Rakesh Satyal is an Editor at HarperCollins, and his debut novel, BLUE BOY, just went on sale. Chuck Palahniuk said BLUE BOY “shows us a world too funny and sad and sweet to be based on anything but the truth.” Rakesh also happens to be a sensational singer and a hilarious speaker, as the guests at my wedding can attest.
As I am an editor and a writer concurrently, I am often asked one oh-so-popular question: “Do you ever sleep?” The answer is a resounding “Yes,” and on many weekends, the answer is “Yes – several times in a day, and usually with Lime Tostito crumbs from incessant snacking still on my lips and many hours’ worth of (re)watching an America’s Next Top Model marathon in my head.”
But just as I know how to make time for leisure and rest, I make sure I know when my time for work will be, too. The concept of my spending a great deal of time working, period – let alone this much time thinking of literary matters as I work – can cause quite a bit of confusion and incredulity in others, but I assure you that carving out a writing schedule that fits your otherwise busy life is not so daunting as it might seem at first. What you must always remember is the larger purpose of your work, the meaningfulness of your voice, and the characters who convey that voice.
Most writing instructors, and many established authors, extol the benefits of a morning regimen-cum-biological clock approach: you get up, go straight to your computer (or other writing instruments), write a thousand words, and call it a day, with perhaps some revision of those thousand words later in the evening. Unfortunately, not only the mutant pace of my workdays but the ensuing rollercoaster reaction of my body can preclude this sort of schedule from taking root.
Sure, there are weeks when I set the goal of following this biological schedule and pull it off, but the next week, a slew of work events may come up and render me fumbling for keyboard and words alike. What I have come to realize about myself as a writer is that I respond much better to thinking of the scope of a particular scene that I am writing and then envisioning the corresponding manpower that I will need to bring it to life. And then I look for loopholes in my schedule that I can refashion as writing time.
I wrote Blue Boy mainly on the weekends; I would go to a coffee shop that had deep-seated armchairs and reliable outlets, and I would plug in my laptop and set up shop for the afternoon. When I sat down, I had a clear picture of which scene I wanted to write (or resume), and I knew that I wanted to complete a particular emotional arc before I stopped. The rhythm of the main character’s mental pattern was very important to me, and I felt, as I often feel as a reader, that I could not stop living in that scene until it had come to a particularly satisfying emotional point, be it a resolution or a splendidly complicated moment of confusion. I could appreciate the emotional payoff of this stopping point all the more because, beforehand, I had taken into account the time I had to address the work at hand.
Writing is a difficult process, to be sure, and it demands from us determination, a dedication to a larger artistic goal, and, perhaps most of all, the a priori arrangement that our lives, on the whole, will make room for it. To that last end, especially, I am always thinking in the back of my mind, at any given point, when my next available moment for a time to sit down and write may be. I mean “available” not just physically but mentally.
For example, as I expect to expend a great deal of energy promoting Blue Boy during the next month, I have put aside my writing until the first week of June; I know that the headspace I have for writing will be taken up necessarily with concerns pertaining to the book. But I have a firm resolution to pick up where I left off. Once I resume writing, I will go back to plotting my weeks carefully: I will look at my calendar at the beginning of each week and figure out when I might shoehorn in a chance to write.
This process may not adhere to the strictures of a biological clock, but it is my responsibility to make the most creatively of the time that I have left after I do my editorial work professionally. Each of us as writers has a different set of circumstances that defines our emotional and physical wherewithal as artists, but we owe it to our stories and their characters to plot our own time as much as we do theirs.
And believe me – the sense of accomplishment once we’ve done so is astounding, not least because we can subsequently, and deservedly, hoist our salsa-laden chip mouthward and click Tyra’s model antics back on with the press of a button….