Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Typical Writer's Day

We had LOTS of great entries in our latest giveaway contest--see the end of this post to find out who our winner is. 

As Jill shared last Friday, for our current TeachingAuthors topic we're talking a bit about our daily lives/routines as writers. Before I discuss my routine, I have a confession to make: I don't want to be writing this blog post right now.

It's not that I mind the topic, or that I dislike blogging, because I enjoy these posts and the opportunity to connect with you, our blog readers. It's just that I've been working hard, keeping "butt in chair" for the past few weeks, trying to finish the revision of my young-adult historical, and I'm almost done--"almost," as in, to start this blog post, I had to stop at page 274 of a 280-page manuscript! I really wanted to keep plugging away without interruption until I reached the end AND worked through Chapter 1 again so I could send it off to my Beta readers.

Ironically (given today's topic), I would easily have made it through those last pages if regular life hadn't intervened with a minor household crisis this afternoon. But that's a topic for another day.

However, since I'm being brutally honest here, I should also note that these last few weeks have really been more "fun" than "work." That's because I FINALLY got through the revision of Chapter 12--the pivotal chapter where the two formerly antagonistic main characters realize they're falling in love! Once I had that chapter working to my satisfaction, I was on a roll: tweaking scenes, pulling threads, deepening sensory details, adding imagery, polishing language, etc. The stuff I love to do!

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know it's taken me a LONG time to get to this point with this current work-in-progress. In fact, I've been ready to give up on this novel countless times. Back in June 2011, I blogged about how having a "writing buddy" turned out to be the key to my getting a finished draft. But that draft still needed a lot of work--work I hope to have finished by the end of this week. Hooray!

[By the way--my blog post about having a "writing buddy" led me to write a freelance article on the topic for the 2013 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (Writer's Digest Books), edited by Chuck Sambuchino. The book was just released on September 21, and is also available in ebook form.]

So, what IS my typical day like? I blogged about my "ideal" day back in June, 2009, and that ideal hasn't changed much, though I rarely live up to it.

I find I'm most productive if I get up around 6-6:30 in the morning and get to work as soon after breakfast as possible, without checking email or Facebook. Since I have a hard time resisting email, I set a timer and don't allow myself to look at it until after I've put in 2-4 hours of work, depending on what else I have going on that day. After email and lunch, I work another 2-4 hours, though I take an exercise break in the middle of the afternoon on most days. (If you haven't read about the recent studies citing the dangers of prolonged sitting, you may want to read this Forbes article: Why Sitting at Work Can be so Deadly.]

I should clarify that "work" varies depending on my teaching schedule and my work goals for the week. I'm not currently teaching any classes, so the "work" time these days may include:
  • writing/revising my current historical YA novel-in-progress (that's almost done!)
  • researching/planning where to submit a novel I recently finished co-writing with another author
  • writing a blog post, like this one, or planning future blogging topics
  • pitching/querying new freelance writing projects
  • writing/researching freelance writing projects
  • updating my website with information about upcoming classes, publications, etc.
Weeks when I am teaching, my "work" time includes lesson planning, publicizing classes, and reviewing student work.

Depending on how much time I spend on email and social media, my typical work day is usually 5-8 hours long, Monday through Friday, plus 4 hours or more on Saturday. (I often teach on Saturdays.) If I'm on deadline, or on a "roll" as I have been the last few weeks, I may put in some extra time after dinner. But I can't do that for an extended period. I agree with what Jill said on Friday, that we need to have time away from our work to gather the material that will enrich our writing.

I know many of you have full-time jobs that make it pretty much impossible to spend 2-4 hours per day writing. The good news is, many writers who have much less time to devote to their writing are still able to have successful careers. Esther recently mentioned a new blog by Carol Coven Grannick called Today I Am a Writer. In one of her first posts, Carol talks about how productive she's been by following the simple tenet of devoting the First, Best Hour to her work. As Carol has discovered, knowing we have a limited amount of time can sometimes help us stay focused. I'm a believer in Parkinson's law--work often does expand to fill the time allotted for its completion.

