Full Time

People have been asking me what it’s like to be a full-time writer. I’m only a week in, but my standard answer is: wonderful…and profoundly weird.

I’m very grateful. SO grateful. It is a dream come true. But it is also a big change–a rather seismic shift in my life. Leaving the job I’ve been at for all of my adult life. Having time–too much time, maybe–to think about these dreams coming true, reflecting in a way I haven’t been able for the last four months because of the insane deadlines. (Is this really happening? I do not feel like I deserve it.)

I imagine that as we get closer to BORN WICKED’s release and promo things ramp up, along with the first-drafting of book2, it will be exponentially busier. But at the moment: How do I structure my day? When do I stick to the to-do list and when do I go off-plan? When I start working on book2 in a few weeks, what is a reasonable day’s writing goal? Should I give myself weekends or days off?

I can make to-do lists and diligently cross off ALL THE THINGS or I can lounge around and read a book all day. I can’t blame day jobbery and business for things I don’t get done. It’s me. All my responsibility.

That’s…a lot of responsibility.

But it’s also an opportunity. I know some days will be full of crazy-happy emails and crazy-making emails and stress and surprises because that’s how publishing rolls. But in the day-to-day…what do I want my life to look like? What are the components of my ideal, sustainable creative life? I’ve been thinking a lot about Sara Zarr’s amazing talk on that subject at SCBWI NY last winter. Remembering wistful, wine-drenched talks on the porch with my husband and conversations with friends and daydreams.

Other full-time writers out there…what do your days look like? Any tips for a newbie?

23 Responses

  1. Congratulations on being able to write full time!

    Make sure you do something ELSE. Something that's not writing or reading or book-related at all. It's one of the reasons I took up my other (but non-professional) obsession, yarn. It gives me something to do when I'm not writing, or when I need a break, or just need to create something but can't find words.

    Writing full time is wonderful, and I'm grateful I've been able to do it for so long. But it can also be draining because unlike an office job you go to every day, you're *always* in your office. You could always be writing. It's easy to get burned out or overdo it.

    Also, remember to stand up every now and then. Heh.

    1. Thanks, Jodi! Steve and I see a lot of theatre (he's a playwright) so I feel like that's a good outlet. Also we're accumulating quite the collection of board games. Also-also, I'm going to try & get back into yoga–which should help with the standing-up thing as well.

  2. I was just going to write a blog post about this!

    I just finished my fifth contracted manuscript in four years, and what I learned this time around is to stop pushing myself so hard. Up until now, every time I got a new deadline I would start to panic and feel like I ought to be writing and/or editing every spare moment, because I am not a fast writer and I'm also a pantser, and what if something went horribly wrong with the plot or with my schedule and I couldn't get the book turned in on time?

    But then, of course, being human (and also married with three children and two elderly parents living in my home), I would occasionally have to take off time to look after my family, or for my own health and sanity, and I was constantly feeling guilty about doing that. Because I am a WRITER, dagnabbit, and writers WRITE. And deadlines are SACRED and HOLY and must not be violated at any cost or that would make me a horrible, undisciplined, unprofessional person.

    The problem with this was that I was starting to feel like I was a slave to the writing, and that had completely taken over my life. All my life I'd longed to be published, and now my dreams had come true — shouldn't I be happy to have published four books and have three more under contract? But I was starting to resent not having time off to relax, spend time with family, and recharge my creative batteries — and I was dangerously close to burning out.

    What I learned with this manuscript was that I had to stop thinking of writing as something that demanded every spare moment, and start treating it like a day job — with start and stop hours, and yes, weekends off. As with every job, there might be times when I have to work nights or weekends to make up for accidents or lost time — but that should be the exception, not the rule. And if I work diligently on my manuscript each day, without being careless or lazy, and STILL can't get it done by deadline, then maybe it's the deadline that's not reasonable for me, and I need to ask for an extension or talk to my editor about changing the schedule.

