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Posts Tagged ‘the full-time writerly life’

the full-time writerly life: the big picture

So what do I do with myself all year?

(I figure this is the biggest scale on which I can usefully address the question of how I will be organizing my life. Once we start talking about multiple years at a time, too many of the variables are out of my hands.)

Historically, the answer has been that I write a novel every summer. I missed a couple in there, and sometimes I wrote one during the winter, but on the whole, novels have been summer things, because I’ve been in school.

This has also, to some extent, dictated my pace: it takes me about three to four months to complete a draft. At 1K a day, which is my standard pace, I get about 30K per month, so 3-4 months is enough to produce an average-size fantasy novel. In practice, that’s usually an under-estimate, though I miss days, I treat 1K as a daily minimum rather than an average, so over time I build up a margin of safety. I also tend to speed up as I get closer to the end of the book.

I think it’s fair, then, to divide the year into thirds: three four-month periods. It’ll do as a rough guideline, anyway.

Here’s where it gets fuzzier, because I don’t actually know what I’ll be doing for the next couple of years. In Ashes Lie is the second book of a two-book contract, so other than the revisions (which I’m working on right now) and the rest of its production process, I’m not under contract for anything at the moment. I have some educated guesses as to what I’ll be doing next, but no guarantees yet, and so I’m going to restrict myself to more general terms here.

I can certainly write a novel a year. I was able to do that even while in school full-time; I can do it now. So that’s one third of the year dedicated to writing a novel. What about the other two-thirds?

After years of having nothing much in the way of YA ideas in my head, I’m starting to grow some. So it’s entirely possible I’ll find myself publishing for both adults and teens in the future. Which works out well: a YA novel is maybe half the length of an adult one, depending. Can I write a novel and a half each year? I think so. (My average while in college was slightly better than that, in fact.) I even think I can handle prepping for an adult book — research and so on — while writing a YA. So my ideal yearly schedule would have me writing the YA in the four months preceding the block in which I’m working on the adult novel.

But of course we have to figure in deadlines, which will be dictated by my publisher’s schedule for putting things out. My own order and timing will have to shift to meet reality on the ground.

What about the last third of the year? Odds are high — one might even say certain — that I’ll be revising and copy-editing and page-proofing during that time, since it will follow on the delivery of one book or another. But that isn’t four months of daily work. And while I may be prepping for the next book, it’s hard to imagine that being a full workload, either.

And that’s fine, because I need some time to play. My hope is that the remaining portion of the year, the “vacation” in which I am not drafting a contracted novel, will be spent on playing with new ideas. It’s rare for me to produce a book from a dead halt; usually I’ve got anywhere from a few thousand to forty thousand words already squirreled away in a file by the time I officially sit down to write that book. (Okay, 40K has only happened once. But 10K, sure.) So the last third is for spec projects, things I’m not contracted for but am maybe interested in pitching, or even just stuff I want to do for the hell of it, with no certain expectation of what I’d do with that book if I had it. I’ll be a lot happier if I have a stable of such things, so that when a given contract ends and an editor says, “what would you like to do next?,” I have a bunch of little saplings ready to be turned into full-grown trees.

So the thirds are, in adjustable order: Write YA while prepping adult. Write adult while processing YA for publication. Write whatever I feel like while processing adult and prepping YA.

I think that could work. I like the sound of it, anyway, because it allows me to keep up a book-a-year schedule in both fields while still having some time for work-fun.

We’ll see what happens when I try to put this into practice.

the full-time writerly life: the work week

I’m late posting this one because Project Get A Social Life involved going to my first karate class this evening, at the dojo where kniedzw has recently started attending and my future sister-in-law is a black belt/sensei.

So, my schedule on a larger scale. The next thing to talk about is the week. When I’m noveling, there is no “work week;” I write every single day, unless something prevents me from doing so, because if I don’t a) I lose momentum and b) it’ll take me even longer to finish the damn book. This is a schedule that functions pretty well, but it gets depressing on occasion: after two months of writing every single day, I know I have another month or two of that to look forward to before I can take a break. “No time off for good behavior” is how I usually start characterizing it, around about month #3. And that does suck a bit.

