Confessions of a (part-time) writer

Keys That Float

Image by Thomas Hawk

Here it comes, are you sitting down? Big confession #1:
I don’t write every day. (Gasp!) Well, not fiction anyway.

Contrary to the schedule most writers maintain, I don’t work on my WIP or mss every day. I do not get up an hour early to scribble dialogue or burn the midnight oil to crank out a hundred lines of narrative before dropping off to sleep. The truth is, the dozens of emails I craft daily on behalf of my full-time employer make me cringe at the idea of (regularly) cracking open the laptop for personal projects. So I take breaks – sometimes weeks – between intense bouts of work on my novels. Yes, my progress is slow. Yes, it’s frustrating. But I keep plugging away, and my goals remain the same. Some of you will just get there before I do. Please send postcards.

Confession #2: I revise as I go along. I don’t write the entire book, then go back to the beginning to re-write what doesn’t work. I edit the previous pages until I’m happy with the way the words flow before I add more. Then, once I’ve written “the end,” I start all over again. Back to Chapter One, cut, cut, cut, red pencil, better word, better word.

Confession #3: I don’t create an outline of the story before I begin. Aside from my first (really bad) novel, which was a whiny, cathartic, thinly-veiled version of my own life (and I knew how that was gonna end), I don’t know what’s going to happen (for the most part)when I launch myself into the tale. I submit to my characters, who show me the way, tell me who they are, provide advice about their lives, the skeletons in their closet, the elephants in the room, and gossip about their friends, mistakes, successes and exes.

The reason I’m snitching on myself here is to make a point: Writing is a commitment, but it’s different for everyone. Our schedules, our pre-writing rituals, our methods, our processes: All our own. This is what makes us both unique and at the same time, a cadre of creators. We think, we observe, we feel, then we write it down. And our mutual hope is that what we record will be compelling enough to move our readers to think, observe, and feel. That’s our goal as a community of writers.

So even when I’m not moving a project forward, I observe what’s going on around me, everyday. I’m scribbling conversations I overhear, expletives, complaints, jokes, witticisms.  How I feel, how people operate, interactions between and among others. My own reactions to circumstances, how quickly things change, and what I’ll miss most when it is (inevitably) gone, or evolves into something even better.

Then, when the mood is right and I have a block of quality time, I write it all down.

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56 Responses to Confessions of a (part-time) writer

  1. Elizabeth Ann West June 27, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    Hi Molly! I, too, am a part-time writer. Full-time Mom to a toddler and Navy wife. I can’t do the write everyday because writing is a joy for me, and I intend to keep it that way. Yes, my manuscript is a slow process, about 4 months to write 60,000 words. However, I think it will be better in the long run if I keep taking my breaks for inspiration/battery recharge. I do outline, but the outline can and does get overhauled. I figure it easier to fix characterizations, word choices, tone, and voice but having to fix a broken plot is NOT fun! I like to have my three crises and various major turning point scenes written in wet sand before I begin. 🙂

    • Molly Greene June 27, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

      Elizabeth, thank you so much for taking the time to read & comment! I think 60k words in 4 months is great for a P/T writer – when I’m going full blast I can do 12K in a month max. I think I’ll need to outline (at least in my head) going forward, as it does make the process a little easier. When I write, I feel like my characters are inhabiting my head 100% — and I love it – but I need brain space for myself from time to time. Happy writing to you!

  2. Lyn Midnight June 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    I get that. 🙂 I do not write fiction every day either though I have had those marvellous periods of inspiration bouts. Of course we’re all different. I’m on the other end of the spectrum, for example, outline-wise. I outline too much, which eventually chokes me. So if we’re being confessional, I must confess that I have been neglecting editing for a few days because of the notes I cannot put in order. It’s like looking at a mountain of ice cream that you either have to eat or wait for it to melt. While the former is you taking control, it’s practically impossible to do. See, now I have to revise my entire writing system. Thanks very much. 😛

    • Molly Greene June 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

      Made me laugh! I’m guilty of having bits of scrap paper strewn about with scibbled notes re: things I need to do or add here or there. That would be Confession #4 then. Maybe I’ll continue it next week. As for the ice cream – if it were me, I’d dig in and eat it all! Thanks so much for the read & comment!

  3. Olivia Newport June 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    I always start with an outline several pages long. But by the time I finish, I have to rewrite the synopsis in a serious way because the story does take its own turns. I’m at the point now of having finished the first of a series, and I’m staring at the synopsis for the second book, written six months ago, and thinking, “Wow, these characters have changed too much.” Not sure how helpful my preplanned synopsis will be as I begin writing #2.

    • Molly Greene June 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

      Hi Olivia! Thank you so much for reading – I think you’re right on, though, gotta have someplace to begin and the flexiblity to allow your characters to evolve. Good luck with your books!

