Monday, February 14, 2005

THE WRITING LIFE

Although this blog is supposed to be about the writing life, I've never blogged about the nuts-and-bolts day-to-day details of that life. Probably because, while it's how I get things done, it's not necessarily interesting. Still, here's an average week for me, showing how writing and writing-related activities fit into it.

Monday—Friday
7:00 to 8:00 am – Exercise bike, crunches, weight lifting (M/W/F)
8:00 to 8:30 am – Breakfast and commute to day job
8:30 to 11:30 am – Writing English passages for an education web site and monitoring the evaluation process
11:30 am to 12:30 pm – Writing at least three days a week, lunch out two days a week
12:30 to 5:30 pm – Writing English passages for day job
5:30 to 7:00 pm – Aerobics (four times during the week) and weight lifting (three times during the week); writing/PR the rest of the time
7:00 to 9:00 pm – Dinner, additional writing or, more probably, dealing with PR and other issues related to forthcoming books
9:00 to 11:30pm – TV and reading and answering emails

Saturday
8:00 to 10:00 am – Mountain bike and weight lifting, then breakfast
10:00 am to 1:00 pm – Writing
1:00 to 2:00 pm – Lunch and break
2:00 to 6:00 pm – Writing, PR for forthcoming books
6:00 to 10:00 pm – Dinner and movie or other activity
10:00 to 12:00 pm – Watching boxing on TV, if on, answering emails, etc.

Sunday
8:00 to 9:30 am – Jogging 6 to 10 miles
9:30 to 10:00 am – Breakfast
10:00 am to 1:00 pm – Writing
1:00 to 6:00 pm – Errands, dealing with PR issues, food shopping, writing, etc.
6:00 to 7:00 pm – Dinner
7:00 to 9:00 pm – Reading, dealing with PR issues, answering emails, etc.
9:00 to 11:00 pm – Watching television

This would be a pretty typical week for me. You'll note that there's still time for leisure activities and that a lot of time is built in for exercise. Having been very out-of-shape and realizing how much it affected my writing endurance, the best thing I can do to optimize my writing time is eat right and exercise a lot. Then, when I do write, I am alert and on-task much more than in the past. It used to be, for example, that I either wrote in the mornings or not at all. Now I have energy even after a hectic day at work, and can write whenever.

I might do less or more writing after work than indicated (writing herein defined as "writing or editing or revision"), depending on whether I was on a roll or not. But you'll notice that I write pretty much every day. Even if it turns out to be only a few lines here or there. Or I'll be working on nonfiction, if nothing else, or answering questions from a translator wrestling with City of Saints & Madmen, or a blog entry, or a VanderWorld Report. This keeps me fully immersed in writing and allows me to be loose and confident when I write because it's something I do all the time. There's no moment of indecision any more, no sitting there looking at the blank piece of paper for long minutes, because I don't have the time for that. (It does help that I always have about a dozen story or novella or novel ideas percolating at any one time. If I get blocked on something, which is rarely, I just go on to the next thing, since the only ideas I retain for more than a couple of minutes are the ones I feel passionately about. I also do a lot of writing in my head before I set anything down on paper, so, in a sense, a rough draft has already played itself out in my thoughts beforehand; what I'm getting down on paper is a second draft.)

That said, I deliberately don't have a specific schedule for writing because I feel like a schedule is a trap. I need to steal hours and minutes wherever I can find them. So I don't need to be at my desk at home to write. I don't need a special pen. I don't need special paper. I don't need the computer. Whatever time I have wherever I have it whenever I have it, I'll write. This is how I manage to write as much as I do despite not having that much time to write.

My weekly schedule feeds into monthly and yearly plans. The yearly plan feeds into a five-year plan. For example, right now my five-year plan could be dubbed "consolidation and expansion"—consolidation of my position in the English-language markets and expansion into foreign-language markets. That's the PR/marketing five-year plan. It has nothing to do with the five-year plan for my writing itself—all of which is about improving this or that facet of my writing, whether working on an aspect of handling dialogue or improving my ability to write scenes in which more than three or four characters interact. It also includes a list of techniques, approaches, and effects I've seen other writers use that I'd like to deploy in my own way should the opportunity arise organically, in addition to ideas for novels that I've decided not to write until I'm ready, from a technical point of view or research point of view, to write them.