When not noveling, my schedule has heretofore been much more sporadic. Write every day, many advice-givers tell you, but the truth is that I don’t. I write a short story when one is sufficiently developed in my head to go, or play around with new novel ideas, but you need to put this all in the context of the academic year; novels were what I did during the summer, and the other nine months I at least tried to make other things my priority. (You may deduce my incomplete success, which is to say increasing failure, by my departure from graduate school.) But if this is my full-time job, then it makes sense to try and be more productive.

I figure, then, that I should make use of this concept of “work week.” Monday through Friday, with weekends off. If I’m not noveling under deadline, then how’s about some relaxation time? I may write on the weekend, of course; see the first F-TWL post for my refusal to apologize for that. But only if I feel like it. Other jobs give people time off, after all. I deserve some, too.

Monday through Friday, though, my goal is to put down at least some words. The daily novel quota is a thousand; I’d like to shoot for five hundred in the downtime, at least to start with. Five hundred a day for two weeks (with weekends off) would give me a decent-sized short story. Higher productivity would be great, but baby steps; I think I’d rather ease into my workload, rather than leaping headfirst for a big target and finding out the hard way that it’s too much. (That’s how I crashed and burned on the first novel I tried to finish, in high school. Not sure how much I was trying to write per day, but it was a lot more than a thousand. No great loss, mind you; that was an apprentice idea, cobbled together before I leveled up and started having ideas worth my time.)

I figure that goal is flexible. If I spend a day revising a story — real revision; not just rearranging the commas — that’s real work, too. So is world-building, if I get on a kick for that. Maybe I don’t need to put down words those days. But I should still try, because when all is said and done, the production of words is the baseline requirement for this job, without which none of the rest of it matters very much.

the full-time writerly life: daily edition

So, time management.

With conventional office jobs and the like, your time is structured for you. Bosses expect you to show up at a certain time and stay until a certain time, or at least to do X hours per week. Some full-time writers, I know, treat their self-employment the same way — but as I said elsewhere re: “dressing for work,” I suspect that many of them used to be in office jobs. My employment has generally been irregular; classes provided scattered points of fixity in my schedule, but the rest of my work (reading, papers, grading) was built around deadlines, so I tended to do it whenever, so long as I got it done in time.

Which is my lead-in to saying: what will I do with myself all day?

I said in my last F-TWL post that one thing I won’t apologize for is my hours. I only got my alarm clock plugged in last night — I needed a power strip in the bedroom; it isn’t just that I couldn’t be bothered — and I may start using it again, so I can regularly wake up at 11. (Otherwise there’s the occasional day when apparently my body decides it needs to keep me unconscious until after noon. On the one hand, maybe it’s right to do so, but on the other . . . even I think that’s a little ridiculous.) I wake up swiftly, in terms of being able to get out of bed, but I’m not good for much right after that. Takes a while for my brain to warm up. So my routine after getting out of bed involves spending an hour or so checking e-mail, reading blogs, etc. Which isn’t as much of a time-waster as it sounds; true, the Internets are full of procrastination, but this is my best route to random information I wouldn’t think to go looking for. Last night yhlee sent me off into the wilds of Wikipedia, reading about ocular heterochromia. This is on the list of “not to be apologized for”: I’m feeding my brain.

So while I’m not going to pin things to precise blocks of time, the general pattern is wake up, spend an hour dinking around, have lunch. After that, it’s more fluid. I figure my afternoons will be for some combination of domestic duties and writing-related program activities. Sometimes I’m in a mood to knock off a bunch of business e-mails or update my website or read for research or send out short stories. Sometimes I’m in a mood to organize a closet or go to the grocery store or sew curtains. Whatever I’m motivated for, that’s what I’ll do, unless there’s something else on a pressing deadline. Because really, that’s the great virtue of a flexible schedule: you don’t necessarily have to make yourself do something you just have no will for today. (Eventually you may have to. But I’ve learned to trust myself that I will generally grow the motivation in time; ergo, I am better off not pushing it unless I have to.)

