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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Tip 2: Stick to the
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
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
Remember Stickability and the
Lesson of Eating the Elephant! Works every time!
Tip 3: Live with Your
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 &
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!