My mother-in-law calls me an efficiency expert. It’s a joke. I am expert at nothing, but it’s true I don’t like to waste time. I don’t mind whiling away my time. I don’t mind napping or sitting idly and thinking about stuff. I can easily give a whole day over to the reading of a book. I don’t consider those things a waste of time. What I hate is to sit in traffic or circle the block when I’m running errands. I hate standing in lines or driving through parking lots. When I run errands I am armed with a list and a plan. I am not going to make a left turn across four lanes of traffic to pick up three items from a grocery store. I am not going to put gas in my car during rush hour. I am not going to any place where they put out samples of food during the lunch hour. I will not backtrack from one location to another.
Today I woke at 5 a.m. and fed the pets. I spent two hours working on revisions for my novel, went for a run, showered, and headed out the door for a haircut appointment. In order to maximize my time on the road, I decided to stop for a car wash, make a bank deposit, and get a few items from the grocery store, all things I could do within a few blocks of my hair salon. Unfortunately, when I arrived for my appointment I realized that I’d left my wallet at home. I’d moved it to a jacket pocket when I rode my bike yesterday and forgot to transfer it back to my purse. So much for being efficient. The woman who cuts my hair didn’t mind. She showed me how to pay online once I got home, but I knew the grocery store and car wash weren’t going to float me a loan.
The hair salon is located about 10 miles south of my house on the main highway that cuts through Denver. (And, yes, it would be more efficient to get my hair cut closer to home, but I like this particular stylist.) I abandoned my plan of getting all my chores done in that neighborhood. I drove home, got my wallet, and ran the necessary errands closer to my house. I was kicking myself, because I figured I’d lost at least a half hour and maybe closer to an hour of my day. At least that’s what I thought until I heard the news that a massive tanker fire had shut down the interstate right at the exit I’d be taking if I’d remembered my wallet. If I’d run those errands in that neighborhood rather than my own, I’d still be there. I’d either be sitting on the highway while my milk spoiled or I’d be weaving through residential streets and driving miles out of my way to get home. Forgetting my wallet saved me a ton of time today.
It’s a lucky break. It’s a fortunate coincidence. It’s nothing more than that. But I find myself so grateful for the hours. Now I can get back to my novel and to my other writing work. I can push toward my deadlines. I can stay on schedule. Staying on schedule is the key to writing a novel. Or maybe it’s the key to finishing a novel. Lucky breaks are great. Fortunate coincidences are a gift. But neither of those things happen often enough to be useful. Mostly it’s the opposite. Someone or something interrupts your time and calls you away from the page. Or you decide to see what’s happening on Facebook and before you know it, three hours have gone by. Or you decide to clean the kitchen before sitting down to write and then you notice the living room could use a sweeping and you might as well change the sheets on all the beds while you’re at it. Before you know it, you’re out of time.
Most people who start to write a book imagine it will be fun. It will be fun, but not all the time. There will come a point when you dread looking at it, when the thing that sparked your interest is cold, and when you are sick of your own words on the page. You will find any excuse to avoid writing. You might work in your garden or paint the bathroom or take up knitting. You might have the cleanest house on your whole block. All of that is fine, but what you won’t have in a year or two years or a decade is a book. The only way to write a book is to write it. And you have to write even when you don’t want to.
I know people who write every day and I know people who write only on the weekends. I know people who write in 15 minute intervals while their children are at soccer practice and I know people who stay up until the wee hours and write while everyone else is sleeping. Any one of these methods will get a book written as long as you stick with it. You can’t give away your writing time to happy hours or brunch dates. You have to put writing above having a clean house. You have to write before you check Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. You have to write when you have nothing to say. Most days, it isn’t the tanker fire that keeps you from writing your book, it’s the mundane tasks that you choose to do before putting words on the page.
So today I’m grateful to be spared the inconvenience of a terrible traffic snarl, but even if I’d gotten stuck it would be okay. I already got some work done first thing this morning. And tomorrow morning, right after I feed the animals and take one sip of coffee, I will sit down with my novel and I will get to work. I will do the same thing the following morning. That is how novels get written—not in a frenzy of inspiration, but in fiercely guarded hours of determination. Tanker fires be damned.