Phil Rossi, friend of Writer Unboxed, professional musician, and author of Crescent, a sci-fi/horror novel, contacted me recently to ask if we might be interested in an article about his style of busy-dad-on-the-go writing. Of course I said ‘yes!’—especially with NaNoWriMo looming. (Find me at Therese_Walsh and Kath at Kathleen_Bolton.)
Thanks for being here, Phil!
Guerilla Writing by Phil Rossi
I was up at 5:00 a.m. today, courtesy of a pink, cherubic wake up call. When that sweet little voice says “Daddy,” the day is officially a go. Five a.m. isn’t unheard of in this house, but considering the previous night—when I didn’t get up close and personal with my pillow until almost 2:00 a.m. after my concert/book signing ran late—things were a little dodgy at first. Regardless, the morning barreled on—I got my two-year old daughter ready for daycare while tending to the needs of my eight-and-a-half-month-pregnant wife. The multiple pets that share our house weren’t making themselves scarce either (steam cleaners, god bless’m!). In the precious few minutes before it was time to run out the door, I managed to make myself not look like a hippie mountain man. I took my daughter to daycare. After that, I began my hour-and-fifteen-minute commute to work by waiting on the ferry that would take me across the Potomac River. Work offered up its typical high-speed, little-time-to-breathe environment of teleconferences, spreadsheets, and drug safety. When the whistle blew, I was back in my car and home an hour and thirty minutes later, making dinner, entertaining my daughter, bathing her, getting her to bed, and then spending quality time with my increasingly immobile wife. Finally, around 10:00 pm, it was time to work on some projects—I released a podcast, recorded a song for the associated soundtrack, and yes, I even put the pen to paper.
I wrote over two thousand words on my new novel today, my seventh novel in four years. With my busy schedule, you’re probably wondering how I even managed to write fifty words. I’ll let you in on a little secret that I’m fond of calling Guerilla Writing.
I come from the trees and strike the instant an opportunity presents itself.
Be wary, be vigilante—for these moments wear easy disguises, blending into the lush foliage of the internet, the cell phone, and of course, that wall you’ve been staring at for two-and-a-quarter minutes while waiting for the coffee to finish brewing. I’m telling you—there are hours of unsuspecting free time out there just begging to be manhandled.
At face value, fifteen minutes of free time doesn’t seem like a lot—certainly not time enough for a writing session. But those minutes snowball during the span of a day. Fifteen minutes waiting for the ferry on the way to work, twenty minutes at lunchtime waiting for the pizza to arrive, fifteen more minutes waiting for the ferry to take me home, and another ten minutes waiting on spaghetti to be cooked. I’m no math-a-magician, but regardless, I can see that’s a good hunk of temporal change. The above are just a few of the more expected examples from my day. It’s hard to say when a moment will fall into my (or your) path, begging to be filled. Let me reemphasize—you’ve got to be prepared.
How do I prepare? Part of my mind is always dipping into my fictional universes—mulling over characters, considering plot direction. You get the idea. It doesn’t matter so much what my mind is doing story-wise, so long as it is spending as much time in that creative space as possible. I keep a little black notebook in my back pocket at all times—don’t tell my wife, she might get the wrong idea. Every inspiration that comes across my mind is precious—these ethereal light bulbs might not end up being good fodder for a story or novel, but at the end of the day, they’re still creative output. Jotting these thoughts down not only helps me to remember them, but it’s another way of flexing that creative muscle and having something tangible to show for it. Words on paper—cocktail napkins, notebooks, receipts—go a long way to maintaining motivation.
It’s taken time and patience for Guerilla Writing to become an effective personal technique. The examples I’ve provided—thinking about your stories, scribbling random notes—are all ways to keep your mind’s reflexes honed razor sharp. Awareness of how you spend your time in a day is paramount. I don’t want to be the one to tell you this, but you just might be wasting more time than you think. Instead of hitting refresh for five minutes while waiting for an email from that special someone, why not write and check your email five minutes later. See? It’s simple.
Writers must write every day—this is a universal truth. Realistically, we’ve got day jobs, families, friends, and other activities that require and deserve our time and attention. So, unless you can absolutely guarantee an hour or more of uninterrupted time, you’ve got to be willing to dispense with any “writer’s ritual” and any “perfect setting.” We all have those ideal places and times to make the magic happen—but there is no better time than right now and no better place than right here.
Be prepared—that is the mantra and motto of Guerilla Writing. You may have to strike at any moment.
(Phil’s Twitter handle: @philrossi)
Picture courtesy Flickr’s Simone♠13