by Steve Leveen
If you had been on a certain sidewalk north of Boston a few years back, at 6:00 any morning but Sunday, you
might have noticed a handsome, dark-haired man parking a 14-year-old Toyota Tercel wagon. Six days a week for three years, he sat behind the
wheel and wrote.
The man was Andre Dubus III. Due to his noisy home filled with three young
children, and his shared office at Tufts University, his car was the best
place he could find to work on his novel. At 7:30 he would drive to either
his carpentry or teaching job.
His House of Sand and Fog turned into a finalist for the National Book Award.
Oprah selected it for her book club. Dreamworks bought the film rights. Dubus, like so
many other successful people, carved out time with discipline and sacrifice to accomplish
what he yearned to do.
Carving out time to advance your dreams, while
holding down another job, is an age-old theme. How do some people manage
to do it successfully?
Rising early in the morning is a common way. That's what lifestyle author and
lecturer Alexandra Stoddard did in the 1960s to get started. "I had young
children and I had to get up before they did. That was my way to get
some work done."
Rising at 5:00 a.m., she
would get two hours of writing in on her first book before waking up her
girls and going off to her job as an interior
designer. Today, Alexandra has some 22 books to her credit. She still
writes each morning.
In another case, lunchtime provided the golden minutes. As the receptionist
at WXEL public television station in South Florida, Mary Rodriguez had a
TV monitor within easy view. Unbeknownst to her employers, Mary was
watching the "GED on TV" course while she answered the phones. At night,
after she put her young boys to sleep, she studied for the General
Educational Development test with books she borrowed from the office. Six
months later she took the test. "I cried when I opened the envelope saying
Today, Mary manages a literacy program and is
working on her four-year degree.
Eugene Miller landed his first job out of journalism school in 1948 as a
reporter on the Greensboro (North Carolina) Daily News,
his schedule was from 4:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. During the day, "I had
nothing to do and nobody to do it with," explained Gene. So he went to the
library and studied trade magazines. "The mastheads looked like they had
lots of correspondents but none in Greensboro. I wrote letters to 100 of
them saying ‘I'd like to be your correspondent,’ and I got responses from
about half. The responses all had the same theme: 'We don't think there is
much news in Greensboro, but if you're willing to submit articles on
speculation, then fine."
the next four years he was a correspondent for 50 magazines while working
his beat on the Greensboro paper. "I wrote one to two articles per day
before I went to work, and I made much more money before I went to work
than what I made at work." His efforts led to job offers from Newsweek
and BusinessWeek. He took the BusinessWeek offer, which led him ultimately to
top business slots at the New York Stock Exchange and USG Corporation. Now
in his 70s, Professor Miller teaches at Florida Atlantic University’s
is it easy to carve out time from your regular life. It takes vivid goals
and true persistence to escape the
gravitational pull of a workaday life and succeed in establishing a new
There are plenty of traps along the way. You
might get going in a spurt of ambition, only to encounter an illness or a
family emergency that derails your schedule. Keeping a journal is one way
to see if you're just temporarily off schedule or always making excuses.
In the end you'll have to ask yourself: How
badly do I want this? Only youeach morning, noon or nightcan provide the
Sitting in his Tercel every morning, Andre
Dubus knew he wanted it badly. "I stole that time in my car each day
because I knew if I did not, I would simply stop being memy very essence
would just slip away." Andre spent another year typing what he'd written
into the computer. In the end, it took him four years to write House of
Sand and Fog.