  4. Jeff Greene June 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    “Hi, my name is Jeff and I’m a part time writer. “
    “Hello, Jeff” the crowd imparts.
    I write when I can. But family is my biggest priority and right now both kids are eating up that time like an adolescent growing through puberty. I’ve been known to sit crunched in a car seat, stuck between laptop and steering wheel. But those characters are forever living their lives in my head. They definitely have more time and more fun than I do. They speak, laugh, cry, and have an insatiable need for asking vague questions. So if I every answer aloud let me know and I’ll get out the worn straight jacket again.

    • Molly Greene June 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

      Hello, Jeff!! I’m thrilled you stopped by – and to tell you the truth, that’s exactly how I am when I’m actually writing (not the adolescent part .. well, maybe) Isn’t it fun to be able to listen to all the voices in your head??

  5. tesshardwick June 29, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    I, also, do not write with an outline. I always know the beginning and the ending and the characters but the rest kind of writes itself. Sometimes I change my mind about something kind of major and I have to go back and change Act I. So, although I do my 2500 words a day for the first draft, I also sometimes break from that and fiddle with things etc. I wish I wrote with an outline because it would certainly speed things up. However, part of the joy for me is discovering the story along the way. So, we have a lot in common in this way. Thus, our bestiness.
    Thanks for the great post. I just love your writer posts – they are always inspiring.

    • Molly Greene June 29, 2011 at 1:03 am #

      How did you make time to leave a comment??? I think we THINK it would be nice to know exactly what was going to happen as we write our books. But that would take the mystery out of the creative process, and in the long run it would be disappointing – just like knowing what was going to happen in every chapter in our lives would spoil the surprise. I love you, Tess!

  6. LadyJai June 29, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    You make me feel soooooooo much better about my writing practices. I think I do all three the same as you! 🙂 I am a full time wife, mother and career woman. I take care of my husband who is a disabled vet and chronic pain sufferer. Life is hard. Life gets in the way. And a lot of times, lately, I’ve been feeling terrible because I haven’t been able to write. When I do find the time, it’s rather sporadic and my writing shows. A sentence here, a paragraph there. I am such a perfectionist I am editing and reworking as I go along! Good Writing/good story telling isn’t something that naturally flows from my fingers, my brain is constantly looking for ways to improve it! I don’t know how people can just sit down and write 4,000 words a day, no editing, free writing. I think this is why I could never participate in NANOWRIMO!

    • Molly Greene June 30, 2011 at 12:43 am #

      Lady Jai, we all have different processes but similar goals and dreams! Thank you so much for sharing, look forward to chatting more!

  7. Christine Nolfi June 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Molly, there isn’t a perfect way to craft a novel. All that matters is that you find the schedule that works for your remarkable talent. You have a gift, missy. A singular gift. As long as you find the time to use it, God bless. FWIW I’ve never written two novels the same way. Sure, they all start out with a general outline but the characters soon take over and dictate how the mss will develop. If you need to polish each chapter to perfection before moving on, then do. And let me know when your first book arrives on Amazon–it’s already in my TBR pile!

    • Molly Greene June 30, 2011 at 12:46 am #

      Christine, I absolutely adore you! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit & comment. Wish you were closer so I could help you pack!

    • misty July 21, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      Whew- that’s a relief to hear. I don’t do any of mine the same way either. Some I feel the need to plot, some are pantsed and most walk the fence between both techniques, in varying degrees. I couldn’t agree more that we all have our singular gifts. HOORAY for no right way!! HOORAY for every way, any way is the right way!

      • Molly Greene July 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

        Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my BLOG! You are a good soul and there’s safety in numbers :-O

  8. Andrew F. Butters June 30, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    Having a “day job” and being a husband and father only allows for part time anything else. I started writing a film, but now it’s going to be a book, and between that and the blog post a week I can get done I think I’m just about out of hours in the day. Oh yeah, I’m secretly taking voice lessons as a surprise for my anniversary in the fall, so add part time singer to the list as well 🙂 So good to know I’m not alone and I look forward to reading whatever you get the time to write!

    • Molly Greene June 30, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

      I hear ya, Andrew. Thanks so much for taking the time to visit and comment – we’re in this together :-O

  9. wratwrds June 29, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    This is so interesting.
    I’m glad I found your blog. It’s motivating. Especially for an ace procrastinator and veteran slug like me. I shy away from big commitment (i.e. a novel or anything convoluted) because I write for a living and so my brain is encased in jello.
    I like your ideas and observations — scraps of this and that. Perhaps there are other ways to go about telling a story that is mine alone.
    That would be splendid.
    Thanks for sharing! : )

    • Molly Greene June 30, 2011 at 12:45 am #

      Apt description, my brain is encased in jello after my 9-5 job, as well. I try to carve out a block of time on a weekend day. Be sure to tell me what happens – Write on!

