HOW I MANAGED TO WRITE A DROWNED KINGDOM WHILE WORKING AS A FULL-TIME SHIFT WORKER
I’ve been asked a good question by many of my friends and especially my colleagues in the same line of work (some of whom have then admitted they too are aspiring writers – go for it, my friends!) once they found out I’ve penned A Drowned Kingdom. They ask, “How did you manage to write a four-hundred-page epic fantasy novel, working full-time in a shift-work type job?”
I acknowledge it’s not easy to finish writing a novel under any circumstances. Whether you have a 9-5 type job outside of the home, or are working from home, or if you are a stay-at-home parent, no matter what your schedule is, life can be busy, demanding, stressful, and interfere with writing time. Certainly, time to write can be obstructed in all those scenarios mentioned, and all the numerous scenarios I haven’t. It’s hard to complete a novel, period, for anyone, including those working shifts like I do. I typically give a three-part answer to that question posed by my friends.
Part One: You can do it!
First, a bit of a rallying cry. “If I can do it, so can you! You have the discipline and fortitude to finish your story, no matter what your other obligations are, no matter how hard it can be working shifts!”
Believing in yourself and your own abilities is what you need most to get to the finish line, where your published novel is sitting in the hands of, or is being heard in the ears of, or is on the screens of readers.
Writers often undergo so many impediments. One of the greatest ones I’ve found, even more so than shift work, for example, was self-doubt. Oftentimes, waffling between, “Readers will love my writing, I’m good enough to be a best-selling author!” and “Readers will hate my writing, I’m going to be a flop!” While there is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of humility, you need confidence to complete your novel. Sometimes I’ve read the work of some well-established, highly acclaimed author, or an amazing new writer / up-and-comer, and compared my own writing to those lauded wordsmiths, and become momentarily discouraged, thinking I can never measure up. Figuring I may as well give up, as no one will
want to read the book anyway. But then, I stop feeling sorry for myself, and feeling inadequate, and pick myself up. Writing, its highs and lows, is ultimately the best thing I ever did, after marrying my wife and having children, and like those parts of my life that I can’t imagine doing without, the best is yet to come for me, I believe.
Don’t abandon what will become one of the best things you ever did! Toni Morrison, the award-winning novelist, opined, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So well said, and so true. There are millions of books out there, millions of authors, and literally there have been millions of “best-selling” books throughout history, and there will always continue to be a plethora of popular books. There’s room for every conceivable genre, every variety of author, to have a chance for success.
There are so many more avenues to be a writer these days, like self-publishing, and so many more formats in which books are published, i.e. audio, Kindle, etc. Your book, or short story, or poem, etc. can be one of them! Don’t deny others the joy of reading your work by not getting started on writing it and sharing it with the world! Write your book, your style, your way. That’s one of the reasons why you wanted to write in the first place. Appreciate the amazing literary genius of others, but don’t think you aren’t capable of your own. You’re unique, your book is unique, and it can be a hit in its own unique market, demographic, etc. or become an international sensation!
You too, can be a successful author, despite any challenges, such self-doubt - which I believe can be a far bigger hurdle than working shift-work - laying in the way.
Part Two: Start writing, that’s the only way to finish writing.
The second thing I will say is: you need to start somewhere if you plan to evolve from “wanting to be a published author” to “published author”. You need to start writing. A book, especially a book the size of nominal fantasy novels, doesn’t get written overnight. And for many fantasy authors who frequently aspire to write a series or several series of novels, it’s a lifetime journey. So I say, the sooner the better in terms of having those first words on paper. Because the moment you have the first few words on paper, you’re writing a book. It’s not a finished book by any means, nor even a finished draft of a book.
But things have started. The writing of a book has begun, and the person doing the writing will one day be an author. Quite an accomplishment! Not everyone can say that.
With that in mind, even if it’s a few words every day, every week, or every month, I suggest to you, please write something, anything, when you can. Of course, I’ve learned that writers should probably be doing many other things conjointly while one writes, as you work towards your goal becoming an author. Things such as getting advice on being an author from those who are already published if you can, researching the business-side of authorpreneurship (especially self-publishing), establishing a social media presence, and a whole host of other activities.
Still, the most important activity is writing, and if you do nothing else, write, and if you must, worry about all those other things once your final draft is nearing completion. I’m blessed to have my lovely and talented wife as my partner in my writing enterprise to manage of all those other critical elements of authorpreneurship, so that I can focus on writing, so writing and the other activities such as marketing, etc. is done simultaneously.
Regardless, if you must choose where you devote your finite time and attention because you are a one-person Indie writing powerhouse, as your own publisher, cover artist, printer, web designer, marketer, everything, devote that scarce time and attention first and foremost, in my opinion, to writing. Because you can’t put illustrations in or properly promote a book that is never finished. Or, with the right self-publisher in your corner, such as I have with www.Frisenpress.com you will likely thrive, because you will have some great expertise, guidance, and assistance, taking some of the others pressure off so you can get back to churning out chapters. Or alternately, going the traditional route, with the support of a savvy agent paired with an established traditional publisher and their resources, you have an excellent chance for writing glory, without requiring the same depth of mastery of the business side while you write your masterpiece because your representative and publisher will be handling the bulk of that for you.
