I’ve been getting a lot of recurring questions about schedule, pacing, productivity, etc, and I thought it might be time to do another DITL post, because I am always interested when other authors do them (and it’s further proof that there’s no right way to this whole author thing. So, now that I’m out of grad school, here’s how my day goes:
I do my best work in the mornings, when and if I can pull myself away from the internet. I have no problem turning it off, but I’m rubbish at KEEPING it off. But ideally, I get up around 7am, walk the dogs, make tea, do my check of email/twitter/tumblr/fbook, etc and then get to writing. In the afternoon, I usually switch to edits or admin work (emails, blogging, etc) because my straying focus makes writing harder. I go to the gym before dinner, waste a lot of time during dinner and after, and then sit back down to write for another hour or so before bed. I do most of my reading on the go, via audiobooks while walking the dogs/running errands/working out, and reading before I sleep. When deadlines allow, I try to give myself the weekend, or at least one day of it, to read and relax.
But I’m just one author, and an author with a notoriously bad habit of shucking my routines, lurking on the internet, and going for a wander whenever work gets hard, so with that in mind, I thought I’d ask some other authors about THEIR processes, to give you some perspective!
From David Arnold, author of MOSQUITOLAND:
I literally have no routines. Sometimes I get my best work done late at night. Sometimes I get my best work done in the morning. I write at a desk now, which is cool. But that’s a recent development. Before the desk, I used: couches, counters, cars, bars, coffee shops, and the lobby of the YMCA (two hours of free child care!). I wrote my first book while taking care of our newborn son, so I had to write where I could, when I could. My son is three now, and has school, and like, a normal human life, which is way cool. So things are a little more normal than they once were. But I think having such a chaotic process early in my career really laid the groundwork for flexibility now.
From Jackson Pearce, author of SISTERS RED, THE DOUBLECROSS, PIP BARTLETT’S GUIDE, and more:
I am furious to admit that I am more productive if I wake up earlier than I’d like and write in the morning. I used to save writing for late at night, but the truth is, by the time I’ve gone through my day, I’m often so mentally worn out that nighttime writing doesn’t work. So: I wake up around 8am (trying to move this to 7am!). I take about an hour to eat and get dressed and mess around on the internet. I use Freedom to turn off Twitter, Facebook, and Buzzfeed from 9am-1pm, when I focus on writing. After that (assuming I’m not on deadline), I’m done for the day.
It’s worth mentioning that part of the reason I made this change is reading about how willpower is actually a finite resource; in studies, people who were asked to exhibit willpower by not eating a cookie after a work day failed more often than those who were asked to not eat the cookie before work. It’s the same reason why people suggest exercising first thing in the morning: Your willpower is strongest then, so you’re less likely to skip it than you are if you leave it for later. Writing is the same way; I’m less likely to make excuses and ignore it or do a half-assed job if I knock it out first thing.
From Daniel Kraus, author of ROTTERS, SCOWLER, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH:
I write on weekends. That’s it. I’ve got a demanding full-time job so there’s no way around it. Every time I see David Levithan, we commiserate about this. Commiserate’s the wrong word. Neither of us mind it, really. You get five days to ramp up toward what you’re about to write, so when you finally get to do it, you are ready to fucking kill it.
From C.J. Redwine, author of the DEFIANCE series and THE SHADOW QUEEN:
Since I run YABC from home and also have 5 children ranging in age from 3-17, I find that carving out pockets of time to leave the house really ups my productivity during the week. I try to go write at a local coffee shop 2 days a week, although now that my 3-year-old is in a 3 hour school program 4 days a week, I’ll have some alone time at home to use for writing. I also write late at night after the kids go to sleep. My brain does better in the morning, but I have to use whatever time I can get. This often means I survive on about 4 1/2 to 5 hours of sleep most nights. I write in cycles, though. I spend months just living with the story in my head and world building etc before actually writing, but then when I sit down, I really sprint through it. Example (and the reason I am currently desperate for a Netflix binge and some sleep), I just turned in the draft of my next book. Literally the email before this one. And I just wrote 50k in 3 weeks. Now I won’t write anything for weeks and so it goes. :)
From Ashley Blake, author of SUFFER LOVE:
I have two small kids, so in the summer, I write at night or escape my house during the day to write elsewhere on the weekends. Now that school has started, I like to write in the morning. I get up, get the kids off, make coffee, and get to work. Okay, okay, first I waste about a half hour on the internet, but then I usually try to write until around lunch. Depending on where I am in the process, I’ll work more after lunch and even sometimes at night after the kids are in bed. If I’m drafting I write every day and I try to stop a writing session mid-scene or even mid-sentence sometimes. Something about knowing exactly what’s going on and where I’m going with it makes coming back to the blank page the next day much less daunting.
From Rachel Hawkins, author of HEX HALL, REBEL BELLE, MISS MAYHEM, and more:
I definitely do my best work in the morning, which is lucky since I have a 4th grader which means I have to get up at 6:15. Actually, now that my son is older, I’ve kind of started aping his schedule- work stops as soon as he gets off the bus at 2:30– which will make for a SUPER fun topic for him to discuss with his therapist one day. So once he and my my husband are gone around 7, I drink coffee, play on the internet, maybe take a bath if I’m feeling extra ambitious, and I try to be working by 9 at the latest. I do the Pomodoro Technique which is a fancy way of saying I set a timer for 25 minutes, work, take a five minute break, go back in for 25 minutes until whatever that day’s goal is is met. Usually this means I’m done by lunchtime which I love since taking my lunch without a side of self-loathing is A++. Unless I have a Face Eating Deadline, I don’t work on weekends or school breaks, and I almost never work on anything at night. Again, if a deadline is really pressing, then I might revisit in the evening, but I actually really, really hate working at night. That’s Bourbon and Reading Time as god intended.
From Gretchen McNeill, author of TEN, 3:59, GET EVEN, and more:
On the days that I don’t go to my part time job (I know I’m bursting bubbles here, but a lot of authors don’t make enough not to work a desk job…) I usually start working in the morning. Not necessarily “writing,” but definitely working. By 8:30am, my husband is off to work, so I make a double cappuccino and sit down in front of my laptop to deal with emails and social media, and by 9:30, I’m ready to tackle the day’s writing.
I write in sprints: 12 minutes of writing without looking at the internet, and then I’m allowed to browse. Rinse, repeat. I can knock out 350-500 words in a 12 minute sprint, which makes the daily word count seem more attainable. Also, I find that during my internet browsing reward, I’m thinking about what I’m going to write during the next sprint. If I hit a roadblock, I go walk the dog. Which means he gets walked a lot.
From Courtney Stevens, author of FAKING NORMAL and THE LIES ABOUT TRUTH:
I have a schedule and am very regimented, but it is not a writing schedule. I like to think of it as triage with a vision. I have 2-3 jobs (personal assistant, marketing consultant, college professor) that I work alongside writing and traveling for writing, plus two rather large volunteer positions (SCBWI & SEYA Book Festival). I often say I juggle for a living.
When I’m drafting, I block 4-5 day chunks and try to either go somewhere away with a suitcase or simple out of my house. I write on scrivener or Word, but if I use Word, I always use the Focus View. I get up at 7:00, exercise, and then write until 5:00. I get a drink and fix supper, and then write from 8:00-10:00. I don’t do email or marketing or anything when I’m in this type of jag.
On those days when I’m working or volunteering, I exercise seven days a week (usually 2hrs) not because I’m a fitness freak, but because it helps my brain rest. 90% of that time is story & character development–letting my story work when I can’t sit down and type. I listen to audiobooks when I’m in the car between jobs.
I don’t advocate for this schedule. It’s just the only way I know how to generate the flexibility I need to promote and write and still pay the bills and try to add to humanity.
From Rae Carson, author of the GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS series and WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER:
-Drag myself out of bed. I don’t sleep well, so I allow myself to sleep in whenever I can. Alas, this almost never happens.
-Drink ALL THE COFFEE.
-Do authory things: email, social media, blog post, speech prep, whatevs
-Experience CRIPPLING DESPAIR
-Get over self
-Write approx 1K words
-Hang out with husband or play Xbox
-Bourbon (*high-fives Rachel*) or tea (*high-fives Victoria*)
-Reading for blurbs in bedMy day changes a little when I’m on a tight editing turnaround, but it’s otherwise consistent. Especially the bits about ALL THE COFFEE and CRIPPLING DESPAIR.
From Carrie Ryan, author of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, DAUGHTER OF DEEP SILENCE, THE MAP TO EVERYWHERE, and more:
I find my schedule often varies based on what’s most pressing at the time, but the constant is that I’m usually at my computer by 8:30ish and I generally stay there until my husband comes home from work between 6:00-7:00. Three days a week I work out for an hour in the morning, and sometimes I’ll take my computer out somewhere for lunch. What I always struggle with is that there’s always something more pressing than writing (unless the deadline is tomorrow or next week). There’s always an email that needs to be sent today, or paperwork to be done now, or promo to plan/create and the day (weeks!) can easily slip away that way.
Once I start writing, I get so wrapped up in it that I don’t tend to stop for those sorts of things so that means that I get it all done in the morning and start writing around 2 (I turn on Freedom if I’m having trouble motivating). Or I just say “I’ll worry about all that other stuff tomorrow” and I turn off the internet and write. I’m trying to do that more often. I find that I always feel better at the end of a day when I can say “I hit my writing goal!” (~2k words) instead of “I sent the $*&# out of some emails.” Then I pour a glass of wine. Oh, and unless it’s deadline crunch time I try to take the evening and weekends off (it was actually a resolution of mine a few years ago).
From Tessa Gratton, author of BLOOD MAGIC, THE UNITED STATES OF ASGARD series, and more:
My regular day in the life schedule is something like this: alarm goes off at about 5:15am because my mama convinced me in my youth that sleeping until 7 means missing all the best parts of the day. At some point I transformed into a natural morning person who loves sunrise more than any other time of day. Plus, I need a chance to drink some coffee before exercising outside before it gets too hot.
After walking the dog and the dreaded squat/situp regimen, I read the news and news blogs for about an hour while drinking MOAR COFFEE. Around 930am I open the manuscript (assuming I’m in a drafting part of the cycle) and spend a few hours in word wars against myself or my crit partners until I hit 2,000 words. I schedule blocks of time to read (it’s part of the job!) and to respond to emails/business stuff. I write 10k a week doing this M-F. If I’m revising, I work differently since I need different markers of progress, and same for research-mode. But regardless, since I’m up at 5am, by 5pm my brain is shutting down and all I have left in me is reading, tumblring, watching TV, bourbon mixing.
When I’m not on major deadline I only let myself play around with off-contract “fun” projects during the weekend, or read read read. On deadline crush, no-holds-barred of course, and I move myself to a different location every 2-3 hours. As in: office to coffee shop to lunch to different coffee shop to sofa to office in order to jump-start myself by changing view/chair/location.
From Myra McEntire, author of HOURGLASS, TIMEPIECE, and INFINITYGLASS:
I’m in a bit of a different situation. I’ve been trying to re-locate my groove after recovering from a year of clinical depression, which was immediately followed by my publisher going out of business. (WOO HOO!) When you have a project in the pipeline, promo is a vital part of your day. But when your books go away … you maybe just occasionally tweet Jason Momoa pictures and don’t worry so much about encouraging people to look for your work at used book stores, some libraries, or at tag sales. Or in the boxes in your garage.
With THAT bit out of the way, I start working once both of my boys are out of the house around 8:00, which allows me six hours of peace. I’ve been filling my creative well with lots of research, and like V, I am a huge advocate of audiobooks. They allow me to enjoy story without analyzing style.
Right now, it’s all about small successes. I’m not at a place to pound out 5k a day, but my heart is happy if I can manage 500. Sometimes that’s all it takes!
From Natalie Parker, author of BEWARE THE WILD and BEHOLD THE BONES:
I start my day in a state of confusion — it’s light out? it’s dark out? how do I human? — and clear that up with exercise, which is a nonnegotiable for me. Like Daniel, I have a full-time job that demands my M-F, 8-5 attention. I’m also in the midst of starting a small business which frequently snags my coffee hour (high fives Rae!), my lunch hour, and my bourbon hour (high fives Rachel & Rae!).
Writing during the week is all about the small goals for me. The bar is set no higher than 500 words a day. Sometimes I reach it, sometimes I pass it, sometimes I hack down the 12-ft sunflowers in my backyard. The important thing is the reset the next day — no positive and definitely no negative rollovers. And the bar stays put at 500 over the weekend because I love the feeling of hitting a goal like it owes me money. Crushing deadlines excepted, it means I make sometimes tediously slow writing progress, but I’m okay with that.
From Dawn Kurtagich, author of THE DEAD HOUSE:
My schedule usually works for me for a little while and then I need to shake it up (I get bored), so I’ll give you my most effective schedule, which I am in the process of implementing again:
I’ll wake up between 7am and 8am. Feed my kitten, Flocci, make coffee and kill a little time on YouTube. After blinking myself into the day, I get my breakfast and take it upstairs to my study with me. This is when I’ll check (but not necessarily reply to) my emails, twitter, Facebook, etc. After that, I will either:
— climb into my writing cave (which is a sheet strung across the guest bed in my study) with my laptop and work there.
— Sit at my beautiful writing desk, open it and write there
— Sit at the kitchen table and work there (while stopping to play with the kitten every 10 minutes)
— Go out to Gladstones Library to work there (beautiful, quiet and cooked lunch? HELLO!)
— Go to the pub (which has fabulous lattes) and work there until lunch.
Then I’ll generally break around lunch. Walking/gym/audio books/reading/movie—anything of that nature may occur.
After dinner, I work again. I do really get productive in the evening. Especially if I’m the only one awake. I’ll work until around eleven, read until midnight and do that again. I have a habit of working 7 days a week, but I’m changing that. Sundays are my reading/board games/exploring and doing things day. Saturdays are sometimes used to go and have fun, but generally not…!) Some days I take off to film for my channel or to just clean out my brain space.
So that’s my ideal schedule—the one that works for me best when I do it (several times a year). My current schedule does not represent this yet. My current schedule ends my day at 3am—5am and begins between 9am and noon. Le sigh. NOT FOR LONG!! *evillaugh*
From Fran Wilde, author of UPDRAFT:
So there are three different typical days for me – all of which are best if I write for an hour or so before the rest of the household wakes up. Even if I’m free-writing, just getting those first words on the page as the coffee kicks in reminds me who I am and why I’m here.
- After the household goes to its daytime locations,I try to walk a mile or two and think about what I want to do for the rest of the day, which usually means returning to mess around on the internets and look up to find it’s 10am. If I want to get anything done before noon, I turn on Anti-Social, which forcibly locks me out of the internet for a specified number of hours, no matter what I do to try to get back in.
- Then I write about 2k (adding in what I did in the early morning, if it’s not drivel).
- Lunch, internet, errands, then back to do administrivia and editing for a couple of hours.
- Another 1-2k depending, though usually an email, chat, or email arrives that produces reactions including hair tearing, grumbling, and then making the best of it, so the end result is often 3k per day.
