Writing in Minutes

“Hours are made of minutes strung together, and in the end no one can tell if they came all in a lump or piece by piece over the course of a year.”

So says Loren D. Estleman in his book Writing the Popular Novel. Great advice, but how do you make it work? Besides the problem of forgetting what you were going to say last time you wrote, there is the issue of how to keep your voice consistent from stolen minute to stolen minute.

And how can you possibly manage to write when even your stolen minutes are peppered with interruptions? Well, steal a few minutes and we’ll figure it out.

Keeping the flow. . . when time isn’t flowing freely

Keeping the flow is as simple as using your senses. Are you a visual person? Maybe you respond better to sound. Or maybe talking is how you make sense of the world. Maybe it’s a combination and certain things work at certain times.

If you are an auditory person, if sounds or particular music speak to you, this tip will work. Whenever you write, play a particular type of music.

For example, you can listen exclusively to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Now, you might be thinking that nothing but Vivaldi over the course of a novel will make you want to throw your stereo out the window.

But think of Pavlov’s dogs. Listen to the same music all the time when you’re writing (and only when you’re writing). You press play on that stereo, Vivaldi (or the White Stripes, or Beck, or the Supremes) floods into the room and you’re in the writing mood.

If you’re visual, try having pictures around that make you think of your subject matter. If you’re writing a novel about summer vacations on the beach, put up photos of the beach. If your article is about polar bears, tack a photo of a polar bear up wherever you write. You can even evoke mood.

If you’re writing a short story, for example, and you want to leave your reader feeling a bit lost, as the protagonist does, tack up something like a copy of The Scream. Seeing the image will evoke the mood and it will come forth in your writing.

If talking is how you work through things, develop a mantra. If you want to create a battle scene where the heroine was going to be pushed to the limit, think, or say, words like Power, or Strength. A big part of narrative flow is continuity of mood.

Writing in spare minutes, you could be chipper for part of a scene, stressed out for another and annoyed for yet another. By using these tips, you can keep your writing from seeming like it has multiple personalities.

Taming Interruptions

It never fails. You figure out the perfect way for your hero to rescue the kidnapped heiress or you figure out the complicated magic that will make your fantasy world come alive.

At that second, you can bet you will be interrupted. Your toddler will need a change. Your boss will come in (Let’s not pretend we don’t steal time during our day jobs!) asking you the same question he asked twenty minutes ago. The phone rings. And you know, for a fact, that by the time you eventually make it back to the page, your brilliant insight will be gone.

The first tip is to always, always have a small pocket-sized notebook and a working pen with you. Yes, even if you’re home and you don’t get out much because your kids are too little still have the notebook with you.

Most frequently, the thoughts that we are in most danger of losing are the ones we have when we aren’t anywhere near the page. Another idea is to have a small handheld tape recorder around and speak into it. This way, you can capture your thoughts even if you’re changing a diaper, washing dishes or making photocopies.

If you’re pulled away in the middle of a writing session, make use of sticky notes. These are a godsend.

Don’t worry about complete sentences. Maybe you know that the next few lines were going to be about how lonely your hero is.

Just jot down something like: “Jake lonely abandoned kid.” Now, it’s gibberish but you’ll know that you mean to write about how lonely Jake is and that he feels the exact same way he felt when he was a kid and he was always alone after school because his dad worked insane hours and it made him feel completely alone and helpless and lost.

This will prove to be a valuable insight into your hero and his motivations. But if you don’t jot down those four words on a sticky note and slap them on your monitor or whatever, you’ll have lost it!

If even that isn’t fast enough for you (someone’s bleeding, or gross, or your boss is freaking) try repeating key words to yourself while you take care of whatever it is – as long as you’re pretty sure you’ll be able to jot something down soon (really, you can’t expect to walk around muttering “Jake lonely abandoned kid” for the next few hours, can you?)

This works just like how when we look up a phone number or hear it on our answering machine and we just repeat the numbers until we are able to dial. It’s not meant to be a long-term solution, but it’ll keep you from losing your thoughts.