A day in the life of a writer
During the early years of my ghostwriting career my work routine was dictated to by the needs of my young family. I’d made the switch to ghosting because juggling a full-time career in journalism with caring for two toddlers felt like a near-impossible feat. This way, I’d have the best of both worlds: I’d be at home when needed and yet still able to keep writing, a career choice I loved.
I quickly discovered issues with my new schedule. Primarily, there was the fact that I needed to be sat at my desk, raring to go, immediately after I had dropped the kids at nursery and later school. There was no time to exercise any romantic notions of wondering around and ‘thinking about things’ while I sipped strong coffee. In my mind, I had six hours of non-stop writing to achieve my target word count by pick-up time. Don’t forget: I am a ghost. I have to have tight word targets. I can’t pontificate. If I promise an author they’ll have a completed draft within six months, I had better do just that.
Aside from the strict time pressures, I quickly realised that there was another problem. I have never been what could be called a ‘morning person’. Sure, I can sit at a desk at 9am. I can even tap out words. Lots of them, in fact. I’ll admit it now though, it was many years before I learned to write anything halfway meaningful before 11am. Often, I would get to midday and read back what I had written first thing and then simply press and hold the delete button. This, in turn, piled even more pressure on me to complete my target of xx decentwords before home time.
Over time, I learned to focus and write quite proficiently before 11am. Ironically, I achieved this by starting even earlier. (Bear with me here, I know this next bit is going to sound unbearably pious.) My revelation was that a writer’s working day actually begins a long time before they sit at their desk. I discovered this because I took up exercise in quite a big way. First running and then the gym. My motivation was to have some me-time, away from the hassles of daily life. What I quickly found was that the distraction wasn’t just really mindful, it was the perfect time to order thoughts in my brain. That chapter that has been niggling away for days? That is why it hasn’t quite worked. How to make the beginning of the book stronger? Swap chapter six with chapter one. Problem solved. Like I say, it does sound a bit wholesome, however, the amount of times I’ve had amazing writing revelations while doing kettle bell swings is unbelievable.
Oddly, now my children are almost adults and my services are barely required these days, my writing day has not changed all that much. I hate to say it, but I suspect that the chaos of those early days actually laid quite a decent framework for how I work today. I exercise first thing and am usually at my desk by 9am, or before. If I am really excited about an exercise-induced plot twist, I’ll start writing straight away. Otherwise, I ease into the day by answering emails and doing admin.
I always have a goal of how many words I like to achieve each week. The word count will vary depending on the book I am working on. If there is a lot of research to be done, the word count will be lower. If, on the other hand, I am mainly working off transcriptions of interviews I’ve done with authors earlier, I am able to work at a faster pace. The word count is averaged across the week, because some days I am out of the office interviewing authors, speaking with publishers, or meeting with new business prospects to discuss their books.
Once I begin working, I try not to answer emails until I take a proper break. In other words, a break after I achieve my word-count goal, or a pre-determined proportion of that goal, rather than a break because an interesting email has just landed. Distractions can have a huge impact on a writer. You may think that it takes just 20 seconds to read an email and then you can return to work. It doesn’t. After breaking off to read a message, it can often take a good bit of pontificating to fully re-immerse yourself into the characters you are writing about. My father, who is also a writer, has a good routine for this. When people interrupt him and say, have you got a moment, it really will only be a few seconds, he responds: ‘it will be a few seconds for you, but an hour for me’. He can be a tad curmudgeonly at times, my dad, but he is spot on.
I’ve been told by my chiropractor (yes, this is one disadvantage of being a writer, the constant sitting plays havoc with your back) that I need to take regular breaks. I think he envisages me going for walks every hour or so, or doing some elaborate stretches. I do find this almost impossible. Once I am fully engrossed in my writing, I don’t want to leave my desk. My only concession to stretching it out is moving across to the kettle to make another in an endless round of cups of tea. I comfort myself that I am getting double the benefit because the vat of tea means I also need to leave my desk for regular loo breaks.
While I am keen to achieve my daily word count goals, I don’t achieve them at all costs. I have learned from experience, if the words are not flowing it is best to walk away. Completely. Sitting at my desk, racking up words for the sake of it is completely counter-productive. In these instances, I always, always return the following day and delete them, often after figuring out what the problem was during my morning gym session.
My writing day usually ends around five or six o’clock. However, if I am on a tight deadline, I’ll squeeze a few more hours in, later in the evening, after I have had a sufficient break. It’s virtually impossible (for me, anyhow) to write for hours and hours at a stretch and still produce the best work. There needs to be time to walk away for a while and return with fresh eyes.
I finish most days by reading a little. I always make a point of asking the authors I work with what books resonate with them. This gives me a useful insight into their mindset and motivations. It’s also great for me because I get introduced to all sorts of interesting new books that I might never have tried before. Even when I am reading these books, my brain is always buzzing with the book I am writing. In fact, I often dream about my books. Sadly, I can never remember any flashes of genius ideas the next day. Still I have my exercise period for that.
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