I often have conversations about writing with people who know very little about it. I see a lot of people through the course of a shift at the day job and my staff is always quick to point out that I’m a writer, especially when the subjects of books, writing, or writers come up. I usually have to point out, with some degree of embarrassment, that I’m not yet published, but most people smile and say something like “Hey, that’s great!” Some ask what kind of things I write and I tell them. Usually, that’s enough to end the conversation right there, especially when the conversation takes place at church.

The ones that really get me, though, are the ones who get a dreamy look on their faces and say, “I’d love to write, but I just don’t have the time.”

Really? Let me tell you about my schedule.

I work, with drive time, about 55 hours per week. Sometimes a little more, never less. My job is very demanding, both physically and mentally, and this time of year particularly, I leave feeling like I’ve been strapped to a high voltage wire all day. I would write during lunch–I’ve done it at past jobs–but I only get a half hour now and that’s barely time to boot my computer, much less get into the proper mindset to compose.

I am also married with four children, two living at home and two who live several hours away. My wife and children, for some strange reason I have yet to understand, want to spend time with me. Yes, they are crazy, but I love them and I see them all I can. When I am home in the afternoons, or on my days off, my time is spent with them, not with whatever fictional people floating around in the limbo of my brain. Under only the most dire circumstances will I leave them before 10 P.M. to beginning my nightly writing. By then, the children have been wrangled into bed and the wife is about ready to haul herself in that direction. Only when everyone sane in the house has abandoned consciousness do I find the peace and solitude necessary to write something I think is worth reading.

Wait, there’s more! I also have to make time for those awful little chores no one likes to do, but still have to be done. Laundry, dishes, and the like still need to be done and I can’t expect my wife to do all of it with all she has going on, so if I want clean clothes, clean dishes, etc. I have to pitch in to make it work. There are bills to pay, shopping to do, blog posts to write, and email to check, waiting for that wonderful agent willing to take me on in hopes that this economy will turn around before we all wither and die.

Now, besides writing, I have a few other interests. I read a lot, a necessary part of any writer’s existence, but more than that, I’m a slow reader. I don’t zip through books like some people I know and if I get through one in a week, it’s a surprise. I do listen to a lot on audio, as I’ve described in an earlier post, but I try to read as much as I can the old-fashioned way, and there’s a lot of books I can find on tape. I also like to play tennis, when weather and my aging joints permit, and even like to play the occasional board game as time and energy allow.

You might ask how much television I watch in a week and the honest answer is maybe two hours. Yes, two hours a week. That’s it. It’s not that I don’t like television–I do–but if I want to write, sacrifices must be made and television is the lowest on the priority list. So, for anyone hoping I’ll discuss recent developments on The Office or 30 Rock, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I’ve never seen an episode of either one. I may take a day off some time and watch a season altogether on DVD, but my work schedule is too erratic for me to get hooked on a show and I’m not giving up my writing time.

Despite all of this, I still write at least 1000 words a day when I’m writing and not editing, as I am now. This is set in stone and only when I’m feeling too sick to live do I let it slide. This is called discipline and this, not time, is what most people who fantasize about writing lack. It’s getting your butt at your desk instead of on the couch and putting your mind where your mouth is.

Trust me, if I can find time to write, anyone can. It’s all a matter of how much of your life you’re willing to give up. I’m not saying you should drop everything–my wife and children would be upset if I stopped seeing them except one a week or so, but anyone taking a good look at his or her life will likely find time waiting to be put to a better use. Like writing.

While I’m editing away on Project Superhero, I find myself occasionally drifting off to something else. That something starts as a tiny voice in the back of my mind but, as my eyes start to cross from staring at that dodgy adjective in my manuscript, it gets louder until it is almost impossible to ignore. The most maddening part is that it only says the same thing over and over–“What are you going to write next?”

This is almost always the question with me. My first completed manuscript, probably never to see the light of day, was an epic fantasy of the sort that I grew up reading. It was better than I expected from my first successful attempt at writing a novel and perhaps someday if I’m too famous for it to matter, I’ll see about shining it up and trying for publication. The second one, Dead and Dying, is more of a horror story, but with a literary bent that makes it somewhat harder to classify. That, too, it seems is not destined for publication, particularly in these tough economic times. My new one is, as I’ve said recently, an urban fantasy work with, I hope, a moderate chance of finding representation and, eventually, publication. There will come a point, though, not too far from now, when I’ll have done all the tinkering I dare to do with it, will the query letter I want to write, and will have to shoot it out there. Then, I’ll be left with nothing to think about other than that question–What now?

I know what I want to write, but I have one problem that may keep me from plunging right into it. I know the story I want to tell, but it’s a huge departure from what I’ve already written. Rather than a commercial fiction novel, this little idea is almost completely literary with a bit of historical fiction thrown in. The question nagging me, causing me to hesitate, is whether I am good enough yet to write the story I want. I’m sure I can get the story down, but I don’t know if my writing ability has progressed to the point where I can convey the beauty of what I will see writing this novel. I don’t know if my grasp of language is ready for something this ambitious

I do have other options. There are several ideas for strong novels floating around in my head, but this one is the strongest right now. I felt this way about Superhero before I wrote Dead and Dying and I was glad I waited. Both novels turned out better than I thought they would. This time, however, I have a story itching to be written more than any I’ve had before and I’m doubting my ability to do it justice.

