Huffpost Books
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Melanie Benjamin Headshot

Writing Habits of the Not-Yet-Rich, and Not-Yet-Famous

Posted: Updated:

I recently finished my second historical novel, and sent it off to my editor. As many authors do these days, I Tweeted and Facebooked this news; perhaps less as a way of keeping in touch with readers than as a way of patting myself on the back and saying, "Good job!"

Still, I think social networking is a great way for authors, unpublished and published, to motivate each other, learn from each other, keep each other informed. If someone is inspired to get back to their own manuscript after reading my silly little Tweet, then that's wonderful.

And I enjoyed getting the cyber congrats and "atta girls;" I also enjoyed fielding some questions about my writing process. But one question in particular was asked more than any other, and that question was, "How on earth do you do it? How do you find the time to finish so many novels?"

My answer is simple. I complete so many novels because this is what I do -- I write. That's my priority every day. Every single day. And it has been, for a very, very long time.

It used to be that this was understood, expected, about writers. Hemingway, of course, is well known for his discipline regarding his writing, even if he was undisciplined regarding his drinking. King, Roth, Atwood, Oates -- all authors almost as famous for their writing habits as they are for their work.

For some reason, though, today there are a lot of authors who do a lot of things; a lot of things other than actually write. I'm not talking about the necessary day job to put food on the table; that's the reality of most working authors today. I'm forever grateful that I have a patron -- er, spouse -- who has been able to support me financially, and I salute all those whose path is harder because they don't.

But I am talking about authors who spend a lot of time doing other things -- running writers' groups, editing newsletters, organizing conferences and group blogs. Now, I'm not complaining that these things are done -- goodness knows, we need them. But I am saying that if you're one of those authors who spend a great deal of time socializing, networking or organizing, then don't be surprised that you haven't yet finished that novel you've been working on for these past five years.

(I realize that a lot of authors buy into the notion that in order to be published these days, you have to have a platform. So they believe they have to spend their time networking and building an online presence. I don't believe that, because it was not my experience, nor the experience of other writers I know. I'll be happy to go into that some other time, but for now I'll just say -- bull hockey.)

As a mother, I also have sympathy for women writers raising children. I was one of them, myself. You have to attend to the kids' needs first, of course -- I'm not advocating otherwise. However, you don't have to be PTA Mother of the Year; you don't have to chaperone every single field trip. If you want to do these things, fine -- but then, don't expect to be published anytime soon.

Do you really want to know how I've been able to complete at least a novel a year, for the last ten years or so? (Not all of those novels were published, mind you -- nor do I think they should ever be.)

It's because I'm selfish. It's because I say "No." It's because I never was PTA Mother of the Year.

It's because I write. Whenever I can, wherever I can. I wasn't an ogre; I drove my kids to lessons and practices. But I sat in the car with my laptop, instead of planning pizza parties with the other parents.

I have also refused to host family gatherings at my home, because I was too busy writing. I have told my sons they had to play outside, because I was too busy writing. I have politely declined to join my neighbors for a girls' night out, because I was too busy writing.

I have turned down requests to guest blog on writers' sites, because I was too busy writing. I have gone straight to my hotel room after a lit fest, rather than meet in the bar with everyone else, because I was too busy writing. You may notice that there was a very lengthy gap between my first blog here on the Huffington Post, and my second one. Do you know why that is?

I was too busy writing.

This is what I do. It's the choice I've made, and I'm not saying that choice is without consequences. I know that I've missed out on some friendships. I know that my neighbors are slightly afraid of me. I never missed an important event in my sons' lives, but neither was I ever a room mother or soccer coach, once I committed myself to my writing career.

I wrote. I write. That's what I do. Call me selfish or call me focused -- and I've been called both, and don't mind being called either -- but it's my number one priority.

And if you want to be published some day, it should be yours, as well.