For this reason, the ratio of "writing" to "PR/marketing" will change from week to week and month to month, based on the needs of both. If I veer off too much into PR/marketing, though, I tend to pull back for a month and focus on the writing entirely.

It sounds more organized than it is in reality, but I find that having specific (or even general) goals helps me focus and means that I make far better use of my time than I would otherwise. Most days, I know exactly what I should be doing and when I should be doing it. This structure is very comforting, given the way in which creative writing is by nature and need unstructured, epiphany leading to a leap of faith, leading to being somewhere totally different than you expected to wind up. A short story becomes a novel. A promotional offer becomes a book of secret lives, etc.

And, I find that breaking down my broad, five-year goals into bite-sized monthly chunks makes them manageable and forces me to articulate them in terms of specific, realistic tasks or steps. It's no good saying, "I want to learn French and conquer the world" but not breaking down your macro goal into micro goals with a timeline.

The two most important things in trying to sustain a writing career, I feel, are discipline and endurance. But these two traits can be weakened over time by a lack of systematic planning and organization. In a perfect world, writers wouldn't have to worry about anything other than the writing itself, but this isn't a perfect world, and for every hour I spend in that delirious non-critical state of just writing for its own sake, I spend an hour down in the sweaty trenches of the nitty-gritty decision-making that is more about perception and networking and marketing.

And I guess that means I write because I love the act of creation (I write because I have to?), but also that I must write because I love to connect with readers. Otherwise, I'd sit in a hut by the beach like a hermit and just cover loose-leaf sheets of paper with my scrawlings, and let someone discover them and publish them after my death…

9 Comments:

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Liz Gorinsky said...

Wow. It's so much easier to keep up with your blog now that I've discovered its LJ feed.

So, was that a deliberate Violent Femmes reference, or a really freaky cooincidence?

 
At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Liz! Thanks for stopping by.

Nice catch--yes, that was deliberate. Wondered if anyone would notice.

JeffV

 
At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh--and I have to find a way to make that LJ feed link more obvious. I'm not good with the technical aspects of this darn blog.

JV

 
At 3:50 PM, Anonymous jmorrison said...

i think i can safely say if you get pleasure out of connecting with readers you must feel like a literary calligula, which is to say, you do more to connect with your readers than just about any writer i can think of. and just so you know, it really is a pleasure for us as well, to get these glimpses into the nitty gritty, and to know you are there, approachable, and real.

i do have a question concerning the ever looming "staring into a blank page" thing but am on the way out to hear some v-day jazz, so i'll ask tomorrow.

 
At 4:10 PM, Blogger peelitback said...

Wow. You're like the Henry Rollins of fantastic fiction.

--
-N

 
At 7:19 AM, Blogger Rajan said...

Where do you find the time to spend with your wife?

 
At 8:56 AM, Blogger gwenda said...

Thanks -- it's very helpful to see how someone else organizes their time like this... it's a constant struggle for me.

 
At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Christopher Rowe said...

Jeff, that's fascinating stuff, and very helpful. I do have one question, though, and that's about reading. When do you shoehorn in reading other fiction, non-fiction etc (which I know you do quite a bit of). You could just be a much faster reader than me, I suppose...

 
At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rajan:

Any time that I am not writing or at work, I am with my wife (my life). Every other Sunday, I throw out the schedule and we go somewhere we've never been before, for a little adventurous day trip in and around Tallahassee. Also, my lunches out during the week are sometimes with Ann. The weekend schedule is more fluid than I indicated. One thing we have found is that every vacation we've taken in the past three years has been to a convention or something, so we're being better about taking vacations not linked to anything writing-related, when we can.

Christopher:

My aerobic exercise component is a max of two hours a day, and of that two hours 40 minutes to an hour is on the exercise bike. I read on the bike. I'm able to get an effective work-out and get some reading done. Also, sometimes at lunch, it replaces writing, since a lot of my reading is often research for the writing. And sometimes I will substitute a reading session for the normal writing session.

I'd say 21 days out of the month, I keep to the schedule I outlined, and the rest of the time other commitments change it a bit. Sometimes those commitments include reading obligations or reading for pleasure.

JeffV

 

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