I guess since I still have a few weeks to think about it while I’m wrapping up preparations for Superhero, I’ll hold off any decisions until I’m done and see how I feel then. I have probably three stories strong enough to generate a novel right up top where I can access them easily in my brain, but the one I want to write is the one I feel least ready to write.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who would like to have this dilemma, but it’s bugging the shit out of me. If anyone reading this has any thoughts on the matter, I’d be more than happy to hear them.

I noticed, in reviewing my last few blog posts, that I neglected to say much about recently finishing my novel manuscript for Project Superhero. I talked about working on it in one post and, after a long hiatus, talked a bit about editing it in the next. So, I’ll take the opportunity now to talk about it since it’s my blog and I can do it however I want to. Nyah nyah nyah.

The rough draft wrapped up at about 3:30 on Sunday morning before I headed out of town for two weeks to work on a new store opening (actually, it’s technically the reopening of a store that was leveled by a tornado in February, but the process is the same) so the time I had to think about it, much less talk about it, has been limited. I came back from that two week project, went to see my mom after she had a major surgery on her intestines, and followed that unpleasantness with Thanksgiving week, a poor week for a retail manager to do much of anything. Now, however, I have achieved a bit of normalcy in my schedule again and here’s what I have to say about Superhero:

I like it.

That’s a pretty big deal for me. Usually, by the time I finish a piece, I’m already seeing all the warts and such that I need to correct. Following Dead and Dying, I didn’t want to even think about the story for weeks, much less edit it for submission. With Superhero, I still see the warts, but I’m actually excited about working on them. In fact, I’ve already been working on them, less that two weeks after finishing the manuscript and that delay was mostly the result of my hectic schedule. What’s different this time? I think it has to do with my mixed success in submitting Dead and Dying. I still have it out to a few agents, but even if I don’t find representation, I’ve learned a lot about the process that I didn’t know a year ago when I was getting ready to start looking for an agent. I’ve received some form rejections, yes, but I’ve also had some requests for the full manuscript which, while not reason enough to throw a party, are victories that few authors ever see. What has me excited is that Project Superhero, even without a title, is a better book in my opinion than Dead and Dying. It’s also about 30,000 words longer, which is still well within the range considered acceptable for new authors. It really helps the sting of not finding an agent for Dead and Dying when I think that I have another manuscript almost ready to go for the coming year, one that leaves me excited about my prospects.

Now that I’m editing, I’m also learning about how my writing has changed from my last novel. I set out to avoid many things that irked me about my previous work and, with few exceptions, have done that. I’m painfully aware of many of my faults as a writer, but I consider that a good thing as it makes them easier to catch while the manuscript is still for my eyes only. For example, I have a horrible habit of repeating certain words, mostly adjectives, and I’m seeing far less of that in Superhero, but far more that I consider acceptable and that is one area I’m keying on during my editing process. I’m pleased that the strengths I found in Dead and Dying–realistic dialogue, good action, decent figurative language–are still there and perhaps a little stronger this time around. I know I have two scenes that I want to rewrite and a climax that I want to make a little bigger, but I know what I’m looking for and how to get it done.

I’ve learned some valuable lessons while working on this new manuscript. The first is that I’m improving as a writer. This may seem like a small thing, but to me it is a gigantic statement. Even if this novel fails to find an agent, I know that the writing, the actual selection and ordering of the words, is better than in the last one. More importantly, I know the next one will be better than this one and that, too, is an exciting thing to think about. I’ve also learned that even when you have doubts about the story, you should write it anyway. I took some time off from the novel during the summer, unsure on how I wanted it to continue. In the end, though, it wasn’t up to me. The story went on like the story was supposed to–all I had to do was sit down at the computer long enough for it to happen. Once I pressed through that malaise, the novel completed itself in about five weeks, nearly doubling my typical daily output. I also applied what I learned from the comments of my readers for Dead and Dying and produced a much cleaner manuscript. I made a careful point to avoid the things I was repeated called out on in that novel, bending the writing as I composed to the whims of my expectant audience. There were times I would write something and tell myself, “Oh, so-and-so will like that,” or “So-and-so won’t like that, I’ll have to come back later and fix it.” Still, even in the scenes I knew from the beginning that I would have to rewrite, I knew there were parts–phrases, sentences, perhaps even paragraphs–that I liked and wanted to find a place for in the finished draft.

So, in summation, I’m pretty pleased with the story I’ve told in Project Superhero. I’m still working on a suitable title for it and hope to gain some insights on this issue from my select few readers who helped me so much with Dead and Dying. The ms was shorter than I expected, topping out at 90,000 words and, with my revisions and rewrites, I expect the finished copy to be about the same length. Stephen King says that some people are “taker-outers” while some people are “putter-inners”. I’m a little of both, but I fall mostly in the “taker-outer” category–I often find places to clarify or expand during the rewrite. Sometimes I feel like my writing is too hurried and lacks enough internal dialogue or description to properly convey what I see, so I look for those gaps in the editing process and try to fill them in. This isn’t always possible, nor is it always the best thing for the story, so I try to be very judicious in how I apply these extras. Every word in a novel has to pay for itself if it wants to stay, so all the adjectives and adverbs I can bear to lose are gone.

As it stands now, I’m about one-third of the way through my first good read of Superhero, although I still have some rewriting ahead of me. I hope to have the thing ready for my wonderful readers by Christmas so I can make the additional changes they recommend and start submitting by mid-January. I’m going from the horror genre to the more popular (at least, right now) genre of Urban Fantasy, so hopefully that will also help my chances of landing an agent.

I guess time will tell.