A Full-Time Writer’s Top Ten List

Here on SFNovelists.com we’ve recently had a discussion about making the transition from writing part-time to making a go of it as a full-time novelist.  I’ve been fortunate throughout my career.  Thanks to a supportive spouse who happens to have a secure, well-paying job with benefits, I’ve been a full-time writer from the start.  For a while, I wasn’t making much — actually I was barely making anything at all.  But we stuck with it, and it’s worked out. 

Along the way, I’ve found that there are certain things I need to do during the course of a typical writing day to keep myself healthy and productive and, oh yeah, sane.  And so I present to you my “Top Ten Things I Do To Make The Full-Time Writing Gig Work”: 

1.  Exercise.  I begin with this one because it’s how I start my day.  Pretty much every weekday morning I drop one or both of my kids off at their schools (depending on my wife’s schedule) and go to the gym for an hour.  Some people, I know, can’t exercise first thing in the morning.  That’s fine.  But I’m convinced that this is the most important thing I do for myself everyday.  It makes it far easier for me to spend the next seven hours basically glued to my desk chair. 

2.  Healthy Eating.  I realize that this is starting to sound like a public service announcement from the American Heart Association, but I believe the greatest danger I face working in my home is the lure of the kitchen and pantry.  I’m already prone to procrastination (see number 6) and one of the easiest ways to kill time is to wander down to the pantry and, as Pooh might say, fine a little smackerel of something.  Problem is, if I let myself do this, I’ll soon look like Pooh.  I have a smoothie for breakfast after my workout, I eat a reasonable lunch, and I don’t snack in between meals.  Save for the following exception…. 

3.  Post-Lunch Sugar Fix.  Yeah, I do allow myself a sweet just after lunch to get myself through those low-energy early afternoon hours.  I adore chocolate, but I’ve taken to not eating it after lunch because of the whole “don’t want to look like Pooh” thing.  I’m a sucker for twizzlers and gummy fruit slices.  So that’s what I have.  Low-fat, high sugar.  It’s my little reward for getting through the morning without a snack. 

4.  The 30 Minute Cat Nap.  Okay, this is the one that gives me some guilt.  My wife works far harder than I do and she doesn’t get a nap during the day.  But there’s this comfortable futon couch right there in my office, and, well, what can I say?  Seriously, naps are shown to be great for your health, and they reenergize me even more than that sugar fix I rationalized in the last paragraph. 

5.  Realistic Daily Goals.  I’m prone to guilt.  Maybe it’s being Jewish; maybe it’s being married to a lapsed Catholic.  Lots of guilt in our house.  And so, if I didn’t set realistic goals for myself, I’d feel guilty every day for all that I didn’t get done.  So when I’m working on a book, I shoot for 5-7 manuscript pages each day.  That’s a bit over 100 pages a month, which gives me a book in half a year or so.  I can live with that.  And more important, I can do it comfortably in a given day. 

6.  Carrots and Sticks.  As I mentioned before, I’m a procrastinator.  I can always find stuff to do that has nothing to do with writing, particularly with a computer right in front of me.  So during the course of a day I’ll give myself smaller goals and reward myself for meeting them.  “I’ll write two pages and then I’ll play a game of solitaire.”  Or, “One more page and then I can check my email again.”  Stuff like that.  It works, and it breaks up the day a bit. 

7.  Occasional Days Off.  Sometimes, after completing a chapter or reaching some kind of milestone in a book (200 pages, or the halfway point, or the completion of a particularly difficult section) I’ll reward myself with a day off.  I’ll go birding, or take out my camera and go shoot for the day, or I’ll just do nothing at all.  It’s a variation of the Carrot/Stick thing, and again, it works for me. 

8.  Treating It Like a Job.  This one is very important.  Because I work at home, my work is always right there, in my face, even on days when I don’t want it to be.  So I work a normal day — not quite nine to five, but close enough.  And unless I’m really up against a deadline, I take weekends off.  That’s family time, my time.  There’s no physical separation from the job, so I have to create one in my head. 

9.  Treating Home Like an Office.  The flip side of that last point.  It’s very easy when working at home to get caught up in household stuff.  Suddenly that leaking faucet or squeaky door needs my attention immediately.  So for those hours when I’m working, my home becomes an office.  I try to ignore that kind of stuff knowing that the maintenance guy (i.e. me) will take care of it over the weekend… 

10.  Understanding How Incredibly Lucky I Am.  I have a job that I absolutely love.  I’m my own boss.  I get to work at home.  The time I might spend commuting to another job, is instead time I get to spend with my kids and my wife.  Even on its worst days, my job is better than anything else I could imagine doing.  And sometimes in the middle of one of those rough days, I find it helpful to remind myself of this.

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  1. 1. mother

    So 600 manuscript pages is a book for you? How many words is that?

  2. 2. Karen Wester Newton

    Interesting. I’ve heard Connie Willis talk about her writing routine, and one thing she says is, she can’t work at home because she’s too prone to get distracted by the need to do housework. I don’t think that would be a problem for me; it certainly isn’t on the weekends, as you could tell from looking at my house. Doesn’t sound like it is for you either. Connie works at the public library and at coffee shops, and she uses a similar reward system to yours. If she meets her writing goal she lets herself buy a latte or something. Having a day job, I see it the other way around—if I get the other tasks done, I reward myself with three hours of writing time.

  3. 3. David B. Coe

    To answer mother’s question first: the last book I turned in was 574 manuscript pages and just shy of 143,000 words. That’s pretty typical for my epic fantasy work right now. I’ve also got a contemporary fantasy that I’m trying to sell — 115,000 words.

    Karen, I’ve heard Connie say the same thing about working at home. I don’t know if my ability to work in my house means I’m a slob, or what. But I do seem to be able to ignore the household stuff during my work hours. As for the reward system, yours sounds great. Anything that gets us to write is a good thing!

  4. 4. Kelly McCullough

    I work at home too, and as long as the room I’m actually writing in is all right, I don’t have a problem. Honestly, as long as the part of the room I can see without moving from my writing chair is fine, so am I. Mess behind me? Not there.

  5. 5. David B. Coe

    I’m picturing huge dust bunnies laughing at you behind your back….

  6. 6. S.C. Butler

    Sounds like my schedule exactly, especially the post lunch sugar fix and the catnap. I do love my catnap.

  7. 7. David B. Coe

    Glad to know I’m not the only one, Sam.

  8. 8. Bran fan

    I wonder if women feel more of an obligation toward the housework then men do? I’m not slamming men, it’s just that our society has raised us to think that cleaning up a house is the wife’s job. Maybe Connie Willis is trying to outwit her societal conditioning by writing elsewhere. Can’t clean up the library.

  9. 9. Kelly McCullough

    Bran fan, that’s certainly possible. I can’t speak to the gender issue in general, but as the spouse with the flexible job, the housework is mostly mine ~75 percent.* I just don’t let it interfere with my writing.

    *My wife does most of the mowing and puts away most of the clothes. Vacuuming and mopping are done with robots, though it’s mostly me who does the set up for that. Dishes, washing and drying the laundry, and snowblowing are mine. General cleanup is 70/30 me/her. Inasmuch as cooking happens we split it 60/40 me her. Anything that goes into or comes out of a cat is my problem.

  10. 10. Josephine Damian

    I’ve got two rooms now with computers: spare room with card table and uncomfortable chair – this computer is for Internet access only – and the awful chair is on purpose so I don’t spend too much time here.

    The other – much nicer room with the big desk and comfy chair is the writing room – that computer has NO internet – so there’s no getting distracted while writing.

    Housework? Who cares! I’ll clean when I finish my WIP.

Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.

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