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writing: putting in the time

A poor-quality picture of my writing corner. Can you find:

1. My computer from 2006 (still ticking! knock on wood).
2. Not one but two water glasses because it’s a pain to have to refill.
3. The copy of Everything is Fine that I still need to mail to the winner of the giveaway (it’s coming! I promise!).
4. Post it notes for my WIP that used to be color coded but are not anymore.
5. A teeny tiny little copy of my Tennyson poetry book.
6. A printer that I hate but use anyway.
7. A plastic tupperware container that I use as a foot rest.

I spend a lot of time in this little corner. It’s in the guest room in the basement and we’ve tried lots of different spots for my desk to be and this is the best one, even though I get kicked out when company comes. It’s air conditioned. It’s far enough removed that I’m not in the middle of everything when I’m trying to write. But it’s also near the laundry room so that when I get stuck I have the ever-present threat of folding socks to keep me going.

I’m not a naturally gifted writer, one who sits down and writes and beautiful things happen. I wrote seven books before I wrote MATCHED. It took me a long time to get better.

People e-mail me and ask me if I have any writing tips for them. This is my biggest one, and I think they feel like it’s a letdown or just something I say. But I’ve never been good at anything automatically. I knew when I started writing that it would take a lot of time. I’ve been writing daily since 2003 (except for Sundays, and I take a few months off when I have a baby, because when I have a new little one I can’t concentrate on anything else).

Putting in the time looks different for different writers. For me, it looks like this–a desk in a corner where I go every day and try to get better.

What does it look like for you?

+ comments (18)
  • Katie
    July 26, 2011

    We have those same water glasses!

    I think that this post helps, for me at least. I mean, I’ll read Matched and just think, this is such an amazing book, it reads effortlessly, you get drawn in by the characters and the story and everything, but I guess I never really stopped to think about the actual work behind it, that it doesn’t come naturally to you, and it takes time..

    So thanks for this post.

  • SPBowers
    July 26, 2011

    Good to know I’m not the only one that has to struggle and work to get better. 🙂

  • Ruth
    July 26, 2011

    I think I need to find myself a little corner of my own. My biggest hindrance (not that there’s anything wrong with my little people. They’re quite cute) is being in the thick of everything. Stringing coherent thoughts together is practically impossible.

    For me, putting in the time looks like taking advantage of the time I do have. I’m good at squandering.

  • Karenof4
    July 26, 2011

    I just LOVE this post!! You have shared such a real part of your life and I can completely relate to it. I’m new to writing, I have 4 kids and am active at church (Primary Pres) and a lot of times I think I’m crazy for having the goal of wanting to get published.

    I get intimidated in thinking published authors have a sweet setup and the ability to sit and make, “Beautiful things happen.” It’s easy to give up before trying because it feels like so many odds are against me. My writing space is wherever the kids aren’t, sometimes a laundry basket is a desk for my laptop just so I can fit in a tight, quiet place. Currently, I’ve buried myself in recommended books about the craft since I have SO much to learn. Thank you against for sharing this personal side of you. 🙂

  • ShawnandCarrie-Jo
    July 26, 2011

    I’ve read a couple places that something like 80% of Americans believe that they will write a book someday and that only 2% ever do (and then only a minuscule amount of those get published!).

    For a long time, I was one of those 80%. I had written books in high school, but I wasn’t delusional enough to think those were worthy of being read by anyone (let alone an agent or a publisher). I thought I could write–I thought I had some talent that I could work at and refine, but I wasn’t doing anything about it.

    In the last two years, I’ve done exactly what you talked about, Ally. Put in time. I’ve written two books in the two years since my daughter has been born. I’ve had that luxury as a SAHM with a child who naps well. My house isn’t very clean, but I’ve written two books…and I’ll keep writing more…as well as keep plugging away at querying agents.

    Someday, I hope to be giving the same answer to hopeful writers. The best tip is to sit down and write. And edit. And write some more.

    I don’t know that I have ever heard of anyone who can just sit down and make magic happen without any effort…and if someone could do that, I wonder if he/she would ever develop the discipline needed to take an idea from start to finish?

    As an aside from writing comments…I ordered Being Sixteen from Amazon and read it not too long ago. I think you wrote quite well before Matched :). Your Yearbook trilogy is next on my list and I’m excited to crack them open.