  10. Jolyse Barnett July 21, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    Thanks for the confessions. I agree with you there are many ways on the path to being published. Do what works for you. 🙂

    • Molly Greene July 21, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

      Thanks so much for the RT and the lovely comment on my blog – all paths lead to glory (I hope!)

  11. James Viser July 25, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    Thanks for your post, I find my habits are much like yours! Now, I don’t feel so bad if I haven’t touched my new novel for a few days.

    • Molly Greene July 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

      Ha! I try not to feel bad if I don’t touch my novel for a few WEEKS – you’re doing great! Thank you so very much for taking the time to read and comment!

  12. Amberr Meadows July 26, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    That is the most awesome post I’ve read today. Be your personal best writer and nothing else. I love it!

  13. Rachel Dove September 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    so glad I read this! I put mine away for weeks due to lack of time/energy with everything else in my life, as I imagine a lot of people do! Thank the Lord you work like I do, least I know all is not lost!!

    • Molly Greene September 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

      Hi Rachel! I say work at your own pace and never give up!

  14. Barry Napier September 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    Great post. Like you, the bulk of me edits come as I am writing. I typically start every writing session by going back about 3 pages, reading the most current writing to get back into the flow. During that read, I edit. It’ s always great to see writing methods from another writer. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Olivia Newport September 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Excellent perspectives. I too write LOTS of stuff every day, but I can’t always go to that place where fiction flows.

  16. Joe Foley September 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Wow, that sounds exactly like my schedule! I tried setting a goal of 1000 words per day but quickly fell off the wagon. Now I write in bursts, I don’t outline and I don’t know how the story ends until it’s finished.

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

      Joe! We sound like twins! Somehow I like the mystery of not knowing. Thanks so much for stopping by and happy writing!

  17. molly campbell September 29, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

    Ditto. We aren’t both called “Molly” for nothing.

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

      Hey there #SuperMolly, thanks so much for stopping by!

  18. Darci Cole October 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Hahaha, good to know I’m not alone! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  19. bridgetstraub October 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    The only difference I see in how you and I write is that I feel compelled to write everyday, but if the truth be known, it’s because my characters entertain me so much that I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    • Molly Greene October 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

      Oh, how I wish I had the time to write every day!

  20. Wendy Reid February 20, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    I loved your post Molly. I write everyday because I have the time, and if I DON’T do it, my story may sit for weeks until I lose interest entirely. Lack of self discipline so I need to make myself do it (Cara Michaels WIP500 really helps). I also don’t write an outline. I keep notes so that I don’t have to keep scrolling back to the beginning to remember details and when I get to about 2/3 of the way through, I write out a timeline of events for the biggest plot twist…but I guess some would consider that an outline…lol.

    It was nice to learn some new things about you. 🙂

  21. kandie February 20, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    Molly, girl–talk about hitting the nail on the head. One thing I admit I try to do less of though is revising as I go along. I’ve gotten to a place in my writing where I do prefer to finish the very, very, rough 1st draft before I go back and edit. However, I do make side notes, posties etc of stuff along the way that I definitely want to go back to (when I’m done). Yeah every now and then if I’ve put the story down for a while (due to my work schedule), I may go back and re-read and see some things to revise but that’s the bulk of that. Because for me revising is an addiction (LOL) and I will never finish if I keep doing it. But great post, I can relate to most of your other confessions !!! 😉

  22. Julia Indigo February 20, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    I just now found this post, and I’m also a part-time writer!

    When life catches up with me I suffer. I’m much happier when I’m writing, bursts of inspiration (and perspiration) make the day go by quicker.

    But if I can’t write everyday, I want to at least write 3k/week. That’s the 500/day thing times six. Thus far I meet that goal earlier in the week, which is good, because later in the week is when my schedule goes on overload.

    I love it when my characters take me by the throat and say “Write! My! STORY!”

  23. Karl Dixon March 21, 2012 at 1:32 am #

    Well it looks like there’s someone just like me. I love to write and always felt terribly guilty when I hear stories like John Grishams, about how he got up a full hour before work to write two pages every day. I also edit as I write (I tried the opposite once and got dizzy from the circles I was running around in).

    Now I just write to enjoy and hope that what I produce induces a giggle in those that happen upon my work.

    Thanks for the confession Molly, it made me feel so much less of a lay about


    • Molly Greene March 21, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      I just knew there were more of “us” out there!

