The writing life: Unscheduled by Deb Meredith

I’ve always envied those people who say that they treat their writing like a nine to five job. They sit down after breakfast to write, break briefly for lunch, and then write until dinnertime. I envy them their discipline, but I also strongly suspect they are lying. I mean, who can really do that? I certainly can’t, even during those times when I’ve had nothing else going on.

I do know that the successful writing life is one part showing up (discipline) and one part creative. If one half of the equation does not work, then it doesn’t matter how creative you are or how disciplined you are. Nothing will happen. You will either have lots of great ideas that never get written, or fill page after page with nonsense that you can’t turn into a workable story. But there is still a lot about my own writing life that is mysterious to me.

Here’s what I know for sure about my routine: I need to exercise every day or I will turn into a grump. Part of my process is thinking and fretting about my story when I am doing other things. I don’t like every day to be the same, and that’s why I’m a freelancer (and always laugh politely when someone offers me a job).

To get some good productive writing done, I need a minimum of an hour and a half to concentrate. But I also can’t sit still for more than three hours. I’m not good at having word count goals (I always cheat). I work better with a deadline, so I always give myself one (if no one else does). I must have a rough outline so I know what I’m going to write next (since I put down and pick up my writing a lot). And I somehow got way more done when my son had preschool three mornings a week then I do with him in kindergarten all day five days a week (so maybe having less time makes me more efficient?).

I have to take breaks between drafts and between projects, and the breaks usually stretch for several weeks. I read a ton of books, dig out my desk, make Christmas/Valentine/Birthday cards and presents, and cook extremely elaborate dinners. And then, at some point, I realize I really need to get back to writing because I’m getting crabby (even with the exercise). My husband will catch me doing something like sorting the sheets in the closet and will ask me if I have some writing I should be working on. That’s when I realize I’m driving everyone crazy (most of all myself), so I return to my writing, refreshed and eager to start again.

Is it enough a routine? I’ve written Posed for Murder, two books and nine screenplays, managed to stay married, stay sane, have a child, and keep my cats alive to age nine–so I guess it works well enough for me. But if I ever had to write two books a year, I might have to try that nine to five thing. Or at least lie about it.

20 Replies to “The writing life: Unscheduled by Deb Meredith”

  1. I think those people are lying too, Meredith! And I can relate to getting more writing done with less time–my little one is in preschool and since she started in September I’ve gone from having 20 hours a week for my writing (which didn’t feel like enough) to 12-15 hours (it’s a co-op, so every other week I’m there for the morning helping out). I actually have been more productive, probably because I’m in a panic about having so much less time.

  2. That’s funny, Danielle! I think I spent less time wasting time when I knew I had such a small window. Everyone asks how I got the book done with a small child, and I used to brag that he took 3 hour naps. That ended when he was two, and I had to find the time in other ways. If you have a burning desire to write, you find a way to get it done…

  3. I get that question a lot too, Meredith, because I wrote much of LIARS while my youngest was an infant and home with me all day. I can’t answer that question very well because I think I was in a fog most of the time. You *do* find time, and MAKE time, when and where you can.

  4. I definitely get more done when I’m working than when I’m on hiatus. And I laughed out loud at the bit about sorting the sheets–what won’t we resort to when we’re procrastinating? Now that Eve’s mom has made me admit that I’m creative, I can proudly say that I can come up with the most creative procrastination activities of anyone I know.

    I mean, I would totally sit down and write, but these earthquake supplies aren’t going to organize themselves by expiration date! Come on!

  5. We don’t have the earthquake supply excuse on the East Coast–but maybe hurricane? I guess I should try it next time I want to avoid writing!

    Thanks for the compliment on the new photo, Kristina. I just had the photo shoot a week ago when I realized my author photo was a bit lacking.

  6. Ah, you wonderful women of the might pen…making me laugh again.
    See how creative you can get to get out of being “creative”?
    Not only are there the regular household chores that must be done…folding laundry is my personal “yukkie”, hey just live out of the dryer, and organizing spices, there are the multitude of other “creative” projects already started, just screaming for attention.

    Now I don’t write for a living, geeze, I don’t do much for a living anymore, I am just glad I am living, but I have these “projects”, one third done, or one half done, or in the thinking stage, all giving me guilt, as I sit in my new lime green recliner reading a book.

    Now ladies, I am just about finished with the last book I purchased, and will soon go out to buy one of yours…I will read all of yours, one by one, sitting in my lime green recliner ignoring my projects. Which shall I read first…go ahead…sell me!!! Just remember, your prose will compete with the huge fireplace mosaic project, the yards of drapes, not yet done, the storage closet not yet organized or finished, the laundry area not yet organized or finished, the gardens not yet cleared of summer’s debris (they will all be dead and dried up soon anyway, then the winds will blow them to my neighbors’), or even, shall I admit it in writing…piles of unorganized “papers” that I keep meaning to get to. (If you leave these alone for long enough, you can just throw them out!)

