Ah, Autumn: The Season of Falling Down on the Job

Lonely leaf left aloneThe other morning I was out walking my dog and saw my breath in the cool air. Later the same day, it was an unseemly eighty degrees.

Chicago hasn’t decided what season it is yet, but I can tell you what time of the year it is for me: Word Count Nuclear Winter.

Every year at about this time, my writing habit drops through the basement. That’s because twice a year for several weeks, my day job—a demanding job on a normal day—takes over my life. Normally I get most of my writing done during my lunch hours, but during early fall and early spring, it’s difficult to shut off the work brain to let the writing brain have a say.

During these hectic times, I don’t really bother all that much trying to get my daily word count in. I’ve learned that beating myself up about it doesn’t actually help. Instead, I turn those weeks over to the paycheck and know that I’ll do better.

Eventually, I’ll do better.

Eventually, please, please, please let me do better.

It’s difficult to be knee-deep in all this publication excitement and know that you’re not getting the job done. I feel like an imposter most of the time, so actually BEING AN IMPOSTER is hard to accept. I’d love to be one of those writers with the next book drafted and sold before the prior book is even on the shelf. At the moment, I’m just not that person. I can’t be. To change my pace, I’d have to make some big life changes, like, say, giving up sleep, or having my publisher send my page proofs to the alleyway cardboard box in which I’ve taken up residence.

But since I enjoy health care and regular meals—and sleep, let’s not forget how much my days depend on getting the right amount of zzzzs every night—I have to find a way to write books anyway.

And probably so do you. Lots of us have to work. Lots of published writers have to work. There are probably about 23 Buzzfeed articles on all the writers in history who have held day jobs. The writer who somehow feeds a family with writing alone is actually the special case.

Also, I’ve seen how easily I can waste eight hours. It’s not pretty. Better to keep the day job and make that hour a day add up over time, whatever time it takes.

Some people are surprised that I can make a lunch hour schedule work, but that’s the entire point: In writing, we have to make our own schedules, on a daily and a seasonal basis. If lunch hours don’t work for you, try mornings. Or maybe you’re a night owl. Or maybe you don’t have to shut down the works for a couple of months a year.

But maybe you also don’t take your computer on vacations with you. Maybe you’ve never written 10,000 words on the promenade deck of an oceanliner in the west Caribbean. Maybe your idea of relaxing is different than mine.

That’s OK. Figure out the times that work for you, and try not to mourn too hard the times that don’t. Maybe by the time the weather figures itself out, we’ll have a little breathing room, and we can all get some writing done.

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

15 thoughts on “Ah, Autumn: The Season of Falling Down on the Job

  1. I’m amazed by how different we all are with scheduling and even more so by the random small increments we manage to squeeze in words. I do a 5-7 a.m. stint many mornings and 9-11:30 each day. Weekends are ALL OUT writing. I’m mush at lunch time, Lori, so kudos to you for managing it all!

  2. Love this. I, too, shudder at the thought of how little writing I’d get done if I had hours and hours to do it. Now off to my day job…

  3. More time to write often does not equal more writing done. It can easily mean more procrastination, more Facebook, etc. Limited writing time can (and in my experience does) focus the mind — sort of like having a deadlne.

    Right now I’ve got the day job plus a lot of extra family responsibilities, and it’s cut into my writing time but I’m still moving ahead on my current story. And, without ever being a full-time writer, I’ve written two novels (over 200,000 words combined), a series of mystery stories and a novella.

    I’ve never had a month where I could have written 50,000 words, NaNoWriMo-style. But slow and steady wins the race, they say. 🙂

      • There’s a funny article in the current New Yorker magazine (not available at their website except for subscribers) by the director Nicole Holofcener. She describes getting a job where she had absolutely nothing to do but show up. She thought she would have endless time to write screenplays, but instead all she did was eat and sleep. She doesn’t say it explicitly, but it’s clear that her career would never have started if she hadn’t been fired from the job.

  4. I know that imposter feeling. I’m so familiar with it, especially right now because I’m not making much headway on the WIP. I’m distracted by what I think I’m supposed to be doing for KILMOON.

    When I worked from home (Heather’s life — God I’m jealous), I worked every morning on my fiction. I love it. Now, with a day-job, I’m still struggling to find my best schedule. Lunch hours do work. I don’t get enough done on the weekends either.

  5. That’s exactly what’s going on, Lisa. I figured out how to write a book while working, but I haven’t figured out how to write a book while working and promoting another book.

  6. Oh, you totally just gave me an idea for my post tomorrow that works so much better than what I have drafted!

    I love that you can accept that writing routines can and do change. When I was first starting out as a writer, I’d read all about these authors who had schedules written in stone, butt in chair every single day, x amount of words or it’s worthless, and honestly it felt like such an impossible standard to aspire to. We need to give ourselves some flexibility sometimes. As long as the words are getting written, it doesn’t matter the pace or time we do it in.

  7. Natalia, I just read an entire book on the schedules of artists, including writers, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they all had maids. And very understanding spouses.

    • Well, (::harumph::), that would seem to be a bit of an overgeneralization (::harumph::).

      Seriously, probably true. I always think of that as the subtext of My Dinner with Andre. It’s clear from the movie that the dinner, and the travels, and everything else, were being made possible by a wife and a girlfriend. Who don’t seem to have those kinds of dinners, at least as far as we can tell from the movie…

      I’ve always got a lot more writing done when I wasn’t in a relationship, myself. That may just be me.

      • Anthony, if you’re doing your own laundry while you’re trying to get your writing done, you’re one of us.

        It’s the laundry that always gets me. Who did all Hemingway’s LAUNDRY?

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