Failed night owl? Me too. Fear not, there’s hope for us all, especially when it comes to finding time to write, as I explain in this week’s Killer Nashville blog, reproduced in its entirety below.
As I like to say, I’m a reporter by day and a mystery writer by earlier in the day. Most mornings I’m up before 5 a.m. After breakfast, dog-walking, and perusing the headlines on my phone and in the paper, I write from about 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. before changing hats and heading to the office.
It’s a challenging routine, but in my experience it provides the minimum amount of time I need — combined with four to five hours on Sunday mornings — to put together sentences that make some semblance of sense, not to mention figuring out whodunit, why, and where that body should go. (The latest book in my series about an ex-college quarterback turned private eye in Columbus, The Hunt, came out in April)
As a failed night owl, my regimen is built around early mornings. But over the years I’ve developed strategies for maximizing writing time that I think apply whether the view outside your window is lightening with the coming day or darkening with the setting sun. Until I write that bestseller or Netflix comes calling with a series proposal, here are some of the rules I follow as I navigate my two jobs.
Separate church and state. In times past, I tried warming up my brain once in front of the computer by reading a couple websites, trolling Facebook and pecking out an email or three. No more. How many status updates does a guy need first thing? These days, I focus my morning’s work on the writing task at hand — sit down, open Word, locate manuscript, read the prior day’s output, and then proceed with new material. Along the way, I’ll open a web browser to check a fact or two, but I resist the temptation to peek at Twitter just yet. All the ancillary writing tasks — the blogging, the email, the research — I reserve for evenings when the spirit is willing but the brain cells are sagging. No matter how much time your own schedule allows to write or what time of day, those minutes are too precious to squander on clickbait.
Farm sustainably. One of our family mottos is “don’t farm too close to the edge of the field.” Meaning, we try not to fill our days so full that there’s no room for occasionally just sitting around and doing nothing. Pouring a second or third cup of coffee. Reading. Watching a show. Taking a nap. I try to follow a modified version of this as I write. That means leaving open the possibility of pondering for a minute or two rather than just pounding away on the keys. Yes, in my experience, it’s possible to write for two hours without ceasing. But inevitably, the result is lacking. Writing requires reflection. A few moments or more spent considering a plot point can save a couple hours later when you realize the point wouldn’t fool a fifth-grader, let alone a discerning crime fiction fan.
Take a breather. This is related to the prior point, but on a macro level. Balancing daily writing with work and family obligations is one challenge; producing a manuscript under the confines of this schedule is yet another. One approach—and possibly the best one—is keeping at it seven days a week until you’re finished. Afterward, celebrate by walking away from the computer for a few days or weeks while you catch up on all those household chores that piled up while you were mentally away. In order to preserve familial harmony and keep the house from falling down around me, I’ve chosen that path with a small detour: giving myself permission to take Saturdays off from writing. The downside is that by pausing mid-stream, especially if the words are flowing, I risk losing momentum. And, to be honest, that’s happened more than once. The upside is both a chance to catch my breath—what bliss to start the day sipping coffee and just reading for a change—and to wrestle the chaos of home owning back into a semblance of order. Where did I put that screwdriver?
So far, it’s a system that works for me: focus on the work at hand; give myself time to ponder as I pound the keys; and take a break once a week. Now if you’ll excuse me, my alarm is going off. It’s time to move that body from Point A to Point B . . .
Welsh-Huggins, a long-time reporter at The Associated Press in Columbus, Ohio, is the author of the Andy Hayes mystery series, featuring an ex-Ohio State quarterback turned private eye, including Fourth Down And Out, Slow Burn, and Capitol Punishment (called “nicely plotted” and “a perfect read in an election year” by Publishers Weekly), along with nonfiction books about the death penalty and domestic terrorism. In the fourth book in the mystery series, The Hunt, Hayes searches for a missing human trafficking victim as a serial killer stalks prostitutes on the streets of Columbus, Ohio. When Welsh-Huggins isn’t writing he enjoys running, reading, spending time with family and trying to remember why having a dog, two cats and two parakeets seemed like a good idea at the time. More information is available at andrewwelshhuggins.com