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A working mother's guide to writing a novel

A novelist and Times critic offers tips on how to write the book you've had in your head while not losing your mind or forgetting your family's needs.

September 26, 2010|By Mary McNamara | Los Angeles Times Television Critic

6. The ability to mentally multitask. Instead of vegging out during your commute or while grocery shopping, you need to use this time to work on character and plot. Mostwriting happens only in your head, so any time you are doing something relatively mindless, you should be secretly writing. It helps to take notes — I rediscovered the grade-school joys of writing on my hand.

7. The willingness to give up a lot of other stuff. Whatever you have as your "me time" is now history. Hour-long workouts? You could be writing. Lunch and or dinner with friends? Ditto. Hobbies of any sort? Forget them. Vacations? Take them, but take your laptop too. (Cruises are good because they have child-care centers that the kids actually like and then your partner has some time too.) My husband and I try to keep a date night, but while I was writing "The Starlet," that often meant getting a baby sitter so we could go sit in a café and work for three hours. So romantic.

8. Patience and a stiff upper lip. It takes a long time to write a book. A year, two years, three years. Then you will have to rewrite it. And cut out at least two of your favorite parts. I guarantee it.

9. Discretion. Of course you want to tell everyone that you're writing a book, and whoever you tell will then be forced to ask what it's about (only a few will honestly care, by the way). But talking about writing a book is not, as it turns out, the same as writing a book. In fact, it often proves to be the opposite of writing a book. Likewise, don't ask anyone to read anything until you've got an actual story. As in a beginning, middle and end. People can't help you until they know what you're trying to do, and fussing over the details is not a luxury you can afford until you've told your story.

10. Realistic expectations. I suppose there is someone out there who could write the Great American Novel while working full time and raising three kids, but I'm not her. My two books are Hollywood mysteries, which I didn't have to research because I have written about the industry for years. I think they are very good books, well-written and fun to read, but they aren't going to win a Pulitzer. That will have to wait until the kids head to college.

Oh, and writing a book does not, by the way, guarantee that you will be the next Elizabeth Gilbert or Dan Brown. And although this seems like simple common sense, it comes as quite a shock to some. But if you're a writer, you don't write for money or fame or a chance to dish with Oprah Winfrey. Basically, you write because when you're not writing, you're even more cranky than when you are writing. And as my kids can tell you, that's saying something.

McNamara'will be at the West Hollywood Book Fair Sunday in a panel on "Risky Biz-ness: Fiction That Celebrates and Satirizes the Entertainment Industry" (10:30-11:30 a.m.).

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