Writing around 1500 words per day, in about 107 days you will have written over 160, 000 words. You may not be able to write a single word every day, much less a page, but then again maybe you will. Nonetheless, 120-160, 000 words is average for most modern epic fantasy novels and could potentially equate to about a 400-page novel, depending on print. That’s the approximate length of A Drowned Kingdom once it’s published.
Therefore, if you’re the organized, determined, and prolific-writing type, and you manage to find the time, and the inspiration, writing at the pace I described, you could write the first draft of your epic future bestseller in about three months. Whereas it took me about a year to complete my first draft of A Drowned Kingdom, and another two years, after uncounted smaller-scale revisions, to get to a fourth and final draft. So you’d have me beat there, for sure! Writing at a final draft in three-months-pace, assuming revising your book’s first draft at least three times, which is what I did, would have your book ready to go for editing in about a year.
Part Three: Writing is hard, there will be personal challenges to conquer, but it’s undeniably rewarding when you finally finish.
Next, I admit, wow, it’s tough! There will be particularly difficult, individual days or even weeks where it feels like inspiration has dried up in your brain. Times where you don’t even have the energy to so much as glance at the computer or the notepad. Times when you feel because you’re writing now too on top of everything else, that you’re failing at all the other responsibilities such as spouse, children, full-time job, chores etc. Times when you stare at the computer screen and feel like you will never be able to finish the next sentence, much less a complete novel. I’ve been there, and unfortunately, you probably will be too if you endeavor to be an author.
Everyone’s challenges will be different. For me, my path to authorship has been most complicated by shift work. Not complaining, because many people are essentially working shift work, either due to late night feedings with newborns, sick children or pets up at night or dealing with ailing, elderly parents or family one is caring for, etc., and thankfully I am not in that stage of life or position at the moment. But working shift work in my full-time job, varying overnights, days, and afternoon shifts throughout the course of my writing efforts to-date has often left me drained, trying to recover, and not particularly motivated to write.
It’s all about mindset, though. I wasn’t going to let my work schedule, from a great job that provides a roof over my head and food on the table, and the financial ability to self-publish in the first place, deter me. After all, I chose to work in that line of employment. My faith, support from my beautiful wife, incredible family, and wonderful friends, trying to commit to some sort of semi-regular exercise, were all invaluable elements helping me push forward towards my goal of completing A Drowned Kingdom in the face of an irregular schedule.
But in the end, as the author, it continues to be all about personal willpower, commitment, and drive /energy to succeed. It’s no different from going from couch-potato to marathoner, starting a small corner store business that grows into a grocery chain, or obtaining an entry-level job and working one’s way up to becoming the president. One must work hard, overcome obstacles, and not settle for anything less than success.
Perhaps most essential, sleep! When one works shift work, the thing usually most affected is quality of sleep and sleeping patterns. It’s not easy to flip your body around from a night schedule when you are working to a day schedule when you are off. So do whatever you need to do to ensure you get enough sleep, for your health, ability to connect with your friends and family who do not work shift work, getting chores done, etc. And of course, once rested, so you can later be alert, engaged, and inspired to write!
Additionally, I say, when mentally or physically tired, take a break. Give yourself time to rest, to breath, to dream. Give yourself a break when the writing seems like sloughing. Just write a word or two, instead of a sentence, or a sentence instead of a paragraph, when things are tough, personally, professionally, or with your ability to write. Or work on some other aspect of your writing, such as honing your outline, perfecting your worldbuilding and maps (if applicable), etc. Of course, set goals, like daily or weekly word goals, if that works for you, if you can’t write without a structured schedule. Adhere to strict timelines (might as well get used to them if you traditionally publish), if that helps, and for many people, it does, where time devoted for writing is laid aside every day, like dedicated exercise time.
It’s a great method, but for example, that does not work for me. Instead, I write whenever I feel inspired, when I’m not too tired or distracted with other things, because I find my mind needs to be clear to write. So I don’t stick to a particular schedule for writing. But when I have time, and I feel like I can write obsessively for hours, I do! And I don’t stop until I run out of time for that day because something else is more pressing, or inspiration leaves me. And that became one of the advantages of shift work that I found, because I could carve out those huge chunks of uninterrupted writing time, during the middle of the day, when I was off, and alone during a weekday. So I turned my primary challenge with writing – working shift work - into an advantage.
It was such a thrill, toasting with my wife Debbie, knowing that my final draft was completed, then sharing the news with my family, friends, and supporters. Now, months later, with my novel in the layout stage, and publication nearing, my next major achievement: being P.L. Stuart, published author of A Drowned Kingdom!
You will get there too and be published! Just start and keep writing!
Please feel free to comment on this and future blogs and I will be sure to get back to you. Chat soon!
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P.L. Stuart's Blog
I am a Canadian high fantasy author. My debut novel, A Drowned Kingdom - first in The Drowned Kingdom Saga, is now available! Book 2 in The Drowned Kingdom Saga, The Last of the Atalanteans, is now available here!