The April session of Cap NaNoWriMo is almost upon us, and I’ve given up hope that my schedule will magically clear itself so I can participate. But I can take some solace in knowing I’m not alone in juggling myriad pieces responsibilities to make sure I have ample time to sit and create (or revise or edit, or even read). Over the next few issues, I’ll be talking to some YA authors about how they manage to fit writing into their busy schedules.
This week, I had the tremendous fortune of being able to chat via email with Joshua David Bellin. His debut novel Survival Colony 9 is due out in September 2014, but he is already hard at work on promoting it even as he writes its sequel. If you follow him on Twitter where he tweets as @TheYAGuy, you’ll discover he contributes to a few blogs besides his own and is amazingly supportive of fellow writers. So naturally, I was anxious to know how he does it all.
E.M. Caines: Your novel, Survival Colony 9, is coming out in September, and I saw via Twitter that you received a shipment of ARCs earlier this month. I’m so excited for you! Now, most authors these days don’t have the luxury of just being a full-time writer. So in addition to that of author, what are some of the other hats you wear? How do you manage to juggle it all?
Joshua David Bellin: Yes, my ARCs did arrive, and it was a thrill to open the box! People tell me that the only thing better is seeing the actual book on a bookstore shelf!
But you’re totally right, writing is not the only job in my life. I’m also a college professor, I’m married with two kids (a teen and a pre-teen), and I’m active in the environmental movement. So like all writers—including those who write full-time—I’m pretty busy.
And to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I do manage to juggle all these responsibilities. When papers are due, my writing suffers; when I’m deep in revisions, I don’t hang out with my kids as much as I’d like to. So it might be better to say that I don’t juggle; I shuffle. Some writers, I fear, believe there’s a magic formula for dealing with all the competing demands on our time, and that there’s something wrong with them if they’re struggling or overworked or stressed. Based on my experience and the experience of other writers I know, I’d have to say: if you’re feeling that way, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just the nature of the writing life and the fact that there are only so many hours that can fit around the face of a clock.
E.M.Caines: Several weeks ago, I talked to a few writers about their writing and revision process, and it was interesting to see how different and yet somewhat similar everyone’s approach is. With all of your other responsibilities and commitments, how do you find (or make) the time to write? How do you deal with the days when you’ve been pulled in every direction and don’t want to write?
Joshua David Bellin: This might sound like sacrilege to some, but I don’t write every day. I’ve tried, but I can’t. I’ve got a full-time job, I’ve got a wife and kids, I’ve got parents, I’ve got social media, and I’ve also got to sleep! I used to cram all my writing time into the evenings, after my kids went to bed—but their bedtimes are getting later and later, and mine is getting earlier and earlier! So it’s just not a workable situation.
So here’s what I do: I designate days when I can write. I don’t teach on Fridays, so that’s almost always a writing day. I seldom teach during the summer, so that’s a solid month of writing days before my kids get off school, then two more months of decent productivity during their summer vacations. Add it all up, and that’s a lot of time to write and revise. It does mean, however, that the writing will sometimes sit for a week or more before I get back to it, and that my writing pace is slower than many people’s—six months or more to draft a novel-length manuscript.
I should also say that, even on days that seem perfect for writing—no classes, no kids, no distractions—there are times I don’t feel like writing. Sometimes that’s because whatever I’m working on isn’t going well. Sometimes it’s because I’m tired or upset or uninspired. Sometimes it’s for no reason I can determine. When I have those days, I try my best to overcome whatever’s keeping me from the keyboard. But I won’t lie: sometimes I don’t succeed. If that happens, I spend the day doing something else: reading, walking, sending angry letters to elected officials. Past a certain point, I don’t try to force the writing, because when I do, I end up producing garbage that only makes me feel worse!
E.M.Caines: I’m discovering many authors take on some if not all of the responsibility of marketing their books. How has that impacted your schedule, specifically your writing time?
Joshua David Bellin: Yeah, that’s a big one. My publisher does some of the marketing, and I also hired a freelance publicist, but I still shoulder a portion of the load myself. Whether that’s running contests or ordering swag or contacting librarians and bookstores, it takes time, and that means time away from writing. And it’s not only time in an absolute sense; for me, the part of my brain that markets is distinct from the part of my brain that imagines, so it requires mental energy to shift from marketing mode to writing mode. I wish I had a good answer to this, but I don’t. I tell myself I can insert the marketing activities into smaller segments of time than the writing, which is more time- and labor-intensive. But the reality is that to do any activity well, you have to devote time to it, which probably means I’m short-changing the marketing. I’d rather do that, however, than let marketing activities swallow all my writing time.
E.M.Caines: The one thing I personally think is hard for me to manage is a sense of balance, especially when the muse is happy and I’m completely focused on writing or obsessed with editing. How do you maintain a sense of balance?
Joshua David Bellin: Let me answer that with an analogy. As a parent, I’ve found that it’s not enough just to be there; you have to be committed to being there. If you’re with your kids but you’re on the cell phone (something I don’t own, by the way), you’re not with your kids. I don’t believe in multi-tasking; I believe in single-tasking well. So I’ll have times when I’m so into writing, either because of a deadline or a particularly strong inspiration, that other parts of my life take a temporary back seat. But I refuse to sideline any part of my life indefinitely. Though I can’t give all the parts of my life 100% of my time, I can give each part 100% of my attention when I’m there.
E.M. Caines: That is a great analogy and a fantastic approach. Last, what advice would you give someone who says he wants to write but doesn’t have the time to do it?
Joshua David Bellin: I’d say, first, that there are some people for whom that is literally true. We writers tend to forget what a rare privilege it is to have the time and resources to write; it’s unfair to judge others whose circumstances differ from ours and say to them, “If you really wanted to write, you’d make the time.” That may sound very wise and inspirational, but it’s cruel, and it’s an empty platitude. And I think writers should be in the habit of avoiding cruelty and empty platitudes.
I would add, however, that for some people who say they don’t have the time, that’s not literally true. And I’d ask those people how important writing is to them, what sacrifices they’re willing to make. I would never fault anyone for the way they answer that question; nowhere is it stated that you have to be a writer. Some of my favorite writers, including Thoreau and Whitman, emphasize the beauty of all work, done well. But if it’s tremendously important to you to write and you’re able to make time to do it, I’d say to you: I hope you’ll try. That’s all.Author Joshua Bellin. Courtesy of Joshua Bellin.
E.M. Caines: Thank you so much for your time and insight, Josh!
Joshua David Bellin: Thanks for inviting me to do this!
I’m not sure I could turn in my phone, but I can definitely try to take a more focused and dedicated approach when it comes to writing. I’m still not sure that will be enough to get me through Camp NaNoWriMo, though. Be sure to add Survival Colony 9 to your Must Read list, and while you wait for its September release, follow Josh on Twitter and Facebook.