My Days Go By

In this post, I’ll concentrate on when I write more than how I write. My writing schedule fits into the spare time remaining after all other jobs. Perhaps it’s un-writerly of me to put writing second in my life (or third, or fourth…) but I’m comfortable with it. I’m a storyteller by nature and an author by definition–two novels, two novellas, and 5 short stories in print equals author–but writing is only one vital activity of many.

What kind of activities? I’m glad you asked. Since I self-publish, I also must find time to edit finished drafts, develop blurbs, communicate with professional editors and artists, maintain my author site, develop marketing materials, and market through social media and in the real world. That’s all time-consuming and energy-draining. Unbelievably time-consuming. I’m one of millions who suffer from project inertia. Switching mental gears takes time above and beyond all the given tasks themselves, and time is precious.

Then there’s All The Usual Life Stuff. I have no shopping elves nor any cleaning gnomes. I do have Spouseman, my superhero, my patron, and my beloved alpha reader, but his job is full-time-and-more, and it’s out of the house, so he can’t fold laundry while he works. I shoulder the bulk of the household duties. All my days start with tea & toast, figuring out dinner prep & the day’s chores, making Spouseman’s tea for work and getting him out the door with his kit and caboodle.

Domestic drudgery, or comfortable rhythm of routine. It’s in the eye of the beholder. I need structure. This provides it.

Luckily, the storytelling comes easily. Thinking about a plot, rolling its pieces around in my head, testing out dialogue bits and alternate futures — all that happens while I garden, wash dishes, take care of library patrons, or wait in line for groceries. Putting the ideas into word form is the tricksy part. I’m a writer who needs tons of time to get reacquainted with my work-in-progress every time I sit down with it. Chipping out a block of an hour or more for the making of new words takes creative time management.

Here are my three workday types.

LIBRARY DAYS — I work three half-days. On those days, writing (and all the other tasks involved with self-publishing) have to happen between the two meal times I’m at home and alone, or late in the evening after Spouseman retires to bed. (when I’m brain-dead and would rather watch movies or read books, truth be told.) If  I can cram in 3 hours total, I feel rich, and if I can relax and focus an hour on putting brand-new words to page, the day is a runaway mark-the-calendar rarity.

GARDEN DAYS: on one of my non-library days, I work as a horticultural volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It’s only a half-day, but transportation eats up large chunks of time. So does cleanup, as “horticulture” is a fancy way of saying “crawling around in the mud and digging up weeds.” I’ll squeeze in a couple of hours of authoring on these days, usually writing on the couch in front of the TV, multi-tasking through emails and tinkering with ad designs in front of the week’s recorded shows.

Ah, and my favorite: WRITING DAY. The emergencies, the appointments, the repair visits and the shopping inevitably end up sucking away the one day a week my time isn’t otherwise divided. I don’t plan it that way. Life happens. If I manage to block out a full day and plant my butt in a seat after Spouseman’s out the door…I might not surface until he walks back in. Jammie-pants days. Inspiration days.

What about weekends? Weekends are wildcards. Often it’s Me+Spouseman time. Watching movies together, taking day trips, and doing home projects take top priority. Just as often there’s video gaming to be done–by Spouseman, I mean.  In that case, I get hours of heavenly nothing-but-new-writing-allowed time interrupted only by breaks for napping and eating. I cherish those days. Heck, I cherish all the hours spent sneaking away to my imaginary world.

I make a point of writing every day because being disciplined in the craft means I can better ride the tides of art as they ebb and flow.  What I don’t do is focus on product metrics. I set goals of time, not words or chapters or projects. I don’t always make “new words” anywhere but here or on social media. I don’t make progress on any given piece of writing a requirement for feeling successful.

Most important, when I fall short of even those minimal goals (and I do)  I try to not punish myself for imperfection. These are the compromises I make for a balanced life. Using the bars set by professional writing advice, I have long been, am now, and will remain a Complete Failure. I don’t draft and revise in a traditional sense.  I can’t sprint. I trudge. Word counts and outlines render me paralyzed with apathy. I detest inspirational rah-rah tricks. The standard productivity tools of success are as useful to me as braid accessories for a bald woman.

And yet, at the end of every day I can look back and say, “I did that.” And so I am satisfied.