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  • Susan May

Stealing Time & Debunking the Myths of Writing, No Time and Quality

There’s a myth that’s been doing the rounds since forever that in order to write quality fiction you need to spend years on it. It’s bunk.

Hugh Howey discussed this in a recent post in which he said,“The lie that a good novel takes five years to write needs to die. There’s no correlation between how much an author procrastinates and how wonderfully literary their creation turns out to be.”

My concern with this myth is that aspiring writers believe in it and then don’t get started because the mountain seems insurmountable. Yesterday, a friend wrote telling me that she was too busy with life to write, even though she really wanted to pursue this career. She’d hoped that somewhere in the distant future (you know that place, it’s very magical) she would find the time.

Let me set those writers straight who don’t know this secret. That place in the distant future where you are looking for time, well, it doesn’t exist. To demonstrate how to find a better place, a more flexible place, I thought it would be a fun little exercise to share a week of my recent life when I wrote an 11,000-word short story. It will also serve as my contribution to stabbing the stupid myth that successful writers have a cozy office where they get to sit all day and drink coffee, in order to produce their works of carefully crafted prose. If that does ever happen to you I suggest you look out for the pigs flying by the windows.

First, I’ve been tagged in a blog hop by my Aussie mate Mel Hearse. Well she was my mate until she started telling everyone that her story in our anthology FROM THE INDIE SIDE is better than mine. But you will need to buy FROM THE INDIE SIDE to decide for yourself. I’m going to quickly answer the blog hop questions and then get on to that myth.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I try and write something different from anything I’ve read or seen in a film. My mother once said to me while I sweated a high school English writing assignment, “Imagine what everyone else will write and then write something completely different.” So that’s always my plan. I follow the illusionist’s tricks with my surprise endings, too. While a reader is over here distracted by the action and thinking they know what’s going on, they are exactly where I want them. Meanwhile I’m over here with the real truth that they hopefully won’t see coming. It’s a sleight of hand with words. I love writing it, while imagining the pleasure the reader will enjoy from the ending.

Why do I write what I do?

Zero choice. I love sci-fi, horror and anything strange. Somehow my brain is programmed that way, most likely from all the horror stories I read and watched as a child. Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock had a huge impact on me. Where my imagination goes, I’m merely a passenger and am forced to follow and take notes. Very quickly, usually.

How does my writing process work?

I don’t plot. I did try for a long time because that’s what I was taught. But I get bored. It’s been several years since I knew the ending of anything I write when I start writing. I have a scene or an idea, and then I just sit down and write the first thing that comes into my head. It’s terrifying and exhilarating. At the end I’m always shocked that I worked out the story arc and the ending and found a good twist. Of course, there is a bit of rewriting at times to clean up what I didn’t know in the beginning to make it match the ending. There is rarely a great deal to do. When I actually attempt to work something out in my head, outside physically writing it, I can’t. My mind is a blank.

That is the conclusion of the blog hop. Now onto…

Stomping on the lie that you have no time to write or that you need years to write a novel if it’s going to be quality.

As an example to fellow time-starved writers and those looking in on the writing world, I would like to share with you how I just wrote an 11,081 first draft of a story called “Back Again,” while crazy busy this past week.

I’m not doing this to say, “Look at me. Aren’t I a hero?” If I wanted that I would tell you that I slave over my keyboard, need quiet because I am a genius, and that I bleed every word. Some writers might and good luck to them, but that seriously does not sound like fun, and it’s not how I feel when I write. Writing feels joyous to me. It’s not work, and many times I feel like I am flying it’s so liberating.

The first thing to know is that I am a mom before anything else. I’ve got two “monster” boys, eleven and thirteen. They argue A LOT, treat me like a slave, and seem to have no clue that their parents are human beings with their own stuff. It’s all about them. I try to teach them differently, but hey, that’s the nature of kids these days, right? I drive the kids to and from school, and if they need me at the school canteen or to help with anything, my hand is always up. How do you teach your kids to be involved in the community if they don’t see you doing it?

Secondly, I'm a film and book reviewer, so I go to a lot of movies (averaging about three to four a week). I think my record was eight one week. Last year I saw 134 films on screen. Then I have to write the reviews. Of course, I have to drive to the cinemas all over Perth. So each film is a three to four hour round trip. I get in and out as quick as I can, around chatting to my critic mates. We love talking film and, no, we don’t ever get sick of it. Also eating into my time are promotions with book and film publicists involving the exchange of many daily emails.

Thirdly, I don’t work outside the home, but as any mom can tell you that doesn’t mean you don’t work your butt off, washing, cleaning, preparing dinner, and all the phone calls and errands you do. My house isn’t meticulously clean, but it is tidy. So I don’t live in a vacuum, and I don’t get to squirrel myself away from life to get to my writing. That’s an impossible dream. Two weeks ago on Monday 17th February an author wrote to me asking if I could contribute a time travel story to an anthology. It needed to be submitted by the 30th March. (UPDATE July 2014: The story became "Back Again" but I decided, in the end, to not have it included in the anthology and it was published in early May 2014.)

Now I have a lot on in the way of writing, a collection of short stories to assemble, a “Dust” fanfic to edit that’s come back from my editor, and a booking late March for more work to be edited. On top of that, coming up last weekend was the Perth Writer’s Festival where I had two speaking gigs.

But I love a challenge and I did have a time travel story that had kicked around in my head for several years that was just itching to be told.

How do I fit writing this story in, which I hadn’t planned to write, when I have no time? I was only halfway through creating my PowerPoint for my three hour workshop and the kids had a lot on with sport. So here is how I wrote 11,000 good words alongside my day-to-day other jobs—imagine constant chaos and interruption in the background, too.

Wednesday 19th Feb: