I’m one of those people that people who aren’t morning people hate.
I go from zero to ready-to-write the instant my eyes are open. For that reason, I get most of my writing done in the early morning, before I go to my day job. My wife has a long commute, so on days that she works I get up at 5 am, pack her lunch, make her breakfast and sit with her while she eats. She’s on the road by 5:30, at which time I go upstairs to our office. On days she doesn’t work, I “sleep in” until 5:30.
I used to have a ritual where I checked my e-mail, played one game of computer solitaire (Spider is a recent favorite but for a long time it was Freecell) and then started to work. Lately, I have so many projects underway that I am more disciplined about this little 90-minute window of time available to me. I still check e-mail, but I limit myself to about fifteen minutes—less, if possible—and I forego the solitaire game unless I need something to occupy my mind while I think about what I’m working on.
Ideally, I like to finish one thing before I start the next. My Cemetery Dance column is always a work-in-progress, but other than that I prefer to finish one story before I start the next. If I’m working on a novel, I rarely start a new short story. Lately, that modus operandi has also fallen by the wayside. I currently have one novel ready for second draft revisions, three chapters done on another, a short story in the editing phase, an essay nearly finished, and several other things just begging for me to pay attention to them, including the book reviews that run in the local newspaper every second Friday. Sometimes I have to force myself to clear my slate somewhat to keep from getting overwhelmed by so many open files.
My workspace is a rolltop desk that my wife bought me for Christmas in 1999—you can read more about that in my essay “What Does it Take to Write a Novel?”—and I have everything that I need at ready access, either on the desk, on the upper level, on one of the two pull-out tablets on either side of the cubby or in “well organized” stacks (i.e. not in imminent danger of falling over) on the floor.
My computer is a fairly conventional setup, although I use a split ergonomic keyboard. Since I also work on computers at my regular job, I find it helps to have two different styles of keyboard to reduce repetitive motion issues.
I write to music unless I’m doing revisions. I rarely hear what I’m “listening to” but I know it has subliminal influence on what I’m doing. Usually, I pick the music of one artist and stick to it for a particular project. I wrote the first draft of my most recent novel to the collective works of Mike Oldfield. I tend toward instrumental music, but I wrote another novel to Supertramp. When my wife is working in the office with me, I wear headphones.
I usually finish a little before 7:00. On a typical morning I’ll write between 800 and 1500 words. If I did that every weekday on a single project, I could write the first draft of a novel in four or five months. Then I go downstairs and get ready for work. Sometimes I’ll unwind in the hot tub for half an hour. My mind goes on idle when I do that. Usually, though, I take a shower, and my mind continues to write. Often I’ll get out, dry off, grab a notepad and jot down notes on the things I’ve come up with.
Breakfast is usually at the local bagel shop while I read the newspaper and do the crossword puzzle if I’m alone, or visit with my wife if she’s off from work that day. This is where I really change gears. I get to my office around 8 am and work on the corporate web site, design brochures, write product application notes and press releases and support the marketing group with my scientific knowledge and writing skills.
I listen to the radio all day long. Normally, it’s CBC Radio on streaming audio, but that was pre-empted during the Olympics so I’ve been listening to the local public radio station lately, KUHF from the University of Houston.
Since both of my jobs are sedentary, I go to the YMCA on my lunch break two to three times a week, plus once on the weekend. Other days I take something to read to a restaurant or, when it’s not 1,000,000 degrees out, go to a park near a turtle-filled lake and read. Sometimes I proof and edit my own work during lunch, but usually I read a novel. Sometimes I’ll take a bound blank book and write in longhand.
My wife is also a student and my daughter usually has homework, so on occasion we will all work in the evening, but I never count on that time. Usually it’s family time to do whatever. Read, play games, watch movies, go to school meetings or events, or just hang out. If I get time to write, great, but if not, there’s always tomorrow.
Similarly, on weekends everyone usually has stuff to do during the day so I may get some work done, especially on Saturdays. If I have a particularly good weekend, I’ll treat myself to a morning off the following Monday, which means I can sleep in until 7 am.
I typically try to get to sleep by 9:30 to 10:00 pm during the week so that those 5:00 mornings don’t beat me up by the end of the week.
Originally published in Cemetery Dance Weekly Newsletter, September 8, 2004