How I Work: Thinking about Process as a Writer with a Dayjob

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I work. How I’m most productive. What would help me be most productive and the type of creative person I want to be. This isn’t news, if you’ve read previous posts on this blog. I’m a bit obsessed with this type of self reflection. But I’m going to self-reflect aloud right now.

I tend to consider my “best writing days” the days where I get the most amount of words on the page. Which is not necessarily the best way to measure “best day”, but I do it for a few reasons:

  1. I need to fast draft my first drafts so I can throw it all away, or mostly away, and get to revision where I feel like my stories are born. Slowing down and changing the way I write so that I skip straight to that part hasn’t worked thus far (which isn’t to say it won’t work in the future, it just doesn’t right now for the books I’m writing right now) so I am sticking with my write a messy first draft so I can get to the good stuff method. In order to fast draft like this, it helps to have Writing Days with a High Quantity of Words
  2. My days where I write a High Quantity of Words (which for me is between 5,000 and 10,000 words in a day. Your mileage may vary. Do not compare your High Quantity days to mine. Comparison is the death of joy. Additionally, I usually don’t/can’t write the day after a big day like this) also happen to be the days where I feel like I’ve accomplished the most in the story and where I feel like I like most of those words. Now, I’ll probably throw a lot of those words away like I said above. But at the moment, in that day, it’s really really helpful that I feel like I’ve made progress. What was it that Plato or some other philosopher said? Perception is reality. So even though I know I probably won’t keep these words, momentum helps me.

To get these “Best Writing Days”, unfortunately, I need entire days. I need to be sitting down and writing for 5-8 hours.

I’m like the authorial version of a Prius. I do not accelerate very fast. My steering isn’t great and my turning radius is rather appalling for a car of my size. But once I’m at highway speed, I can go for a long time before I need to refill. The first hour, I might only write 500 words. But by hour three, I’m averaging 1500-1800 words an hour. And yes, this is with an outline, so I know where I’m going. This is just how I write.  I have endurance when my butt’s in the chair.

This would be totally awesome if I wrote full time. But I don’t. I have a dayjob, from 9-4:30, with a 45min commute on either side. And this fall, I traveled almost every weekend to promote The Girl with the Red Balloon so my weekend days, which I normally do my marathon writing on, were gone too. I cannot write on planes or in cars because I get violently motion sick and I’m not sure my computer insurance covers me vomiting on my solid state hard drive.

This explains why I’ve been struggling a little bit. My best writing is done when I can have two to three long writing days a week. But my life does not currently accommodate that type of writing style. I’ve made other adjustments to help me write this year: I try not to read the news before I write for the day, I am trying to limit my Twitter activity, I’m letting myself switch to a ‘for fun’ project between ‘work’ projects, etc etc. But I’m still struggling with not having long writing days.

I’ve set some pretty ambitious writing goals for December, January, and February. These will be my lowest travel months, both for Dayjob and for Author Life, which means I’ll have weekends. I’m hoping to front-load a lot of my writing for 2018 into the first half, or even first quarter, of the year, to avoid the stress of trying to write and promote and travel and dayjob all at once in the fall. And I know this isn’t going to get easier as I continue down this path. But I’m figuring it out.

If you also work like me and you’ve figured out how to still produce new books, please share any advice you might have!

3 thoughts on “How I Work: Thinking about Process as a Writer with a Dayjob

  1. Sarah Emery says:

    Thanks for this!

    To start, I am so wildly envious of people who don’t get motion sickness. I’d make my husband drive everywhere and read all the things and write all the things and it would be magical.

    I love that you are the Prius of writing.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. wanderlustywriter says:

    Ugh I can so relate.

    I think the difference for me is that while I don’t think I’ve ever banged out that many words at once, I can definitely do the short-spurt writing. For me it also helps having a few different projects in the works — with short amounts of time, if I’m not feeling the first draft I’m working on, it helps to be able to move over to editing another thing I’m working on. I do long for the all-day super immersed in one thing days, but even though I have no book to promote, all the other things life demands rarely leave me with a day all to myself.

    Also: HOW do you get a day job that lets you leave at 4:30? Mine is 9-7, with added work expected after hours. I make a point to write every lunch hour (and always take at least the full hour) but still, I would love to have a shorter day!

    Good luck!

    • Katie L says:

      Lucky, I suppose? My previous job was 9-5. But only a 5 minute commute. This one’s a longer commute, and I leave a half hour earlier. I didn’t really earn back that 30 minutes in my day unfortunately!

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