People often ask me – (as I’m sure every writer gets asked) – what my average day is like. What time do I get up in the mornings? How long do I work for normally? Or, for that matter, how do I make myself work when I could be just watching a Jeremy Kyle marathon?!
So, to address all those questions and more, here’s my normal day.
The first thing you should know is that there is no such thing as a normal day. I have a basic routine but this can change at the drop of a hat, depending on a lot of different factors. I like to stick to this routine as much as possible, especially when I’m working on early drafts of a book, as it keeps me focused; I’m in the world of the book, thinking and feeling what the characters think and feel. Rather than calling the following a normal day, let’s call it an ideal day.
7:21 – Wake up.
I know that 7.21 is a strangely precise time to wake but it comes from some ridiculous study I heard about on the radio a few years ago. Apparently the best time to wake every morning is 7.21. I don’t know if it is or not. But I did set my alarm to that after hearing it and have left it since. It works for me, that’s all that matters.
8:30 – Get up.
Yes. It takes me that long to wake fully. I like to listen to the radio during that time.
Once I’m out of bed, I’ll fill a Thermos mug with fresh coffee – (which I have on a timer!) I prefer using a Thermos mug for two reasons. Firstly, it keeps the coffee warm for almost my entire writing session. Secondly, it means I don’t have to get up from my desk for a refill.
8:45 – Sit at my desk.
Because I live with housemates, my desk is in my bedroom. It means I can get away from everyone and concentrate on my work. Sometimes I’ll write in a local library, coffeeshop or – if the weather is good – in a shed at the end of the garden!
8:46 – Check emails.
8:47 – Check Twitter.
8:48 – Check emails again.
8:49 – Check Twitter again.
9:00 – Start writing.
After a lot more checks of email and Twitter, I finally start writing.
This is the thing people find the hardest to understand when they ask me about my writing routine. Where do I get the self discipline to concentrate on the work at hand? The short answer is that I don’t.
When I first started writing full time, I would work for fifteen minutes, before browsing the internet again. This was slowing things down so I had to find a solution. I could have switched off my internet. But the problem with that is that I often need the web for research or to double-check facts. Eventually – (and following a suggestion on Twitter ironically enough!) – I started using a web filter. This blocks certain distracting websites for the duration of my working day; social networks, Youtube, etc. The program I use is called Focal Filter.
So, the first thing I do when I actually start writing, is to activate Focal Filter so that I don’t get distracted.
11:00 – Break
I like to write a chapter a day. Again, I find it easier to concentrate on one element of the story. My chapters tend to be between 2,500 words and 3,500 words, though there is a fair amount of wiggle room outside of those boundaries. Usually I take a break once I reach the halfway point of my chapter, which is often once I hit 1500 words. There’s no set time for how long this takes me. I might hit the target in a couple of hours or it might take much longer. Either way, as soon as I reach the magic number, I have breakfast.
Why have breakfast so late instead of eating before I start, you ask? Well, the answer is pretty straightforward. When I get up, I like to start as soon as I can. If I eat then, something will inevitably distract me; the TV, the radio, reading a book, whatever! But if I have a late breakfast, I’ll be already in ‘work mode’ so am less likely to get distracted.
That’s not to say distractions don’t happen during my break. But they are less likely!
11:30 – Back to work!
More writing. For some reason, I often find the second half of my writing session to be the hardest. Maybe it’s because my mind isn’t fully in it then and has to work to concentrate again. Or maybe it’s because the second half of my chapters often ramp up the drama. Either way, these words take the longest to come.
2:00 – Finish the chapter.
I’ll often finish a draft of my chapter in early afternoon. (This, keep in mind, is a first draft I’m talking about; not a re-write. They take longer!) I’ll have lunch then but my days work is far from over…
3:00 – Plan and Read.
I’ll spend the next couple of hours planning what I’m going to write tomorrow. I’ll either make indepth notes in a journal or scribble ideas on Post-its. (I love Post-its!) A lot of this time will also be spent with reading. Every writer needs to read a lot; it’s part of our job. Sometimes it’s not possible to find the time to sit down and really get stuck into a book so I schedule an hour or so every evening to read. And I will read anything; high literature, blockbusting thrillers, the latest kids and YA books – anything and everything!
5:00 – Finish
So I’m generally finished work around 5 every day. Except that I’m not really finished. Every writer is always working; coming up with ideas, thinking about their characters, making notes and so on.
I hope that goes some way to answer the question of what my working day is like. As you can see, it’s not quite as carefree as people might imagine. But this day is mine, it’s how I work. Every writer works differently, which, I guess, is why writing is so fascinating.
I love these kind of posts on how I write. The Thermos is a great idea and I agree with you on using a web filter, it’s too easy to become distracted.
Since writing this, I actually heard that Roald Dahl brought a thermos with him every morning to his little writing shed. It made me very happy!
I love that. I heard that some other writer, I forget who, use to get dressed up and leave the house every morning. Circle the block and then come back to his house and go straight into his office.
It’s a business. But it’s the worst kind because you have to be your own boss and it takes AGES to see the end result.