  24. Marina Sofia April 5, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    Good for you! I am getting a little rebellious in my old age, after trying so hard to follow all the advice in the countless writing manuals, author websites, writing courses and conferences. Yes, there is an ideal, but there is also real life, and you just have to find what works for you. You are certainly not part-time if you take your writing seriously. The part-timers are those (ahem,ahem, I speak purely from theory, not personal experience, of course!) who write a few paragraphs one day and then nothing for a few weeks or even months. And keep wishing they had completed the novel, instead of doing it.

  25. Karen de Lange April 29, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Phew, I’m not alone! I don’t write every day, and cannot comprehend how anybody with a full time job can find the time to do so without either a) living in squalor or b) never sleeping. I write a few pages, then edit, write a few pages more, edit again, and so on. Otherwise I get myself hideously confused – hold on, where am I again? And I never plan anything, my characters inevitably come up with ideas of their own so what’s the point? Thanks for posting!

  26. Telepicks July 13, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    Hi – Very interesting and useful read. I’m just starting out and little things like this help me along, Thanks.

  27. L. Darby Gibbs July 20, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Confessions #1 & #2 are me all over. I think you speak for a lot of writers. Not many have lives that leave room for writing every day to a strict schedule. But we still write.

    • Molly Greene July 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      That’s right, Elldee – we’ll just just keep writing, whenever and whereve we can!

  28. Michele August 6, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    Loved your blog post! I wish I could be a fill-time writer, but it will probably never happen. I finished my second book last December and told myself that I will get it edited this summer while I was off. (I work at a school.) I haven’t done a thing with it because I find other things to do instead. I dread the editing, but I know I have to get it the way I want it before handing it off to someone else.

    • Molly Greene August 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      Hi Michele! I’m with you, the editing almost put me over the edge. but I found it made me a better writer, and I think as a result the next book will be easier to write. Fingers crossed!

  29. Deanna Lynn Sletten August 24, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    Molly – I loved all of your “confessions”. Like you, I go back and re-read, edit and make story changes as I go along. It helps me to keep focused on my novel so that I remember where I’ve been and where I’m going. I don’t outline – although I do tend to know the beginning and ending before I start and I do write down a list of each character, their background, etc. I don’t usually write on a schedule – although my favorite time to write is between 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM – when the house is quiet and peaceful. I think we all have our own way of creating and you just can’t say that one way works for everyone. Nice to read everyone’s comments and see that although we all work differently, we come to the same great conclusion – a finished novel!

    • Molly Greene August 24, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      Deanna, you’re a night owl! I can’t keep my eyes open past 9:30. I wrote this post becasue I’ve read so many articles that say “a real writer must write every day!” when clearly that’s not true. It may take us a bit longer, but you’re right — same goal, a finished novel. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and leave such a lovely comment!

  30. Anita April 5, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Hi Molly,
    Thanks for the fantastic encouraging post! After reading writing websites and magazines for years that harp on about how we “must” write fiction every day, it’s so nice to hear something different that acknowledges not all of us can do that even if we have the time. Of course it doesn’t help when we hear stories of how novelists like John Grisham got up a few hours before work to write before their full-time jobs as Karl Dixon mentioned above. As another P/T writer, it’s great to see that others are this way, as well, and have found a system that works for them. Fiction always takes more time and patience for me 😉 I do outline before my projects, because I find that if I don’t know where I’m going, that’s how I get stuck, but everyone has a different process 🙂 I really admire those writers who can write without outlines. I’ve tried that a few times with short stories, and it’s worked out okay, but I find that I need that roadmap and it also helps during revisions. Methinks there’s some grain of wisdom in the “writing in bursts” approach, as well, which I will have to try 🙂

    • Molly Greene April 5, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

      Hey Anita, all I can say to the John Grisham thing is “some people get by on very little sleep.” But I am NOT one of them!

  31. Vivette October 5, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Hi Molly, I feel like reading about my own writing process. This is a breath of fresh air compared to the many other blog entries preaching to write everyday. After a full day of working a challenging job for a full-time employer I sometimes prefer to either just edit, research, catch up with friends after work or maybe simple crash on the couch for my favorite prime time series. I am definitely a part-time writer and I also work in bursts when it comes to putting down words on paper. Weekends are great to unwind and write.


    • Molly Greene October 5, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      I agree, Vivette! Writing is more productive anyway when you have time to formulate in your mind WHAT the heck you’re going to write about. Cheers!

  32. Tom O'Connor February 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    Thanks Molly

    Delighted to read your confession , it has given me a boost of enthusiasm to continue writing although it is very on off .I am looking forward to future blogs and comments on your site.



    • Molly Greene February 19, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

      Thanks, Tom! Many writers have to fit in sessions whenever – and wherever – they can. Just think of it as plenty of time to imagine the next scene!