New Voice: Shannon Wiersbitzky on Making Time to Write and The Summer of Hammers & Angels

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Shannon Wiersbitzky is the first-time author of The Summer of Hammers & Angels (Namelos, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Most folks have never seen an angel.

I know, because I’ve asked them.

I asked Miss Martha at the post office.

“Maybe someday, Delia, God willing.”

God does a lot of willing in Tucker’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The Summer of Hammers and Angels is the story of an amazing summer in a girl’s life, a summer of surprises and challenges, of shocks and recovery, of discoveries and friendship, and of loneliness and community.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career?

Know that excuse? It’s the one that goes like this, “I’d (fill in the blank), but I don’t have any time.”

Whether we like to admit it or not, each of us makes time for the things that matter to us—family, friends, exercise, television, shopping, even house cleaning.

We all have time.

We simply choose to prioritize it in different ways.

I’m a working mom with two young boys, ages 11 and 8. I do not have a nanny or an au pair or a maid. The choices I make: involved in homework and reading at school, not involved in organizing parties or chaperoning trips, and I probably choose to clean less than the average mom…unless company is coming.

As for the working part, I am the Director of Market Research and Voice of Client for one of the world’s largest investment firms. I spend roughly 50 hours a week uncovering why people do the things they do, and how they think.

Oh, and I write.

I know a few things about busy. According to family legend, I was born with a day planner in one hand. And according to that day planner, seven months was plenty long enough to gestate, thank you very much! I had things to do, stuff to accomplish!

So out I came, feet first, ready to tackle the world. I was type A from the get go.

On that day planner this week, and for as long as I can remember, read, is always a to-do.

Robert C. O’Brien’s books spoke to me as a child, The Silver Crown (Atheneum, 1968), Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Atheneum, 1971), and Z for Zacariah (Atheneum, 1975), which is a gripping tale of a teen girl who may be the last survivor of a nuclear war. I recently reread Z for Zacariah, and it was just as compelling as I remembered!

John Christopher’s sci-fi Tripod Trilogy—The White Mountains (Simon and Schuster, 1967), The City of Gold and Lead (Simon and Schuster, 1968), and The Pool of Fire (Simon and Schuster, 1968), were three I read and reread (and bought again as an adult). I’d lay awake at night imagining looming silver alien machines pulling me up and capping me, then controlling my mind. Eek!

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

When friends and colleagues find out that I write, their eyebrows arch, the tone of their voice jumps two octaves and they say, “How do you find time for that?”

My answer is simple.

I get up earlier. I choose to sleep a little less so I can write. As the pop music begins to play, my alarm clock flashes 4:30. (Full disclosure. I usually hit snooze once.)

Our guest bedroom doubles as my writing “office”. I wish I had one of those perfect offices I see in other blogs, with lovely cork boards packed full of ideas. Instead, I shuffle into my guest room each morning yawning, snuggle into the blankets, fluff the pillows behind my back just so, pull my laptop off the night table, settle it on my lap and away I go. When I work, this is what I see.

I’d say about 90% of my writing is done in the dark.

For me, maybe because of the time and space and lighting of where I write, writing feels like an extension of a dream. Still drowsy and warm and flexible from the night, I can string together words and images without interference from anything “normal” around me. No TV, no music, just the tip-tap of my fingers on the keyboard, the occasional bird chirp from some other early riser, and the deep hum of the heater as it kicks on in the basement.

Now there are days (or weeks) when that alarm screams at me and I do not feel like getting up. My blankets could win an Academy Award some mornings. I think about how wonderful the fresh air from the cracked window feels on my face, I replay whatever dream was interrupted and I think, maybe I’ll skip writing today.

That is when day planner me takes over with a bullhorn and a cattle prod. I nudge myself awake with whatever motivational tactics are required for the day. The only way to get published is to write! Or I might think through my to-do’s—finish Chapter 15, rename that character, think of a better ending for Chapter 3. Sometimes I need to take the drill-sergeant approach: Get your lazy butt up and write!

I’d say I have a 95% success rate.

What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

More from Shannon on Writing

If you’re not already in the habit of writing, then find 10 or 15 minutes a day to start. Try to make it the same time every day. Not everyone is a morning person. Writing at the stroke of midnight might work better, or a few minutes over lunch (which I did for years).

I heard Eileen Spinelli say once that she stole minutes here and there for writing…in the line at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office with the kids, or waiting at a sports event for school. I thought…I can do that!

You can do that too. If you feel inspired to put words on paper, choose to write!

Cynsational Notes

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of The Summer of Hammers & Angels are donated to Habitat for Humanity®.

12 thoughts on “New Voice: Shannon Wiersbitzky on Making Time to Write and The Summer of Hammers & Angels

  1. I have also forced myself to become an early morning writer. Er, when do you go to sleep usually? 4:30 is pretty early, even for me.

    And I'm so happy to see you mention The Silver Crown! It's one of my favorite books, but I don't often see anyone talking about it.

  2. hi miss cynthia and miss shannon! that book sounds pretty cool. mostly i dont like books with girly heros but im thinking i could like this one cause i like stories with lots of challenges and for sure i believe in angels. :)i like how you talk about making writing time. i need to do lots better on that cause i let tv and computer games and stuff like that get in my way. thanks for a cool post.
    …smiles from lenny

  3. Wow! As a very non-morning person, I am officially in awe. (I am also in awe of that incredible beginning.)

    Also, take it from me: you don't actually have to clean when company is coming either. After a minute or two of stunned silence, they learn to accept it.

  4. E.C., to answer your question, I'm almost always in bed by 10:00. If not, the snooze definitely gets more than one tap. And love that I've found a Silver Crown friend!

    Leah, your comment about the stunned silence of guests made me laugh. I may have to try that.

  5. I used to work for Shannon Wiersbitzky, and I'm in awe of her. She is accomplished in every area of her life and does the most incredible balancing act of anyone I know. Her first published book, The Summer of Hammers and Nails, celebrates hard work, decency, family and even accepts human weakness in a matter-of-fact non-demeaning way.

  6. Hi!

    I love Shannon's book and its gorgeous cover. Thanks to both of you, Cynthia and Shannon, for this excellent interview. No way am I going to get up at 4:30 to write, but I can identify with Leah's approach to house cleaning. During those minutes of stunned silence, maybe I could write a few sentences.

    Oh, and I, too, am a fan of Z FOR

    Sheila Welch

  7. What an inspiration! I’m afraid though, if I tried writing at 4:30 in the morning, I might end up with a horror story and since I like to write for children it might not be a good fit. But I am convinced Shannon is right – we can all make time for what is important to us.

  8. E.C., I can't imagine getting up at 4:30 a.m., though I've stayed up that late/early, writing all night.

    My pleasure, Beth! She is an inspiration!

    Lenny, I believe in angels, too. Try just writing three minutes a day. The hardest thing is sitting down. Once you're writing, it's easier to keep going. Good luck!

    Leah, I absolutely love this.

    Thanks, Tracy, stop by any time!

    Anonymous, how great that you know Shannon personally! Y'all must be so proud of her.

    Sheila, thanks for the cheer!

    True, Jeanette! It's all about priorities.

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