    Mind you, this is me. I've written five books now and I know from experience roughly how long it takes me to get a book done, what I'm capable of achieving under pressure and what I can't. I think each writer has to find a schedule and a balance that works for them personally. But I do think that some sort of regular pattern or schedule definitely helps, and that breaks and holidays need to be incorporated into that schedule to prevent burnout.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful response, R.J.! I really appreciate it. I can see myself becoming a bit of a workaholic–I already feel like we tend to be too attached to our computers & social media. I want to have a long, sustainable career, and I do think breaks and days off are a necessary part of that. Thanks again!

  3. Jess, I just resigned from my job as well. But I have two drooling, diaper-wearing reasons in addition to writing. Coming from a rigid elementary school schedule to days with no inherent structure has been my biggest challenge. My only (newbie-to-newbie) advice is to build in routine where you can. And to remember that just because you're working from home, doesn't mean you need to be working every time you're home — do be kind to yourself and allow downtime 🙂

  4. Congrats Jess! I can completely related, and I'm not even writing full-time yet. But I had my first part-time week this week and while it was amazing to have so much extra time, I felt like I should have been writing with EVERY second of it. Even this weekend. I love Jodi's advice about finding another outlet. When I was a full-time at the day job, my outlet was writing. If writing becomes the FT venture, finding something else for the creative outlet makes complete sense.

    Anyway, congrats again. Good luck settling into things! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Erin! I think this could definitely be fodder for conversation this weekend! I can think of lots of things I'd like to do more of now that I (theoretically) have time: cooking, yoga, exercising, reading, board games, seeing more theatre…

  5. You DO deserve it!!!!! I'm so glad you get this freedom to discover and experiment–what is YOU? What routine would you make for yourself? Maybe fuck routine for a week, then back to it, figuring it all out. Getting to do what you LOVE and figuring out how to do it with enthusiasm and passion – it's the biggest gift, but yeah, can totally be unnerving sometimes!!! Good luck as you figure it out, and congratulations!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Thank you, Heather! Heh, I did throw routine out the window last week. I ended up feeling like a slug. It was nice to have a week totally off, full of napping and reading and…more napping, but it left me craving a routine. But you're right–this is an awesome opportunity to experiment & figure out what works for me!

  6. I might spin a whole blog post out of this myself, and we've talked about it in email, but for now…

    I did find it hard in the beginning. Kind of like R. J., I had a lot of stress about whether I'd be able to get things done, and I think it just created problems in my life as if the universe was conspiring to keep me from having time to make the deadlines (and YET, I always did, in the end). My creativity also took quite a hit. I didn't really have that much fun with writing. Fretting over public response, reviews, and the lovely cover situation drained a lot of my joy. For me, Alfred, Olivia, Det, Stan, Leslie and my old Arestinian characters were the place I'd go to escape the stress over my public writing. It was wise of me not to pursue publication with those characters first too hard! I can't imagine if it was all combined!

    However, after I got through seeing the first book come out and the second book turned in to my editor and the world didn't end, the joy and productivity returned, perhaps better than ever! Last year I turned in Magic Under Stone ahead of time, had a BLAST revising Between the Sea and Sky, and handled the Corsets and Clockwork story no swear, and this year has, thus far, been even MORE productive–and it's fun productivity, although I might not be able to keep up this pace every year. Right now, of course, I want to accumulate lots of moolah to move with and it keeps me motivated.

    Still, I do really love writing a lot. I don't feel a great need for a different creative outlet, even though I do sketch and play my ukulele on occasion, but it is important to keep up a social and physical life…and frankly, a spiritual one, so I don't get too lost in the public and career stuff. My days shape up a lot like this: I wake up, check my email and take care of business type stuff, have lunch and watch some anime with Dade, write until it's time to make dinner, make dinner and eat it, play some video games with Dade, do yoga for an hour, and go to bed with a book. One day a week is for errands and maybe another for fun stuff, and I still try to write on those days but if it doesn't work out I don't beat myself up. I don't take specific days off because I've gotten to the point where I trust the natural ebb and flow of my creativity. Sometimes I'm just not feeling it, and usually I honor that, particularly if it's not like I'm stuck in the story or anything, but I'm just burned out. I might work hard for two months solid and then take two weeks off, or I might work five days and take three off. I think everyone's got a different groove and you find it with time.

