Recently, on another newsgroup, a group of us were having a discussion about making the transition from writing part-time to making a go of it as a full-time novelist. I’ve been fortunate throughout my career. Thanks to a supportive spouse who happens to have a secure, well-paying job with benefits, I’ve been a full-time writer from the start. For a while, I wasn’t making much — actually I was barely making anything at all. But we stuck with it, and it’s worked out.
Along the way, I’ve found that there are certain things I need to do during the course of a typical writing day to keep myself healthy and productive and, oh yeah, sane. And so I present to you my “Top Ten Things I Do To Make The Full-Time Writing Gig Work”:
1. Exercise. I begin with this one because it’s how I start my day. Pretty much every weekday morning I drop one or both of my kids off at their schools (depending on my wife’s schedule) and go to the gym for an hour. Some people, I know, can’t exercise first thing in the morning. That’s fine. But I’m convinced that this is the most important thing I do for myself everyday. It makes it far easier for me to spend the next seven hours basically glued to my desk chair.
2. Healthy Eating. I realize that this is starting to sound like a public service announcement from the American Heart Association, but I believe the greatest danger I face working in my home is the lure of the kitchen and pantry. I’m already prone to procrastination (see number 6) and one of the easiest ways to kill time is to wander down to the pantry and, as Pooh might say, fine a little smackerel of something. Problem is, if I let myself do this, I’ll soon look like Pooh. I have a smoothie for breakfast after my workout, I eat a reasonable lunch, and I don’t snack in between meals. Save for the following exception….
3. Post-Lunch Sugar Fix. Yeah, I do allow myself a sweet just after lunch to get myself through those low-energy early afternoon hours. I adore chocolate, but I’ve taken to not eating it after lunch because of the whole “don’t want to look like Pooh” thing. I’m a sucker for twizzlers and gummy fruit slices. So that’s what I have. Low-fat, high sugar. It’s my little reward for getting through the morning without a snack.
4. The 30 Minute Cat Nap. Okay, this is the one that gives me some guilt. My wife works far harder than I do and she doesn’t get a nap during the day. But there’s this comfortable futon couch right there in my office, and, well, what can I say? Seriously, naps are shown to be great for your health, and they reenergize me even more than that sugar fix I rationalized in the last paragraph.
5. Realistic Daily Goals. I’m prone to guilt. Maybe it’s being Jewish; maybe it’s being married to a lapsed Catholic. Lots of guilt in our house. And so, if I didn’t set realistic goals for myself, I’d feel guilty every day for all that I didn’t get done. So when I’m working on a book, I shoot for 5-7 manuscript pages each day. That’s a bit over 100 pages a month, which gives me a book in half a year or so. I can live with that. And more important, I can do it comfortably in a given day.
6. Carrots and Sticks. As I mentioned before, I’m a procrastinator. I can always find stuff to do that has nothing to do with writing, particularly with a computer right in front of me. So during the course of a day I’ll give myself smaller goals and reward myself for meeting them. “I’ll write two pages and then I’ll play a game of solitaire.” Or, “One more page and then I can check my email again.” Stuff like that. It works, and it breaks up the day a bit.
7. Occasional Days Off. Sometimes, after completing a chapter or reaching some kind of milestone in a book (200 pages, or the halfway point, or the completion of a particularly difficult section) I’ll reward myself with a day off. I’ll go birding, or take out my camera and go shoot for the day, or I’ll just do nothing at all. It’s a variation of the Carrot/Stick thing, and again, it works for me.
8. Treating It Like a Job. This one is very important. Because I work at home, my work is always right there, in my face, even on days when I don’t want it to be. So I work a normal day — not quite nine to five, but close enough. And unless I’m really up against a deadline, I take weekends off. That’s family time, my time. There’s no physical separation from the job, so I have to create one in my head.
9. Treating Home Like an Office. The flip side of that last point. It’s very easy when working at home to get caught up in household stuff. Suddenly that leaking faucet or squeaky door needs my attention immediately. So for those hours when I’m working, my home becomes an office. I try to ignore that kind of stuff knowing that the maintenance guy (i.e. me) will take care of it over the weekend…
10. Understanding How Incredibly Lucky I Am. I have a job that I absolutely love. I’m my own boss. I get to work at home. The time I might spend commuting to another job, is instead time I get to spend with my kids and my wife. Even on its worst days, my job is better than anything else I could imagine doing. And sometimes in the middle of one of those rough days, I find it helpful to remind myself of this.