Friday, November 07, 2008

Who Has Time to Write? A Guest Post by Writer Karen E. Olson

Author Karen E. OlsonKaren E. Olson happened to be in Anchorage a year ago when we both attend Bouchercon 2007 and since then she's produced yet another novel, Shot Girl while still finding time to be a wife and mother. For those of us wondering how someone squeezes the birth of a book--let alone FOUR--into those same 24-hour periods Ms. Olson's here to share her bits of wisdom on the subject.


I don’t have time to write.


But somehow I’ve managed to write four books in three years. That’s with a job, a kid, a husband, and a house that needs cleaning every now and then. I could forgo the dusting, but not the vacuuming. We’ve got two cats that shed even in winter, and with the amount of fur I pick up, I could make a whole ‘nother cat.

So, you ask, how do I do it?

I used to stay up with the little elves in the night, writing furiously after a shift on the newspaper’s copy desk. But when I stopped being a vampire, it got a little more dicey. Do I wait until my daughter goes to bed and risk falling asleep on my keyboard? Do I pick my daughter up after work and sit her in front of the TV while I selfishly ignore her and create a world she can’t read until she’s 21? Do I abandon my family after supper, leaving my husband to clean up and make sure the violin gets practiced?

It’s somewhere in the middle and all of the above. I steal moments. Like that proverbial thief in the night, I’ll throw a load of laundry in the washer and creep into my office when I don’t think anyone’s looking. I don’t allow myself to look at what I’ve done the day before, that would take way too much time, but instead I finish the sentence I left unfinished and type as quickly as I can.

Mrs. Guida, my high school typing teacher, would be proud I’ve kept up my speed.

The key is just writing. No waiting for muses to tap me on the shoulder. Those taps are usually just my daughter wanting a snack or help with math homework.

And instead of telling myself I have to sit for an hour and write something (because with that sort of edict, I’ll just end up surfing the web or playing Scramble on Facebook), I set a page goal for the day. It’s much less daunting than a word count. I can’t think in thousands, or even hundreds. A writer friend pointed out that three pages a day equaled a book in three months. He was right. I started at three pages a day for my book Dead of the Day. With Shot Girl, I was up to four pages a day. And the book I wrote this past summer? The Missing Ink was done in two months, at five pages a day. It’s amazing how once you get into a rhythm with it, how it becomes part of the fabric of everyday life as much as picking up your kids, picking up the clutter in the house, and picking out an outfit to wear to work.

No one has time to write. But it can be done.

Shot Girl by Karen OlsonKaren E. Olson is the author of the Annie Seymour mysteries. Shot Girl, the fourth in the series, is available now. She's got a daughter, Julia, who's 11 going on 16, and a husband and a job editing a a medical journal at Yale. Her website is and she blogs at

Sponsored by:Beau-Coup--Fine and unique baby shower favors.

Technorati tags: books, writing, mysteries


Susan said...

Thanks, always looking for new books to read, especially mysteries! So there really is time to write? Huh, imagine that. Of course there is always time to read! Have a great day!

Chris said...

Karen- That was great! There really isn't time for anything but somehow it gets done.

Michelle- how fun that you are part of the blog tour this year!

Leslie said...

This is a great post!

I'm always struggling to find time to write and it comes in bits and pieces, like it does for Karen. I often wonder about folks who sit down to write for blocks of time - how do they do it? I've often told myself that this is what the real writers do. It's nice to know a real writer like Karen gets her job done with habits similar to mine. It gives me hope that maybe I'll be a real writer one day, too.

Annette Lyon said...

So well said. Time to write isn't found; it's MADE. Nice to find another writer who steals those snatches!

Karen Olson said...

Hi guys! Thanks so much, Michelle, for having me here today!

And yes, there is time to write. You just have to find it, even when it's being the most elusive.

Leslie, you ARE a real writer, because you write. The key is "published," and it took me 15 years of seriously writing before I landed my first book contract. Perseverance pays off!

Octamom said...

Really enjoyed reading this--in my mind's eye, I think of writing as having a dedicated chunk of time, positioned artistically at a generous desk, comfortable yet chic writer's wardrobe draping my creative and toned body. (Creating this whole scenario would, um, take a lot of time, a new house, furniture shopping and a lot more running...) In reality, it does sound as if writing a book can be done much in the way I write for my blog--a sentence here, a captured thought there, the consistency and volume coming from the discipline of getting some down every day--

Thanks so much for a very encouraging post!


Lauri said...

Thanks for the encouragement to writers. It is so hard to "find" time to write. I will try the page idea. Thanks again.

Annie said...

Great post, but now I feel guilty for not writing...sigh...

Karen Olson said...

Annie, don't ever feel guilty. We all get busy and can't get to writing every day. But if you try to get into a rhythm, say one page a day, or even one paragraph a day, it doesn't have to be much to be productive.

Munchkins and Music said...

Okay, I needed to read this. Very good tip, one page a day! Thanks.:)

John said...

Man, you just made me feel all kinds of lazy! (OK, I have the spouse and the job, but no kid...) But I'm thankful that you, at least, find the time because I love your books!

Amy said...

That is great encouragement for writers. I am mom of two who works full-time, and I'm doing National Novel Writing Month for the first time this year. I am surprised and delighted about how much I've been able to get done during stolen moments. This experience has really gotten me fired up about being a writer and finding time to write, just a little bit a day.

Marianne Thomas said...

Karen: Thanks for reminding me that I just need to leave the darn laptop open and write one tidbit at a time.

I think so many of us writing moms have that ideal of the Famous Writer At Work ingrained in our psyche (like The Shining...without the crazy) that we believe that if we don't have big chunks of time, we can't write.

Thanks for proving me wrong...and inspiring me to try a bit harder.


Michelle @ A Happy Heart said...

I love your take on writing. Especially since you've had success in completing books! I often wonder how I can focus my attention on writing the stories I want to write, when there are so many other things to get done. I think there has to be an added passion that I really need to find and then hopefully, I'll be up to one page a day! Thanks for inspiration and Michelle, thanks for publishing this post!

Kate said...

Nice post. Exactly how I feel, except that I haven't put together a book in a year. I've been working on a book in and around music compositions, music lessons, and articles...oh yes, and the two kids, one of whom has special needs.

But darn it, I've been published. :)

We do what we can, I guess.

Daisy said...

Maybe this is the way I need to attack writing -- steal time, set reasonable page goals.
Then again, reading is fine with me, too. :)