    1. Thanks, Jackie! I remember reading your blog when things were rough. I'm so glad it's better/more joyful now! I like what you wrote about how sometimes you're not feeling it and you honor that. I hope I will find a similar groove. As with most publishing things, I suspect I just need to be patient and I'll figure it out in time. It's been, like, a week. *impatient girl is impatient with self*

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  8. I took a one year sabbatical from teaching to focus on the books. Frankly, I don't know if I I'm going to be able to return to work next year. It would be really tough because I'm really enjoying the full time writing gig.

  9. I teach, so I'm a part-time full-time writer: in the summer, I go to full time, and during the rest of the year, I chafe at not having enough time for writing. I also had a year on sabbatical when I could be a full-time full-time writer, and I have to say I loved it! So I'm very happy for you, and I'm pretty sure you'll find your rhythm eventually….
    What are my tricks? I think developing a Good Habit is the key thing. Getting into a Good Rut. So, for example, since I'm not the fastest writer in the world, this summer my good habit/good rut goal was 1500 words a day. And one long walk. As soon as I've successfully done that every day for a week or so, it feels like a habit and momentum begins to work for me. (Momentum is fickle, as we know: I try to get it working on my side, but I know that the web-surfing demons are slipping bribes to the momentum fairy every time they get a chance.) Being hyper-conscious of the danger of learning bad habits instead of good ones, I do try to limit the amount of time I fritter away. I keep a book log when I'm drafting that charts my progress and notes what else I did that day; that's good for giving me an overview of my habits, good and bad.
    And, remembering Pavlov's dogs, I try to find a piece of music that my mind will associate with writing, and I play that every day as I start writing. It's sort of a silly trick, but again, if it becomes part of the Good Habit, it can help!
    Good luck, and ENJOY!!!!! Relish this wonderful chance to focus on what you love!
    best wishes,

    1. Thanks, Anne! I love the idea of having a writing ritual, whether it's music or some other part of your habit, to signal your brain that Now It Is Time to Write. I think 1500 words a day and a walk is an excellent daily goal. I just got my deadline for book2 today, so now to contemplate what mine will be!

  10. I know exactly what you mean! I actually posted about this recently. First I talked about what I *thought* my life would look like as a full time writer:… and then the reality:

    Before I started writing full time I asked a lot of full time authors if they had any tips and one person said, "It will prob take about 6 months to figure out a schedule." At the time I remember thinking "no way" but looking back on it I think she was right. I experimented a lot and have, over the years, figured out what works for me (word goals when I'm in drafting mode; daily to do lists culled from master to do lists; a new emphasis on reading; when to turn on MacFreedom, etc).

    It can be stressful trying to figure out how to approach full time writing but also… really really fun! I still remember that first full day I sat down to read PW and thought, "Oh, I should stop this and get to work," and then I realized that that WAS work and I was filled with so much glee!

    Yay! Congrats!!

    1. Thank you, Carrie! I actually reread your posts on this last night & they kind of inspired me to ask for opinions! I'm so curious about how differently it works for everyone. My husband works from home too (as a playwright/reporter) and he said it took him 6 months to get into the groove as well.

      I can already tell that Mac Freedom is going to be a key component of my routine. 🙂

  11. Though I still have some freelance advertising writing work on the side, my main focus since January has been my creative writing. Both my husband and I work from home. We share a home office, in fact. What has really helped us is getting up every day at the same time, getting dressed (no hanging out in pjs) and sitting down to make/update a to-do list. That way we can see progress being made (or not).

    1. I love to-do lists! I think they're going to be key to keeping me on track. My husband works from home too (playwright/reporter) and I made a master list of things to do this week that included chores for both of us. Poor creature; I'm not sure he realizes how much fun it will be to have me home all the time. 😉 But yay for writing spouses!

  12. I write full time, and you're right…it IS a lot of responsibility. The guilt. Oh the guilt. If I don't write 8 hours/day I feel like I'm a slacker. (and with school age kids and pets and yard and house work…. and The Twitter and blogs…it's easy to get sidetracked.

    You'll find a routine that works for you. I would tell you mine, but it's so individual and I know you'll find what works best for you.

    Hugs and congrats,

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