  • Shari
    July 26, 2011

    Pretty much the same, only my desk is a little bigger. And I haven’t used tupperware as a footrest. As a matter of fact, I don’t have a footrest at all. I need to make a trip into my kitchen.

  • Jasmine S.
    July 26, 2011

    I absolutely love MATCHED! It’s my favorite book of all time. I would appreciate it if someone would tell me if it’s actually being made into a movie. I hear the talk and I’m dying to know. It’s so exciting and I can’t wait until CROSSED comes out. I took part of that contest and hope I win one a copy. Anyways, MATCHED has inspired me to write. It is such an amazing book and to me it shows the importance of true love and doing what you believe in and not giving up. For the past few days now I’ve been trying to see if there really is going to be a movie. I saw a trailer on YouTube and was not sure if it was real or not. It’s such an amazing book and would love to see a movie made of it. It would be 10x better than the whole twilight series stuff.
    ~ Jasmine

  • Nadine
    July 26, 2011


    This post was very encouraging. I’ve also never felt like writing “came naturally” to me. I had one day where I thought it did, but then reading over it again the next day reminded me I’m human and natural perfect prose will elude me for the rest of my life.

    I wish I could put in time every day, but between year-round graduate school and planning my wedding, I squeeze in some journaling once a week. I have a writing desk, but my bed often trumps the wooden chair. Still, it’s a writing location made perfect with coffee, open windows, and good music.

    I loved “Matched” and anxiously await the sequel. Keep up the good work. Your effort, time, and sock-folding are definitely paying off!

  • Ashley R.
    July 26, 2011

    I have always wanted to write and get a book published, and this gives me tons of hope. Thank you!

  • Audra
    July 26, 2011

    Sounds like the perfect set up!

    The advice you’ve given this week can be applied to so many things in addition to writing. You’ve just got to keep working at it, you’ll only get better and better 🙂

  • Emily
    July 26, 2011

    I have to write in my bedroom with my door closed. I can still hear the kids, but they’re a little further away.

    If I really need to get things done, though, I write at the library. I can get in lots and lots of words at the library. I try to make it there at least once a week.

  • Rachel Coleman
    July 26, 2011

    i love this post! for me, putting in the time looks like spending less time everywhere else and prioritizing time that i can be uninterrupted.

    nothing ruins my writing magic like interruptions. as a mother of 4 they are everywhere (and so cute! and so needy!). this summer i have taken my notebook or laptop into the garage to write in the car. or the library. or up the canyon. anywhere i can be uninterrupted for an hour or two.

  • JessieHumphries
    July 26, 2011

    I wish I had a little room like that. It even has a heavenly glow coming in through the window!

  • Emy Shin
    July 27, 2011

    Thank you for this post, Ally. It’s very, very encouraging. A lot of writers (me included) are impatient, and are always looking for shortcuts to writing. But as with most things, you need to put in the time to succeed. I’m still trying to learn this, to learn to work at my writing instead of wishing for a goal.

  • Ali
    July 29, 2011

    Thanks for this encouraging post. I can relate to it so much. Your writing is beautiful but it’s nice to know it doesn’t come easily. I feel the same way about my writing. I have to put a lot of time and effort into it. Though I have an office I’m setting up in our spare room, I write lying in bed or on the couch with my laptop since I have a bad back and can’t sit for long. Where there’s a will there’s a way!

  • RachelLaw
    July 30, 2011

    A fellow Sabbath worshipper… I like it.

    When you say you write every day, do you mean working on your novel or just any kind of writing… journaling, etc?

  • ElysaValentino
    August 4, 2011

    Thanks! It is good to hear those words. It’s funny: in 2003 you were putting in daily hours towards writing, and I was putting in daily hours on the piano. I remind myself of that every time I feel like an ametuer. It is because… well, I am. But after 10 years of practice, I expect I could be as good at writing as I am at the piano.

  • Lauren
    August 5, 2011

    I know it’s late for this post, but it caught my attention. In a few days I’m going to have a “writing corner” and it’s driving me crazy! It’ll take a lot of adjustment, and I may end up in the basement as well (probably IN the laundry room! 🙂 but as of Monday I’m giving myself the opportunity to see if I can be a professional writer. Whew.

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