Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Art of Balancing Writing and Job

Today, join me in welcoming mystery writer Mike Befeler to Terry's place. Mike writes the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery series. After a 39-year career in the computer industry he retired to write full time. In this blog post, he describes a technique to balance the demands of writing while holding down a full time day job.

(And while Mike holds down the fort at Terry's Place, I'm over at The Blood-Red Pencil talking about the pitfalls of "ing" words.)

For a number of years, like many people, I wrote while working full time. Unlike many writers who have been at it since they were eight years old, I entered this writing world at the age of fifty-six when I made the decision to pursue fiction writing as a vocation I could retire into rather than just retire away from my day job. The benefit of undertaking writing at this age—more life experience than the young whippersnappers and more outside of work time with my kids grown so no soccer games, swim meets, concerts and plays to attend.

When I began writing novel length material, I came across a technique in the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Julia describes Morning Pages as a way of getting the creative juices flowing by writing three handwritten pages first thing in the morning. These can be anything—a shopping list, a journal, anything you choose to write.

I took this concept and adapted it to my particular needs. I’m a morning person, so I enjoy writing first thing in the day. When I was working full time, I knew I would be wiped out at the end of the work day and not be able to concentrate on being creative. So my solution was to adapt the Morning Pages concept as follows: First thing every morning I reviewed where I had left off the day before in my novel. Then wrote three handwritten pages to continue the story. I went off to work, and when I returned in the evening, I entered these pages into my computer, performing an editing pass along the way. This typically produced two typed pages.

And the arithmetic—if I kept this up for 150 days, I’d have a rough draft for a 300 page novel. Although I wasn’t able to do this every day, I was consistent enough that I produced the rough drafts for my three published novels using this technique. I don’t claim that this will work for everyone, but it is one way to write while working full time.

I have always tried to exercise every day, and many times this consisted of taking walks. While working full time, I would often take a walk at lunchtime when my meeting schedule and travel allowed. I found this to be an excellent time to brainstorm whatever manuscript I happened to be writing. I would carry a notepad and pen with me, and when an idea occurred, I’d jot it down.

Finally, once I completed my rough draft, I went through numerous editing/revision cycles. These I typically did on weekends. I had editing passes for story flow, consistency, grammar, repetitive words. On the final pass I read it out loud.

Now that I’ve retired from my thirty-nine year career in the computer industry to write full time, I’ve modified this process again. I now write directly into the computer in the morning, take my mid-day walk to brainstorm and do editing, email, social networking and promotional activities in the afternoon.

Each writer has a process that works best for him or her. This has been mine, and until I change again, I’m sticking with it.

Mike Befeler's novels include three books in the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery series: Retirement Homes Are Murder, Living with Your Kids Is Murder and Senior Moments Are Murder. Living with Your Kids Is Murder was a finalist for the Lefty Award for the best humorous mystery of 2009. You can learn more about Mike at his website, his blog, or on Facebook.

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Donnell Ann Bell said...

Terry, thanks for hosting Mike! Mike, I wondered how anyone could be as prolific as you. Wow, your technique sounds amazing. Thanks for the clues as to how you do it. I really enjoyed Senior Moments are Murder. It's on my keeper shelf!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Mike and Terry,

I'm a morning person too. I like to write early feeling it's the time my mind is sharpest. And I also took an early retirement so I could write fulltime.

Congrats on your new novel!

Jacqueline Howett said...

I like the catchy titles of all your books. They are forever to be remembered. They certainly bring on curiousity to see what they are all about. A wonderful idea!

Some of my best moments writing are done with such discipline. The walk is so important as part of the routine. I use to carry salami sticks and bread in my pocket and hike up a mountain or to a good stretch of beach, or loose myself in the trees. Looking back, its what being a writer is really all about-mostly submerged into solitude as its process!

Nice one-I enjoyed the read. Hope to take a look at your books. Good Luck!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm definitely a morning-person writer. But if I'm on a tight deadline, I can adapt (just not really well!) And I've always thought that just a little bit of writing at a time, each day, really adds up nicely. Thanks for the post!

Jacqueline Howett said...


I would like to add, some get their inspiration to write sitting in train stations, or where life is busy and hectic. Actually it can come from anywhere at any time. I guess many these days are inspired by the internet-it depends. For me, its mostly from nature I do my brain storming. Moments in nature are much more memorable.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, wonderful post. I find it challenging to balance a full time job and writing and long for the day I can make my own schedule. As it stands I have to steal away time at night (sometimes at 3am) just to get things rolling. It's hard work but I think I'm adapting to my situation and making it work for me. You have some great ideas in here though and I'll be trying some out. Thanks Terry for having mike come by for a visit!

Mike Befeler, author of geezer-lit and paranormal mysteries said...

Thanks for all the comments. It's always fun to hear how everyone has a different process for writing. No one way, only what's right for you.

June Shaw said...

Good to hear how you pulled it off, Mike. And isn't it great to be retired and able to spend more time writing?

Mike Befeler, author of geezer-lit and paranormal mysteries said...

Retiring into writing is a great opportunity. Terry, thanks for including me.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Hi, Mike,
Thanks for detailing the entire process so clearly. I, too, write best in the morning, but I'd never considered the handwritten morning pages as a possibly separate activity from the evening computer activity. The mid-day exercise is also an important factor. Lots of discipline evident in your life, and it really pays off for you. Congratulations from another geezer. Liz

Mike Befeler, author of geezer-lit and paranormal mysteries said...

Thanks, Liz. We geezers and geezerettes need to stick together.

Maryannwrites said...

Sorry I am coming so late to the post, but glad I did. What a terrific plug for finding the time to write. I often struggle with thinking I need to find great chunks of time in which to write, but a page or two a day does add up. So glad you got to retire and work at writing full time, Mike.