Earlier this week, Sophie Cook shared the how her family’s heirloom furniture inspired her first historical novel, Anna & Elizabeth, while she was still in high school. Sophie is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.
None of the writers I know make their living as full time writers. Especially not novelists. They all have day jobs and, often, families or family members who need attention. Many conversations and some really good advice books try to help writers continue to write while working full- or part-time to support themselves.
I cannot presume to give advice; I can only tell you how I have done it. I am completing my third novel, on top of a memoir to my name—as well as many memos, letters, briefs, etc. during my career as a lawyer and a manager. I probably did all of them the same way, although not with the same pleasure. So I’ll focus on being a novelist in snatches of time.
The advice we all get in writing workshops is to write for three hours a day, in and out of weeks. I’ve only done that on vacation or when I was able to attend a retreat for writers. It’s wonderful, but quite a luxury. So I’ll try to get beyond the recommendation to the reason for it.
To create a world for your reader, as a novelist does, you do need to be immersed in the imaginary world where your novel’s characters live. Of course you do that if you sit at your laptop or notebook for a long stretch, although there are times when nothing happens and that is very discouraging. I do it by keeping my story in my head, so whenever I’m not thinking about work or errands I can re-enter that imaginary world, even when I’m away from my yellow pad or computer.
One very useful piece of advice I got was to leave any stretch of your writing a little bit up in the air, even if you know what comes next. That gives you a beginning for your next writing opportunity and, in my case, something to think about when I’m not writing. So while I’m doing other things, that bit germinates. I imagine what she says, what he does, what the weather would be at that time when I start up again. I enjoy this exercise, and when I finally can sit down, whatever I imagined gives me a start for the next episode. Then I get up, with maybe an unsolved problem in my head.
I love my characters and what they do—even the bad ones! Although there tends to be a higher emphasis put upon stylistic excellence, for me, it’s the spirit of the work that matters: the emotional impulse behind the novel, the importance of the telling of this particular story that compelled the writer to persevere and the reader to turn the page. As a fiction writer, I live for the moment when a character jumps off the page. That moment justifies the frustration that went on before.
And don’t be too hard on that day job. It serves you as a novelist by giving you models for the heroes and the villains, in different forms, of the life you create on the page.
Sophie Cook was born in Hungary. Her family survived the Holocaust and came to the United States in 1951. Before her retirement this year, Sophie worked as an attorney for federal agencies, a mediator, and a manager for non-profit organizations.
- Matthue Roth: How to Write About Moving a Mountain
- Ramona Ausubel: Why I Write
- Allison Amend: What, I'm Jewish! You Want I Should Write a Happy Ending?