Struggling to Juggle or Building a Better Reality by Molly MacRae

“This is a time-turner, Harry. McGonagall gave it to me first term. This is how I’ve been getting to my lessons all year.” Hermione Granger to Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


“You have a full-time job; how do find time to write?” Lots of people to me


“Sorrycan’ttalknowgottatypetypetypetypetypittytpyotype.” Me to my nearest and dearest


For the past six years I’ve been lucky enough to be writing full time. In those six years I’ve written five books in the Haunted Yarn Shop mystery series, two in the Highland Bookshop mystery series, and two in the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library mystery series. And now I’m thrilled that I have a contract for two more Haunted Yarn Shop books. Writing full time is something I dreamed of and something I’m absolutely tickled to be doing. The only problem is that I already have a full time job.


What’s the problem with that? Not enough hours in the day. When I wrote the first five Haunted Yarn Shop books (a book every nine months), I solved that by adding waking hours to my day—getting up at 5:00 a.m. to get writing time in before work. I also wrote over my lunch hour and in the evenings and ignored housework. All of that worked out fine (especially the housework part).


Lately, though, I’ve been noticing that my characters spend more time with their families and friends than I do with mine. They have time to read for pleasure and do fun things like knit and hike and get enough sleep. And they solve murders (they might be over-achievers).


What changed? Working on two contracts at once, which meant a book every six months. It was still doable, but . . . I found out that I’m jealous of my characters.


Struggling to juggle is a common problem for writers, and we each have to solve it in our way. My first shot at, after nixing 4:00 a.m. wake-up calls, was to ask my husband to invent a time-turner. He’s an engineer who invents and builds the equipment graduate students need for their research. He invented a levitation device, for heaven’s sake. But apparently a time-turner is out because we’re stuck with a small thing called “reality.” So I decided I would build a better reality.


“Revision is the key to success” is one of my writing mantras. It works for plots, dialog, word choice—manuscripts from concept to “the end.” Why not apply it to the writing process itself or some part of it?


My usual process is roughly this: idea, outline, daily word quota, revise previous day’s quota, finished manuscript, tada! This is essentially bash it out now, tart it up later, except that later is the next day. Each day I tart the previous day’s bashing and then move forward through that day’s word quota. What could I change?


For Scones and Scoundrels, coming out in January, I tried this revision: bash out the entire manuscript and then tart it up. Many writers are successful with that method, and given more than six months to complete a manuscript, I’d be willing to try it again—maybe. But for me it ended in a horrible time crunch during the tarting part of the equation. Very few hours of sleep and still the day job to smile for. Yow. I shudder at the memory.


For Cat and Mouse Murder, coming also coming out next year (under the pen name Margaret Welch), I tried this revision: instead of a daily word quota, I set myself an hourly word quota. It’s a very simple tweak to a process that has worked for me for years and it made all the difference. The hourly word quota concentrated my focus. I gave me more hours in the day. It let me have lunch with friends and actually talk to my family.


For me, the real writing is in the revision. It’s in the differences, some of them small and oh so obvious, that make the difference. A better reality was there, too.




The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” Scones and Scoundrels, the book two in Molly’s new Highland Bookshop Mysteries, will be out in January. She’s also the author of the award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries from NAL/Penguin (and being continued by Pegasus Crime). Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990 and she is a winner of the Sherwood Anderson Award for Short Fiction. Molly lives in Champaign, Illinois. You can visit her at and


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2 thoughts on “Struggling to Juggle or Building a Better Reality by Molly MacRae

  1. marissoule says:

    Molly, I admire you being able to work (at an outside job) full time and write full time, but don’t burn out. I was contracted for (and wrote) 4 books one year while working 30 hours a week and it hurt me in the long run. It took a long time before sitting down at the computer was a pleasure, again.

    • mollymacrae says:

      Wise words, Maris. After putting these two books to bed (editing on the one and final look through on the other), I’m down to one book a year and will probably stay there as long as I’m still at the library. There needs to be some bit of joy in the process.

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