- If any part of the household doesn’t go to daytime locations and instead stays home and stares at me asking what it should do because life is endlessly boring, I sometimes arrange a short trip and try to journal in the gaps or at the dentist or in the closet or attic. I write in the evening then and glare at folks who want to know what they’re doing tomorrow.
- This is a gaining fib, because often, the household wants to sit and write with me now, which is a delight and also utter chaos and sometimes we get a lot done, sometimes not.
- I don’t sleep much. Averaging about 1k per day, which is fine.
- I haven’t figured this out yet, because timezones, but I am working and usually gin out 500 words a day on a creative project when I have other events on the calendar. Mostly I let myself outline and journal if the writing isn’t happening.
- If a deadline-project comes in, I do that on my free time, but try to make time to wander around where I am and see friends.
- I make time to Skype and call home.
- Traveling has a weird way of making you forget where you were when you last worked on a thing, which sometimes makes writing scenes easier than writing linearly.
From Tiffany Schmidt, author of SEND ME A SIGN, BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE, and the ONCE UPON A CRIME FAMILY series:
I do my best work in the morning—while the real world seems less real than the world I’m creating on my computer screen. Often this means a competitive game of setting my alarm earlier than my four-year-old Schmidtlets’ inner alarm clocks. Often times I lose this game.
On the best mornings I get an hour or so in before the early risers, then am interrupted for about an hour to get them ready for preschool. After dropping them off, I race home and hop on my treadmill desk for a few hours of productivity. I try to be mindful about my internet use but rarely actually block it. If it social media starts to be too tempting or disruptive, Il turn it off. I typically wind down writing about an hour before preschool ends, send quick responses to accumulated emails, then sneak in a run (where I brainstorm or listen to audiobooks) before going to grab the kiddos.
The rest of my day becomes sneaking in work when possible. If the Schmidtlets nap, I get another solid two hours of writing in. Otherwise I passively brainstorm and take notes on every available app and scrap of paper throughout the afternoon and try and to cram another hour or two of work in between their bedtime and mine (and, you know, squeeze being a human, other life demands, and non-preschooler interactions in there too!)
From Adam Christopher, author of EMPIRE STATE, THE BURNING DARK, MADE TO KILL, and more:
I’m up at 6, and my wife and I take a long walk, back at 7 for breakfast. She heads off to work around 7.30, which gives me about half an hour to make coffee and figure my day out. Then I divide my day into hourly blocks – 8, 9, 10, 11 am, and 1, 2, 3, 4pm (with an hour for lunch at 12). I write 1000 words per block, with a daily word count of 5000 words. I use Scrivener for first drafts and have the session target set at 1000 words, which usually takes about 30 minutes per block to write. That gives me up to 30 minutes per hour for other stuff – emails, admin, etc. Sometimes it might take me closer to 45 minutes to hit 1000 words – so be it! The next block resets at the hour.
All going to plan, this means I’ve hit my daily word count at about 1.30pm. For the rest of the day, I usually do emails, admin, blog posts, and any interviews or other stuff I have do fit in. If I have a comic script due, then I have five pages of comic to write in the time I have left over.My wife gets home around 4.30, and from then on I try not to do any work – in fact, I try (and don’t always succeed) to stay away from computers and the internet after 6pm. I also don’t work at weekends unless I’m behind on something. Obviously I have flexibility in all this – sometimes the timezones mean I need to shift stuff around, as I’m in the UK and my publisher, editor, publicist and agent are all East Coast USA, which is 5 hours behind me.
I plan my time well ahead, so for travel and conventions I know when I’m away and when I’m back and I don’t actually schedule any work in at all while travelling. Into the gaps in my day I also make sure to schedule reading, which is just as important as writing! I try to get through a book in two weeks (so about 26 a year). I haven’t actually totalled up my comic reading (harder to track), but I probably read 3-5 comics a day, every day.
Any other writers out there?
Weigh in in the comments with your own schedule!