But even if an hour is more than you can muster, you may be surprised at what you can accomplish by writing simply fifteen minutes a day. Every August, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson hosts the "Write Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge" on her blog. Here's an excerpt from what she posted on the last day of the challenge::
Life happens whether you are writing or not. You don’t have to wait for the right time, or that Muse-blessed idea or a fellowship to a writing colony or a winning lottery ticket or anything. You just have to give yourself permission to take seriously your writing dream.
So I hope you'll give yourself permission to take your writing dream seriously. Why not start today, by setting aside some regular writing time?. Even if you missed Anderson's Fifteeen Minutes a Day Challenge last month, there's nothing stopping you from using her posts to work through your own month of writing fifteen minutes a day. Day one begins here.  

And now, time to announce the winner of Lisa Cron's Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Ten Speed Pess). Our winner is:

Mary Jo Campbell

Congratulations, Mary Jo! (Please respond to my email so we can get the book in the mail right away.)

If you didn't win, never fear--we have more giveaways coming SOON!

And now, I'm going back to my novel.
Happy writing!


Susan Ekins said...

Carmela, thank you, this post is exactly what I needed. I've had some big life changes in the past several months--I left my day job and my Mother passed away. Recently I decided that October 1st is the start of my new lifestyle as a committed writer. Your post gives me concrete examples about how I can do this. Specifically, staying off of email and Facebook until I've met some writing goals is key.

Carmela Martino said...

So glad to be of help, Sue. Good luck with your new goals!

Mary Jo said...

Yay! Thank you, Carmela, Teaching Authors and Lisa Cron! So excited to read this book. Keep the great posts and giveaways coming! (Carmela - I replied to your email.)

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Loved your post, Carmela.

And, Congrats, Mary Jo, on winning our Book Giveaway copy of WIRED FOR STORY!
I promise you: you'll be thanking Lisa Cron for her insights and guidance.
I know you’ll be sharing this with your Young Writers too.
Meanwhile, thank you, TA Readers, for reminding me just how intricate our brains truly are. :)
Next Wed. tune in for my review of a book that offers your Writer's SPIRIT Instant Rx.
And, FYI: I read in my Trib this weekend about the dorsal striatum, wired for (are you ready,Writers?) - CHOCOLATE!

Linda at teacherdance said...

It's great to hear about your day, Carmela, & how it works when you're just about to finish a book. Life happens, I guess, doesn't it? I appreciate your words.

Jeanette W. Stickel said...

Thank you for sharing your routines. It’s encouraging to get a glimpse into another writer’s life.

Carmela Martino said...

Mary Jo, I'm actually jealous. WIRED FOR STORY is a book I want for myself!
Thanks, Esther. Linda and Jeannette, I'm glad you found the post helpful. I have to tell you that the minor family disaster I mentioned may have been a blessing in disguise. I think it gave me more objectivity because when I finally got back to my novel, I saw that by adding a few sentences earlier I could eliminate the last two pages of the manuscript! I was planning to do one more read-through before sending it off, but I just came home from a writing workshop this morning with MORE ideas for making the story stronger. Oh, well. Back to work.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Great post, Carmela--very encouraging and do-able. It makes me feel braver.

And, regarding the dangers of prolonged sitting,I've recently jerry-rigged a stand-up desk and I'm LOVING it. It's not a treadmill desk, as many writers have...but I stand all day, as if I'm at a counter. Love, love, love it.

Carmela Martino said...

Wow, April--I thought you were already pretty brave! :-)
Yes, I have a jerry-rigged standing desk, too. Unfortunately, I have some foot issues that prevent me from standing too long, but I try to spend an hour of my daily work time standing.

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Coutn me in on the standing desk. But often I'm too lazy to use it (oy).

Susan, thinking of you with so many life changes at once and hoping your October 1st commitment works out wonderfully.