Around about 5 p.m., I start thinking about the end of kniedzw‘s work day. If I got up early to drive him to work, I consequently have to go pick him up again; otherwise, I’m waiting for him to show up. I’m treating this as a distinct block of time because one thing I would like to start doing is cook; I feel like I don’t have much excuse beyond lack of enthusiasm and practice for making meals that involve actual preparation. So I can be doing anything that’s compatible with cooking dinner. (Do I expect myself to make a real meal every day? No. Baby steps, here. If I’m making “turn the following raw components into food” meals twice a week to start with, that will be substantial progress.)

In the evening, it’s more kick-back-and-relax time. Reading and/or watching of things, probably, though I’m looking into starting up some martial arts class, that would presumably fall in here. But in general, activities that don’t involve me closing my office door and ignoring kniedzw. He objects if I do that too much.

And then there’s late at night, which is when I will get the writing done. (So yes, the basic “work” part of my workday comes at the end.) If I feel inspired to tackle it in the afternoon, then by all means, bring on the keyboard; but if I haven’t done it earlier, this is the one really scheduled thing in my day. Because if I’m not putting words down on a regular basis, then I ain’t really a writer, am I?

I have more to say on my writing expectations for a given day, but I think that will fit better into the macro edition of my schedule. I’m posting about these things mostly for my own benefit, really, to work through them in my own mind and have a record of my plan, but I figure at least a few of you might find it helpful.

the full-time writerly life, pt. 1

So, I am technically a full-time writer now.

I say “technically” because I need to get in touch with some folks back at IU and handle the wrap-up for my master’s there. But the only thing paying me any money these days is writing, so that’s the only actual job I have. Ergo, I need to figure out how to structure my life to make this thing work.

And because we live in the twenty-first century, the Age of the Internet, of course I’m going to blog all about it.

Expect more of these posts. I’m not sure how many, or how often; I have at least three I want to make, of which this is the first. Before I talk about structure, I want to talk about Things I Won’t Apologize For.

A while back, I posted on SF Novelists about “Writing as Work” — about the reasons why it’s hard to view this as an actual job. The corollary there is that I feel this stupid impulse to apologize for some of the things I do, because they don’t fit the standard model of what work ought to be like. I think it’s fair to say that the first thing I need to do is jettison that impulse, and accept the fact that this is my job, and this is how it goes.

So:

1. I won’t apologize for the hours I keep. You know what? My brain turns on real good at about 10 p.m., and depending on how I’m feeling, keeps rolling until about 3 a.m. Not just in terms of creativity; heck, I have evidence my hand-eye coordination is better then, too. But it’s the creativity and discipline that matters here. There is no point in trying to fight that, not when I don’t have to. So yes: on days when I decide I don’t need the car and therefore don’t drive kniedzw to work, or all the time once we get our transportation sorted out, I sleep in until 11 a.m. or so. I refuse to feel like that’s lazy. It’s just me getting a good night’s sleep after a hard night’s work.

2. I won’t apologize for reading, or anything else that feeds my brain. In fact, when I’m done with this post, I’m probably going to go downstairs and curl up with Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s A Companion to Wolves. Because that? Is work. It gets me thinking about the story I want to write, and it keeps me aware of what’s going on in my field. If I read nonfiction, same deal. Even TV and movie-watching, in moderation, fit this bill. As long as I’m being mentally active about it, not just a mindless slug — as long as I’m turning it around and applying it to the words I produce — it’s a necessary part of the job. Not me slacking off.

3. I won’t apologize for “being lame.” By this I mean something very specific. It happens less at the moment, because I haven’t really launched Project Get A Social Life yet, but this happened all the time in Boston and Bloomington: it’s Friday or Saturday night, and I have the option to go do something social, but I decide to stay home and write. Sometimes because I have a deadline I have to meet — but sometimes just because I feel like it. I have a story I want to be writing. And then I feel like I should apologize because there’s something wrong with wanting to work. You know what? There isn’t. I have a job I love. And if it’s on a roll, I’m glad to hop on board, even if it means passing up something “more fun.”

Those are all the ones I can think of at the moment, but there may be more. In fact, I welcome additions in comments. From writer-friends especially, but frankly, any of you who find yourselves in a non-traditional relationship with your working schedule. What kinds of things do you not apologize for?