If I Only Had The Time


KEVIN J. ANDERSON is the author of nearly 100 novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists; he has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader's Choice Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the genre.

His novel ENEMIES & ALLIES chronicles the first meeting of Batman and Superman in the 1950s during the Cold War. Also for HarperCollins/DC, Anderson wrote LAST DAYS OF KRYPTON, chronicling the end of Superman’s planet.

Anderson has coauthored eleven books in the DUNE saga with Brian Herbert, including the forthcoming WINDS OF DUNE. Herbert and Anderson are co-producers on a major new film of DUNE from Paramount.
Anderson's popular epic SF series, "The Saga of Seven Suns," is his most ambitious work; all seven volumes were just released in paperback. He is currently at work on a sweeping fantasy trilogy, “Terra Incognita,” about sailing ships, sea monsters, and the crusades. The first novel, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, was released in June.

As an innovative companion project to “Terra Incognita,” Anderson cowrote (with wife Rebecca Moesta) the lyrics for an ambitious rock CD based on EDGE OF THE WORLD. Performed by the new supergroup Roswell Six for ProgRock Records, the CD is a groundbreaking project featuring performances by rock legends from Dream Theater, Asia, Saga, Kansas, Rocket Scientists, Shadow Gallery, and others.

He has written numerous STAR WARS projects, including the Jedi Academy trilogy, Darksaber, the Young Jedi Knights series (with Moesta), and Tales of the Jedi comics from Dark Horse. Fans might also know him from his X-FILES novels or Dean Koontz’s FRANKENSTEIN: PRODIGAL SON. He has published comics from DC, Marvel, IDW, Wildstorm, Topps, and Dark Horse.



During the most recent Olympics, the world watched great athletes from all nations perform seemingly impossible feats with breathtaking skill. When those well-toned men and women received their medals, we admired them for their almost superhuman abilities. Most of us didn’t kid ourselves (as we were sitting on the couch munching potato chips) that we could be just as talented, just as fast, just as strong . . . if only we had the time.

For some reason, though, a lot of people seem to believe such an absurd thing about writing books. I’ve had many people tell me that writing is easy, that they themselves could do it, if they merely sat down and put their minds to it. Here’s how the conversation often goes:

A person at one of my book-signings or appearances: “I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I could write a novel.”

Me: “Oh? Why haven’t you?”

Person: “I just don’t have the time.”

Me: “Hmm. You know, nobody gives me the time, either. I have to make the time, set priorities, discipline myself to get my writing done each day, no matter how tired I am. I worked a full-time regular job while I wrote my first novels, scraping out an hour here or there in evenings and weekends. That’s how I’ve become a successful author.”

Person: “Yeah, right. I think you’re just lucky.”

Olympic athletes usually start their training as kids, practicing, competing, clawing their way up year after year. Some of them get up before dawn just to grab enough hours of training during the day. They strive to improve their performance, stretch their abilities, beat their personal bests, and then beat them again. They practice until they’re ready to drop, and then they keep at it. Many are injured along the way. The vast majority of those who try out don’t make the Olympic team. They may win semifinals and regional competitions, but only the best of the best become part of the team -- and only the very best of those will win a medal.

I’ve received dozens of letters posing the same question: “I want to write a bestselling novel. But it seems to take so long, and it’s an awful lot of work. Can you tell me what the shortcut is?”

Without doing a full count and comparison, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are about as many New York Times bestselling authors as there are members of the various US Olympic teams. The competition among bestsellers is just as tough, and your chances of success are just as slim.

But does anyone really say, “I want to win a gold medal in figure skating, but I don’t have the time for all that practice and training. In fact, I don’t even own ice skates. Can you tell me the shortcut to winning a medal?”

To make a short answer long, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. I sat in my dad’s study and plunked out my first “novel” on a manual typewriter when I was eight. By the age of ten, I had saved up enough money to buy either a bicycle (like a normal kid), or my own typewriter. I chose the typewriter. I got my first rejection slip by the time I was 13, had my first story published when I was 16 (after I had gathered 80 rejection slips), and sold my first novel by the time I was 25.

I have a trophy in my office proclaiming me to be “The Writer with No Future” because I could produce more rejection slips by weight than any other writer at an entire conference. My files now bulge with more than 800 rejections. On the other hand, I also have 94 books published, 41 of which have been national or international bestsellers, and my work has been translated into 30 languages. I’ve written almost ten million words, so far.

No, I don’t know any shortcuts. Sorry.

Where does this notion come from that just anybody can write a novel, if they could only get around to it? I never hear the claim that just anybody can be an Olympic athlete, or a brain surgeon, or a space shuttle commander. Even if we did "have the time" to raise capital and invest wisely, few people could manage to be as rich as Donald Trump.

But somehow, publishing a novel apparently involves nothing more than unskilled labor, stringing a lot of sentences together until you fill enough pages with words.

Every author has heard this one from a friend or a fan: “I’ve got a great idea for a novel. I’ll tell you the idea, you write the book, and then we can split the money.” (As if the idea is the hard part!) In all honesty, I’m not short on ideas. In fact, I’ll never have time to flesh out all the novel possibilities that occur to me on a regular basis, so this proposition never ceases to amaze me.

I’ve often wished I had the nerve to reply: “I’m pretty busy right now, but why don’t we try it the other way around first? I’ll tell you an idea off the top of my head, then you can do all the research, the plotting, and character development. You can write a hundred thousand words or so, then edit the manuscript (I usually do at least five to ten drafts), sell it to the publisher, work with the editor for any revisions, deal with the copy editor, proofread the galleys, then do booksignings and promotion after it’s published. After all that, we’ll split the money. Sound fair?”

Now, I’m not comparing myself to an Olympic gold medalist. I can’t even stay up on ice skates. I don’t change the oil in my car (though I could probably figure it out, “if only I had the time”) or balance the monthly checkbook. But I do have a pretty good idea how to write a novel. I’ve been practicing and training for most of my life.

Maybe as a public service I’ll write a self-help book of shortcuts for these would-be authors who live all around us. I could call it, How to Become a Bestselling Author in Twenty Years or Less. Now, if only I could find the time to write it. . . .


© Kevin J. Anderson, 2009

© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.