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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Organizing: Three Big Chunks by Randy Ingermanson

The biggest problem many writers face is the clock. No matter who you are, no matter how important you are, no matter how smart you are, your day still has only 24 hours in it. You and Bill Gates both have exactly the same amount of time in each day.

The crucial difference is that Bill has enough money socked away so he can do what he wants. Most writers don't have that luxury. We've got day jobs. Families. Hobbies, sports, and entertainment. Church or synagogue or PTA or the Moose Club. We're also supposed to sleep, exercise, eat right, enjoy a bit of fun once in a while, and floss.

Somewhere in all that chaos, we also need to write.

Some writers find a way to make it work; others don't. What makes the difference between those who do and those who don't?

I have a theory on that. It's only a theory, but it's based on watching working writers work. It's based on watching myself work. It's based on twenty years of watching.

Here's my theory. If writing is one of the three big chunks in your life, then you have a good chance of successfully writing fiction. If not, then you don't.

What's a "big chunk?" That's easy to define. It's where your time goes. Look at the things you do, other than sleeping and eating. How much time do you spend on each one? The things you spend the most time on are your "big chunks."

If you work a day job eight hours a day, plus a one-hour commute each way, then your day job is taking up ten hours per day, and that's your biggest chunk.

If you're a stay-at-home-mom and you're spending twelve hours a day taking care of three kids, then that's your biggest chunk.

Those are the two most common big chunks I've seen in writer's lives. There are any number of others that aren't quite so big, but which combine to fill up your life. Take an inventory of your own life. How many hours per week do you spend on each of these:

* Job
* Family duties
* House, yard, or garden
* Church, synagogue, or other group activities
* TV, video games, or other electronic entertainment
* Exercise
* Reading
* Writing
* ________ (fill in that pesky blank)

Now let's be clear about one thing. Most of these are Good Things. Some of them, in fact, are Great Things. A few of them are Mediocre Things or possibly even Useless Things. It really doesn't matter.

What matters for you, as a fiction writer, is that your chances of success in publishing go way up if writing is one of your three biggest chunks.

Is it remotely possible that you can get published if writing is #4 or #5 on your list? Yeah, sure, it's possible. It's possible you could run a marathon on a training base of only 10 miles a week. But you wouldn't do nearly as well as you would if you were putting in 40 or 50 miles every week. There aren't very many certainties in life, so it makes sense to tilt the odds in your favor.

So my rule of thumb for success in fiction is to make writing one of the three biggest chunks in your life. I've got nothing against any of those other things. But the fact is that most writers who sell their first novel are writing at least 10 hours per week, and many are writing 20.

Let me clarify one thing. Very few writers start out writing 10 or 20 hours per week. Most writers start the way I did, doing an hour here and an hour there. Most writers work up to the 10 hour level over a year or two or five. But they rarely get published until they reach
that level.

Your life only has room for so many big chunks. So here are some questions I'll leave for you to ponder:

* Is writing one of the three biggest chunks in your life?

* What changes would you have to make in your life to make writing one of your Big Three?

* If you can't make those changes instantly, can you shift things gradually over the next six months?

* Would it damage your life to make those changes?

Now let me switch gears and point out the opposite hazard. What would happen if you sold a novel for so much money that you could quit your day job and spend all your time writing? Wouldn't that be GREAT?

Well . . . maybe. The thing is that fiction writing is about real life, or something pretty similar to real life. You always need something to write about, and for most writers, that comes from their own life.

What that means is that if you were to spend all your time writing, you'd probably run out of things to write about. Most of the working fiction writers I know have something else going on in their life. Writing may be their day job, but it's not the only thing they do.

My theory is that even when you reach nirvana and writing is your #1 big chunk, you still need to have a couple of other major things going on in your life that feed your imagination. Writers need to get out, do things, interact with the Muggles.

Not too many other things. Three big chunks seems to be about right.

That's my theory. It's only a theory. It's based on plenty of experience, but it's still at best only a
rule of thumb. Now the final question for you is whether this theory suggests an action plan you could make right now. If so, then go to it. Nothing ever happens until you take action.


Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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