It's January, which means it's that time of year: time to make some new year's resolutions. For many, those resolutions include eating less and exercising more. But for a few of you wordsmiths and artistic types, it includes something more: writing a book. I made that resolution several years in a row. But life, well, kept getting in the way. I was too busy, I told myself, to polish off the book or two (or three!) I had dreamed about writing since college. My workload was too heavy, I lamented. I needed to be in the right frame of mind.
But then, guess what? A couple of years ago, I resolved on New Year's Eve to write a book. To reallllly write that darned book. And guess what? I did it! In *under* a year. I wrote a long book. More than 300 pages. A book that got published by a major publisher (HarperCollins!). A book that's garnered some good reviews. And I wrote that book while working full-time at a pretty darn demanding job and raising four small children, one of whom I was still breastfeeding several times a day as I put pen to paper, and fingers to keyboard, to write.
And i'm here to tell you that if I can do it, so can you. Writing a book is not as hard as it might seem. It involves following three basic steps - one of which (I'd argue the most important step) involves keeping your phone at the ready at all times. But we'll get to that in a moment.
Step One: Make a Commitment
First things first: If you want to write a book in the new year, in less than a year, you've got to do what every personal trainer would tell you about getting into shape - you've got to commit to doing it. I liken writing a book to having children - if you wait until the timing is absolutely perfect, it's not. ever. going. to. happen. I used to say that I was a going to write a book when things in my life calmed down, when I moved into a new place with the perfect little writing nook. I said that I would write my book after my wedding, after the first baby, after the second baby, after the third baby. Finally, my dear husband sat me down one day and told me that I needed to quit talking about writing a book and to just do it. He was right. Most of writing a book is making up your mind to do it, come hell or high water. It's about setting aside a half an hour a day, or an entire morning or afternoon a week, to writing. It's being at peace with the fact that, like in any fitness plan, there are good days and bad days. It's knowing that some days will be more fruitful than others. It's resolving to not give up just because it seems hard or awkward or lonely - or because life can and does get in the way. Life is always going to get in the way. Work your writing time around that life.
Step Two: Sign Up for a Writing Class. Do not for a single moment tell me you do not have time for a class. Take the time you spend checking e mail, standing in line at Starbucks, shopping online, hanging with friends - and invest it in a writing class. For me, a writing class made all of the difference in the world. It gave me a deadline to write something (anything!) of substance every week. My goal in taking the class was to write a third of a chapter a week - and was thrilled if I managed to write more. Taking a writing class also gave me an immediate sounding board. My classmates and instructor pointed out structural flaws in my work, asked questions I hadn't thought to raise or answer, and encouraged me to flush out things that needed further development. They also served as my cheerleaders, propping me up on weeks I was feeling particularly vulnerable. So many writers think that writing classes are a waste of time - that they don't want to spend precious moments listening to the work and feedback of others who may or may not be at their writing levels. But I assure you the right writing class is worth every moment of time and every penny. It gives you a real audience. It gives you a sense of whether a publisher - or Amazon shopper - will buy into your body of work and want to read more.
Step Three - Get Out Your Phone! (Yes, Your Phone!!) It may sound counterintuitive, but I am telling you, if you want to write and finish a book in 2016, get out that Smart Phone and use it. And don't just use it sometimes. I'm telling you to use it *all* the time. I have talked to some writers who say that their Smart Phones are their arch enemies - that phones provide too many temptations (Facebook! Instagram! Candy Crush!) that take them away from their writing. But in my case, it was my trusty I Phone 4 that enabled me to write most of my book. With a busy fulltime job and four very small and very demanding children, the opportunities for me to sit down at a computer to actually write something non-work related were few and far between. If I was lucky, I was able to carve out for myself a few minutes at a real computer only at the end of a very long day, while seated at the kitchen table with a very hungry baby in my arms, often as I struggled to keep my eyes open. And during the day, it often wasn't practical for me to lug the laptop around. When I did, there typically wasn't an outlet to keep the darn thing charged. What I could always count on was my trusty phone. I kept it with me at all times. That I Phone 4 enabled me to write more than half of my book. I logged onto my Hotmail account on the phone, then wrote large portions of chapters, emailing reply upon reply to myself over a period of weeks, then months. I wrote in the back of taxis, going to and from errands. Clutching that phone in my hand, I wrote in the hallway outside of my sons' preschool classrooms, waiting for the doors to open at pick-up. I penned critical scenes of the book at my oldest son's basketball practices. I wrote in and around meetings, and as I scarfed down hurried lunches.
Using the e mail account on my phone to write large portions of the book was not only fast and convenient - it also ensured that I would be able to access the material from anywhere. When the doctor was running late and I was stuck in a waiting room, I used the extra 15 minutes to rewrite an introduction. Even if you have the luxury of sitting down at a computer in a quiet home office several hours a day to write, I would still encourage you to e mail yourself some of those chapters. You never know what curveballs life might throw you. E mail is accessible from most anyplace, most anytime and has saved many a writer whose computers have crashed or whose laptops have been destroyed. I thank E mail - and my phone - for allowing me to pen a book whenever I had a moment to write.
There's no question that as a 21st Century society, almost all of us are busy. Too busy. That's not going to change. So my new year's advice to you: stop fighting the craziness - and find a way to write that book amidst the craziness.
The rewards of doing so are greater than you can imagine. Holding a book in your hand with your name on it (and with all of your blood, sweat and tears woven into is pages) is a thrill like no other. The thrill is not going to come to those who wait for life to settle down. It's going to come to those who make a commitment to pick up that phone - and write.
Mary Pflum Peterson is a multi-Emmy Award winning producer at Good Morning America. Her memoir, White Dresses: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Mothers and Daughters - which she wrote on her now-retired I Phone 4 while juggling four small kids, a full-time job and the all-important task of breastfeeding - was published by HarperCollins in September. To see the fruit of her labor, and to read more about Mary's decidedly complicated and fascinating family, which includes hoarding, gay husbands, and a decade in the convent, pick up a copy of White Dresses.