    OK, who wants to be first???

  7. Hmm, I don’t necessarily think writers who work on a schedule are lying; however, it would be interesting to compare how long “disciplined” and “non-disciplined” writers take from beginning to the end. Yes it’s about quality time!

  8. Someone please tell my mom she has to read LAST YEAR’S DEB’S books first because none of ours are out yet!!!!

    Okay, it’s 2:45 and I have to START writing now. So much for my disciplined schedule. I’m impressed that the rest of you are all so productive!

  9. Eve’s Mom–Pick me! Pick me! Actually, I think Tiffany’s book is out first, so that will be your first big treat…

    Welcome, back Laramie! You’re so right about discipline. WIthout it, no books would get written. I wish I had the discipline and the time to sit all day writing, but I realize that I also need my thinking time to figure out what I’m going to write about. Oddly enough, I seem to think better when I’m doing something other then sitting…

  10. THANK YOU! You have no idea what a relief it was to read your post. I want to kill writers who say they write eight hours a day every day of every year (minus maybe Christmas and the day they gave birth), and if they didn’t they couldn’t possibly go on living one more second. Isn’t writing about the struggle?

    I published my first young adult novel, The Debutante, in May, and it took me three years of off-and-on writing, squeezing out, if I was lucky, three hours a day (or ten if I was on deadline), and not because I had other pressing issues to attend to, but because writing doesn’t always just pour forth. Sometimes it has to be yanked out with both hands and feet.

    It’s interesting to me because writing is such a private, internal process. You have to retreat into the cave of your own mind. But you can’t be an honest (or good) writer if you don’t live in and experience the world. I’m slowly realizing that the breaks are just as important to “the work” as the writing.

    Here ends the reading:) Thanks, Meredith, for sharing!

  11. Well, then I will ask the book store to reserve your books for me…how about that??? All except for the one’s Eve’ already has. Well, I am off now to buy some “bestsellers”.

  12. Thanks for sharing your story, Kathryn! I love your insights on writing. Yes, we must rejoin the human race at times–if only to get more material!

    I once heard a panel of successful writers who all admitted to having no time to read (since they were so busy writing umpteen books a year). I was horrified.

  13. Oh, I am so excited…I actually found Eileen Cook’s book, and I am already LOL. Exactly what I need after just finishing “An Unquiet Mind” by Dr. Kay Jamison, about her personal and professional struggle with severe Manic/Depression. The change of pace almost gave me “whiplash” of the brain.

    Before I started Eileens’ extremely funny book, I thought how wonderful it would be to actually work in a bookstore…and then found out her character does exactly that. Have you ladies read this yet?

    While I was in Atlantic Books, I did a small commercial for all your books, and your websites. 2008 AND 2009

    Ah, now to my lime green recliner.

  14. Hi Meredith,

    Discipline is my devil. I agree with you about exercise. I have to go to the gym nearly every morning and when I get stuck in my writing, I usually go for a short, brisk walk to unclog my brain. I did the 9 to 5 life for more than twenty five years in my first career. I don’t ever want to do it again, but I do need to find a comfortable amount of hours a day to write, but that number seems to change with the days.

    I do, however, like to work on two projects at a time because when I am brain dead in one, I am still alert in the other. At least most of the time.

    Great post. Terrie

  15. Enjoyed your post, Meredith! I’m always curious how other writers do it; like you, I tend to alternate between spurts of serious work and breaks, and I’m often more efficient the less time I have. The arrival of my daughter entirely changed my attitude toward work time. I used to think half an hour wasn’t enough time to get anything done. Now I think, “Half an hour? Let me see how much I can get done!”

  16. Would anyone have the courage to ask Eve why being like her mother makes her want to puke??? A good answer might save thousands of hours of therapy…not to mention money. But then Eve’s mother also had a thing about being like HER mother…Eve’s grandmother…until Eve’s mother became old enough to have all her mother’s aches and pains…ah, the dawn of understanding. Too bad one has to wait so long to understand.

    Oh gosh, this grog is not Dear Abby…I keep forgetting.

  17. This just in from an environmental, health and safety professional:
    “It’s important to NOT sit at the computer for long stretches – get up
    and stretch, move around, and give yourself a break from your
    stagnant position. Yoga is a great choice. Personnally, I end up
    getting up to do laundry, dishes – this breaks up my stretches at the
    computer desk. You need to make sure that your desk, chair and
    lighting are appropriate so that you don’t creat unnecessary strain
    while you are working.”

    Now I can say I’m doing it for health reasons!

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