charlotte to my hometown of Plymouth, to see my folks, I sat working in the front passenger seat with my laptop.

Capture as much time as you can for writing. With two jobs, you’ll need it. Live with your laptop.

Tip 4: Mind over Matter

Learn to compartmentalize.

My grandmother, one of the wisest prayer warriors I ever have known, had Proverbs 23:7 painted on a white ceramic Bible in her bathroom: “As a man thinketh, so is he.” The mind must be conditioned from a disciplinary standpoint if one is going to successfully prosecute two professions.

I’ve learned that just dwelling on the thought of a hundred tasks can distract and paralyze me if I allow my mind to go in that direction. So to get anything done, I must focus on one task at a time and not think about the other tasks before me, even though I know they are there. So compartmentalize! Focus! Attack one task a time, as hard as you can, and don’t think about the other tasks while you’re working on the before you.

Join me next month in the “For Writers Only” column to learn the remaining four tips!

Stay tuned!


Thunder In The Morning Calm