One reason I love the writing life is that I can bend it around my family, instead of the other way around. This means that when something goes awry in my family schedule, my writing routine goes out the window.
Last week, my youngest was sick for three days. I was supposed to be up to my eyes in revisions for my second novel. This was a time for digging deep and pushing harder to make the next book even better. I’d cleared my decks of freelance work and busywork and was ready to go. Those were my best-laid plans and we all know what happens to those. I ended up with a feverish baby clinging to me while I clicked through my few channels on my ultra-basic-cable TV. It had been a long time since I’d watched “The Price is Right.” (Drew Carey is no Bob Barker, but he holds his own.)
Frustrating? Of course. But it’s OK. As a newspaper reporter, I got used to writing in less-than-ideal circumstances. Reporters work in huge open newsrooms, without offices, or even cubicles so much as desks clumped together. With all those people working and typing and talking, the din can get ridiculous. Heaven help you if you work next to the copier or coffee machine. And you have to write on deadline, no matter if you don’t feel like it, no matter if your boss interrupts you three times and your phone won’t stop ringing. No such thing as a Journalist Muse, unless maybe he’s wearing a fedora with a press card in the brim and he’s on duty 24/7.
Even non-kid related stuff steals my writing time. I had to drag my own sinus-infected self to the doctor a couple of weeks ago. I took my printed manuscript and my colored pencils and I edited my novel in the waiting room, and in the exam room while I waited even more. Sometimes my freelance or Literary Mama editing duties creep in, too, though I try to save that for evenings, or when my youngest naps in the afternoon.
When everything’s clicking along though, this is how it works on four mornings a week: Get the kids to the babysitter/school. Check e-mail and The Debutante Ball but restrain myself from writing long responses to anything. Then, to writing (or right now, revising.) I’m a sprinter when it comes to writing. I can pound out a thousand words in no time, then my novelist brain is exhausted, and I’m doubled over, holding my knees and panting, and it’s times like that when I respond to e-mails or, let’s say, write a blog post. By then I’ve caught my breath, limbered up, and then I’m off and typing again.
Then I break off, go get the kids, and eat lunch. The stopping point is an important part of the routine. I wish I could remember who gave me this idea, but it was someone in the writing community at Backspace. I’m told Hemingway used to do this. I leave off writing in mid-sentence. That way, the next time I pick up the manuscript, I don’t waste any time going, “Duhhhhh, now what?” I remember exactly where I was and what I was thinking when I stopped.
It takes discipline to work at home and I can’t afford to waste any “Duhhhhh” time. Another child’s illness could be just around the corner, especially as we head into flu season. Or I could get sick myself, or something could fall apart at home that requires contractors or repairmen to be greeted at the door.
My writing routine doesn’t always hold up as planned. But when it does, it’s time to get cracking.
What are your best productivity tips? In the writing life or for anything else?