As a fulltime freelance writer, I crave a morning where I sit down and have no distractions. The email inbox is empty, my energy level is high enough so I don’t need to run around or chug a cup of tea, and the internet decides not to produce anything interesting to read or watch. Yea right…
It’s crazy to think that your day will have no distractions, unless you find yourself locked in a Harry Potter closet underneath the stairs without anything but a DOS-based computer with Wordstar, like George R.R. Martin. That doesn’t actually sound all that crazy considering his success, but lots of writers require the internet to find links and research for blog posts and articles. And just because you don’t have internet connection doesn’t mean that you won’t hit a slew of distractions.
I enjoy this Pearls Before Swine Comic, by Stephan Pastis, on A Day in the Life of a Writer, because it makes writers look lazy–but it’s also somewhat true. To write constantly, without contact with other people, while typically not making much money doing it, forces writers to get a little lackadaisical.
I don’t have a solution to each distraction listed in the comic–but I have a few–and I wanted to open up a discussion to see how other writers deal with these troubles throughout a day in the life of a writer. I’ll share mine if you share yours.
Monday, 8:01 am – Today I Will Write Ten Pages
Telling yourself what you plan on doing for the day is great. Setting reachable goals with stated quantities solidifies the idea in your mind and pushes you to reach an end point. The only part I’d add to this 8am point during a day in the life of a writer is to write these down. If you check out my writing apps for iPhone and Android you’ll see I use Wunderlist to manage lists.
I noticed one thing about the checklist format of to-do lists: It’s just a hodge podge of items, and you have no incentive to stick to one task or finish anything. I tend to start with the number one item on my list and then jump to something in the middle. This is no good.
One technique that’s worked for me is using a tiny notepad, so as not to waste much paper. I write a single task on one page and then flip a page. If I have five tasks for the day, I use five pages. This way, when I’ve completed a task I tear it out and move to the next one.
It’s easy to jump around when your entire list is in view. If your to-do list consists of a single item, you must complete it.
8:02 am – Can’t Write Without Coffee
I don’t drink coffee, but I get up frequently for water. I still haven’t figured out a complete solution for this, because I enjoy drinking water and my hydration keeps me hammering away at the keyboard.
The best solution for this is to have access to your drink without needing to get up and walk around. Yes, walking around and staying healthy helps your writing, but not at the risk of slowing down your writing. I tend to use a huge water bottle, and I know they have pretty large mugs to keep your veins pumped with caffeine.
8:17 am – Now I’m Hungry
Hunger sucks, because I love eating, but I always want to eat more or munch on some beef jerky after every period I type. When the refrigerator calls out to me I need a way to say no, and that usually comes with putting something in my mouth to occupy my mind. Gum, sunflower seeds and beef jerky work nicely for me, but a solid breakfast is even better.
Eating prior to working is essential, since you don’t have anything to think about until the lunch bell rings. I’d advise you what to eat, but I’m not a nutritionist. So…on that note, eat whatever gets you going in the morning–just eat it before you touch your computer or pen.
8:50 am – I Need Inspiration. I’ll Watch YouTube
I can’t remember a single time I looked to YouTube for inspiration, but browsing YouTube for a funny video or a little late night Conan? Absolutely. I’m not gonna kid myself and say it’s for inspiration. It’s because I’m being lazy and don’t want to work.
Use the StayFocused Chrome Extension to give yourself just a little bit of break time for fun internet stuff each day. After your break time the extension blocks the sites.
11:55 am – Hahahaha
A solid break during a day in the life of a writer relieves tension, but every website is designed to push you to more content, so a limit is necessary.
12:00 pm – Lunch Break
See the next point. They relate to each other.
1:13 pm – Still Not Inspired. I Need a Walk
Personally I think that if you want to take a walk, go for it. I don’t kid myself and think that a walk is the solution to inspiration, because only sitting down and writing is the solution, and as a creative you have a responsibility to enjoy life.
When everyone else is wolfing down their lunches while scrambling to meet a deadline, you know lunch is a time to unwind, not work. Jobs are meant to make your life better, not more stressful. So take your walk, but don’t think that your walks are the reason you come up with story ideas. A day in the life of a writer needs reprieve, but these breaks are not inspiration.
2:26 pm – Okay. Now I’m Ready
I often have this thought throughout the later part of the week. As the weekend approaches I take a long time to prep myself to sit down. I also tend to other tasks such as finances or what presents I need to buy for my nieces on the next holiday or birthday.
It’s a terrible feeling though. Even the perception of getting started in the afternoon screams lazy and unaccomplished. What’s the solution? Running over what I completed at the end of the day gets spirits up, but if you don’t actually do anything then you’re really out of luck. Start early, or you miss the real inspiration: Enough time to write.
I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning. -William Faulkner
2:28 pm – Whoa. No Printer Ink. I’ll Buy Some
I preserve office purchases for the weekends, even though a good walk keeps me fresh and happy. These walks are usually to grab some food though.
4:15 pm – Okay. Now I’m All Set
See 2:26 pm, but whenever I start this late I neglect people who want to see me. I feel like a troll under a bridge, with no friends.
4:19 pm – Could Use Some More Coffee
Honestly if you only get up twice for coffee that’s not half bad.
4:36 pm – And One More Game of Words With Friends
Oh man! This is where the phone chimes in. You already have a big screen in front of you with endless connections to the world, and now we all have one that buzzes whenever something is more important than life itself.
My solution? The office is no place for a cell phone. Put it in a room where you can’t hear it or see it. I check my texts during lunch and towards the end of the day for evening plans.
4:59 pm – Hey Do You Have Time to Talk?
This is my favorite, because although I don’t verbally express this phrase, it always mulls through my head when someone calls me towards the end of the day. They ruined every chance I had to write, and now I need to get them off the phone as quickly as possible. It’s absurd and quite juvenile to think this, and I’m guilty of this thought over and over–when speaking with my closest friends and relatives!
I’m sure plenty of other writers feel the same way, and the primary solution I have to this ties in with the previous point. Put that phone away, and use it as a reward. When you get up and leave your office and see that phone sitting there you finally have a chance to share your eventful day with the ones you love.
I almost feel embarrassed when my girlfriend calls me and she rambles on about her day. She asks me questions about what I wrote and I just shrug and say, “The usual.” It’s bull and I know it. Committing time to loved ones is what makes life enjoyable, and it’s a rare chance to give yourself a reward.
5:00 pm – Great You’ve Wasted My Whole Day. I Give Up
See previous rant.
Tuesday, 8:01 pm – Today I Will Write Twenty Pages
A day in the life of a writer should never start with doubling down on what you didn’t finish the day before. When you don’t finish a to-do list you feel unaccomplished. When you push tasks to the next day you feel overwhelmed. When you feel overwhelmed you don’t create your best work.
My solution to this is moderation. Create a work of art that truly inspires you and pushes you to get excited about the next piece of work. Even if you only have time for one project per day, kick ass at it, finish it, and don’t push it to the next day.
Join the Stephen King 500 word per day club to manage a writing lifestyle that is enjoyable and productive.
If you recognize any of these moments throughout your day talk about your solutions or struggles in the comments below. If you have funny experiences pertaining to a day in the life of a writer let me know below.