For all the creatives out there with an unfinished novel lying in a drawer, Dr. Sanjay Gupta should provide some inspiration. If the neurosurgeon, nonfiction writer, CNN chief medical correspondent, and father of three could find time to complete the novel Monday Mornings, you too can figure out how to block out some writing time (even if it means giving up some extra minutes falling down the Facebook rabbit hole).
Because Gupta may be the busiest man in America (or at least south of the Mason-Dixon), we decided to kick off a new series about creative processes by asking him about how he works.
Dr. Gupta squeezed in a phone call while riding in a car from the airport and discussed how he schedules time for fiction writing, how he resets his brain when he hits a snag, and his secret for insane productivity.
It took me over 10 years to write [Monday Mornings]. I spent a long time on outlining and character development. I wrote on a lot of plane rides and at night. I carry my laptop everywhere. With nonfiction, if I had a thought I could make a note to myself, and I would keep those notes and use them when I was writing. With fiction a note didn’t do it, I needed to get it all down at the time. Worrying about the organizing would come later.
My mom always told me that a change of activity is a form of reset. If you’re feeling tired, the answer is not necessarily to go to sleep, it’s just a question of changing activity.
One thing I will say is that for me [being a doctor, a writer, and a producer], while they may seem like individual silos, it’s always been very important for me to still do things that are in the health/medical space…I’m writing about things I’m truly fascinated by and I do my own research. I’m very busy, but there’s a real cohesiveness for me, it makes sense in my own mind how these various things tie together.
would do one of two things [when I got stuck writing]. I’d either do something completely different, like a long training run (I’m training for a triathlon). Or, sometimes if I was sort of struggling, just a couple people, my wife being one of them, knew what I was working on at a given time, and I would run a couple different choices of storyline by them, just speak out what I was thinking.
I don’t give myself unlimited amounts of time to do things. If I suddenly had a burst of inspiration to write, I wouldn’t give myself the rest of the afternoon to do it. An open-ended time has a counter effect. It makes you lose efficiency. If it’s 1, I’ll write until 2:30. Putting a little pressure on myself cuts down on procrastination.