Being a writer is one of the greatest jobs in the world. You get to be your own boss (most of the time), you get to set your own schedule, you get to pick your own workspace, you get to define your own work procedures, and you get to determine your own pay (sort of).
You get to be your own boss. Yea! The person who has to keep you on track, resolve conflicts between conflicting goals, make sure what you’re doing is on target with expectations…is you! Did you remember to take out the garbage? Did you remember to write Chapter 5? Did you meet your daily word production?
Being your own boss is not all it’s cracked up to be. If you fail to stay on track, you have no one to remind you of what needs to be done. Sure, responsible workers don’t need that little nudge. However, there is something psychologically satisfying about blaming some tyrannical ogre for keeping your nose to the grindstone when all you really want to do is binge watch episodes of Law and Order.
When you work alone, that ogre is you.
I spend a lot of my day plotting, writing, editing, researching, critiquing. I need to keep myself motivated, my focus on my work. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my work, but like most people, I enjoy a whole variety of things. The supervisor in me keeps my attention on the thing that I should enjoy the most, but often don’t. If I were a machine, I wouldn’t need a supervisor. As a living being, I do, and that supervisor has to be me.
Schedules, timelines, deadlines, due dates. These are the things that drive writers crazy. Writing is a spontaneous, creative activity that follows its own rules, lives by its own standards. It can’t be constrained by the artificial constraints of traditional workplaces.
If you are writing as a hobby, something to fill the empty spaces of your life, then this is true. But if you are writing because writing is what you have to do in life, then schedules are a lot more important.
When I first started writing, I set up specific blocks of time to write. Write from 6 AM to 8 AM [Then go to work as a consultant at a client site.] Come home, eat, and write from 7 PM to 9 PM. Despite trying to follow such a routine as rigorously as my life would allow, I wasn’t very productive.
After years of frustration, I switched from trying to manage my behavior to trying to manage my output. I set goals of writing 1,000 words a day. Suddenly, my productivity went up. Sometimes I would accomplish my goal in an hour. I then had the freedom to do something else or to continue writing. Sometimes I had to take more than my usual allotment of four hours to reach my goal.
What I learned on this was that by scheduling what I accomplished, rather than how much time I took, I became more productive.
There is nothing more important than having a good workplace. When I was a kid, I watched my father working in the basement of our home. He was a tinkerer, an inventor, a man who took an old accordion and turned it into a piano or transformed old TVs and radios into electronic devices only he comprehended. He did all this at a workbench, a fascinating piece of furniture that allowed him to switch from electronics to woodworking to writing music and playing it on instruments he had designed and built.
Having a place to work is often critical to creativity. It is often essential to permitting a person to continue to work for long stretches of time.
I have a workplace that consists of a desktop on one desk, a butcher’s block set on two file cabinets. I can swivel my chair and work at my regular antique home office desk. It’s a convenient place to write, keep the 5×8 note card files that I use as a back up to my electronic files on characters, locations, and plots. It looks like the kind of place where I can pound out 1000 words a day with little or no effort.
Yet, strangely, I do most of my writing while sitting on the couch, hunkered over my laptop, while watching mindless cable news programs.
Try to find a workplace that helps you be the most productive you can be. But always keep a more formal workplace to prove to friends and family that you’re really serious about being a writer.
Work procedures are essential to being a productive writer. For me, these procedures include many things that seem a bit irrelevant to the process of actually writing, but for me make it possible for me to get through my writing day.
These procedures include:
- Checking yesterday’s sales on my major e-book sales channels. I keep a manual record in my yearly planner of how many books were sold and what royalties I’ve earned.
- Check my bank account to make sure I’m not overdrawn (this might be a foreshadowing about the “Pay” section of this blog).
- Check Twitter to see what crazy things are going on in the Twitterverse
- Walk and feed my dog
- Make coffee
- Check my daily schedule to see what has to be done
- Start writing
I usually try to write in the morning. I am less likely to be disturbed by relatives, visitors, friends (yes, let’s go with that fiction). I have a target of one to two scenes per day (when I am actually writing), one to two chapters per day (when I am plotting), or 20-40 pages per day (when I am editing). I reserve the afternoon for secondary activities associated with writing – check email, responding to fans, reading other people’s blogs, or doing research. These are what I regard as “open-ended” activities – that is, there is never a clear output, but there is an accumulation of information over time. I try to reserve the afternoon for discussing book ideas, chapters, and sales strategies with my editor.
Finally, there is pay. When I first dreamed of writing and publishing (back when I was ten years old), I envisioned me being a successful author who had published the “Great American Novel.” Those dreams quickly faded when I actually started reading great American novels and realized I had no great interest in writing in that genre. My earliest love was science fiction and fantasy.
I soon learned that becoming rich and famous was a lot harder than I expected. Even now, after sixty years of trying to write stories for the entertainment of others, I still realize that becoming rich as a writer is a dream few of us will achieve.
But it is possible to make money as a writer, and I’m pleased to state that the advent of the internet and on-demand publishing (both e-book and paperback book) has enabled people who had absolutely no chance of making money actually do have that chance now. It is hard to get good statistics on how much indie authors make. I started publishing in 2015. That year I made a measly $597. The next year, I did much better, increasing my earnings to $636. Yeah, not very impressive. I made more than that on January 2 each year when I was a consultant.
Fortunately, pay for me is a secondary objective, particularly now that I am retired. If your goal is to become a writer and live off of your sales, I suggest you proceed very cautiously down this route. Of course, there are plenty of people who will tell you how to make thousands of dollars a month as a writer. Follow their advice if you will.
If you really enjoy writing, have some talent, and are willing to put in the work, you can do as wall as I have, and probably better. But I guarantee, it will be hard for any writer to have more fun doing what they enjoy than I currently experience. For me, every day I spend as a writer is an adventure.