Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Day in the Life

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

How would I describe my typical writing day? Well, first, let’s be clear. Unlike many of my more prolific colleagues (Tim Maleeny, I am talking to you), I don’t “write” every day. I know I should but I never have. I don’t even work on my writing every day by researching or editing or blogging. If you want to see the never take a creative day off schedule, talk to Janet Evanovich. By contrast to her six days a week, nine hours a day commitment, I am the original slacker.

I write as part of my day job. You know the one that pays the bills and keeps my dog in treats? Letters, contracts, memos, endless emails are an all day, every day occurrence. Frequently that extends to what the Europeans call personal time. As Americans, lashed to our Blackberries and via the informational superhighway to our desks, we’ve become the 7-11 work force. As a result, I draft, edit, compose and send email like Slurpees twenty-four hours a day. There’s only so much energy to do that in my tank not to mention the spiking likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome. So I do not “write” every day. It’s a choice and my personal priorities can be very messed up. Think of me as a bad parent telling you fellow writers to do what I say and not what I do.

There are numerous good reasons to “write” every day. My writing flows better the more often I do it. I’m less likely to have forgotten I’ve already used that clever phrase or revealed that subtle clue if it hasn’t been three weeks since I so much as sat down to my next project. Plus, the characters remain truer to themselves if you visit with them more often. This is true in life, as well. Have you ever noticed? The more real conversations you have with a person, the more you have to say to them? The more time you spend in a character’s voice, the more they have to say. And remarkably, the more ways they have to surprise you. If you’ve got an outline or an idea and you wander away for too long, you are forced to go back to that same starting place to reset yourself when you return to the story. If you are with your characters every day, you don’t rely on that crutch. That’s when they’ll do something interesting like wake up on the wrong side of the bed and let the sarcastic retort slip from their lips or look across the cube at a co-worker and see hot body under that frumpy suit. Imagination is brain sour dough. If you add daily yeast, it grows exponentially. And then you’ve got to clean the refrigerator.

Now that we’ve established that my typical writing day isn’t every day, I should break them down into two categories: a regular writing day and a writing weekend day.

If it’s a work day and a regular writing day, you can be sure that if I haven’t written by 5:00 p.m., it’s not going to happen. Once my butt hits the couch and my hand caresses the remote control, I’m done. You can also be pretty sure that I didn’t write before I left for work at 5:00 a.m. Creativity for me is like hot yoga, my brain and body just aren’t going to play nice at that time of day. Which usually means I’ve carved out some time mid-day to write. As a diet technique, this is highly effective. With my hands on the keyboard, I can’t be eating Oreos. I know this from personal experience plus crumbs embed between the keys and the whole thing is a mess. Ironically, writing in the middle of the day puts fuel in the tank. I’m much more likely to come home and workout for an hour, do a little research, clean up my typos from earlier in the day or even write something else before I assume the vegetative position if I’ve managed to choke out a few lines while others are eating bad cafeteria food.

If it’s a writing weekend day, things are very different. Today is one of those. I wasn’t writing enough and it showed in the final output, not just the deadlines but the actual finished product, so I imposed on one of my writing friends to keep me accountable. It is a thankless job for which I will probably end up killing him in a later book in some ghastly way. But it’s working. Once a month, we set a weekend aside for writing. One day at my house, one day at his. We write for two hours with an alarm set. Then we eat. Then we critique each other’s work. Then we write. We usually add in an hour of exercise in the middle. Sunday comes and we repeat. Today I am working on my blogs because I didn’t have any regular writing days this week. I want to work on my new book (not that I don’t adore chatting with the blog) but I’m holding it out as a present for being diligent today. So tomorrow, Sunday, I shall take the Lord’s Day and break about six commandments on paper. A perfect writing day.

I know lots of writers and everyone has a different approach. Some things that used to work for me don’t any more. Some people have jobs that allow them to expend most of their creative energies on their passionate writing without siphoning them off to take care of business. There are warm up exercises and daily word requirements and master classes. My typical day isn’t even typical for me. The only thing I’ve learned is that if I’m not writing, I need to figure out how to get writing. I need to keep an open mind and a non-judgmental inner voice. And a butt-kicking good friend or two are a must.

Thanks for reading and writing.



Unknown said...

Hi Gabi!

I hear you on the carpel tunnel. I use a mouse on the left at work, and on the right at home so I know which "job" is threatening my wrists. so far the tech writing gig has won hands down. Luckily we can talk to the ergo lady anytime we need to tweak our setups. At home I'm on my own...

Some of my fondest writing memories are writing weekends w/friends. It's great fun to just dive in. We would mix it up with timed writing, and reading aloud what we'd written. I've just switched from weekend writer to daily writer, because the weekends were getting filled up, and I really needed days off :)

Great suggestion to try writing at lunch -- am going to try that this week!

Happy writing!!!!

Gabi said...

I haven't tried the switch the mouse trick yet but I will. And I hear you about letting your writing ooze like jello around your nine to five. Knowing you're out there, fighting the same fight, inspires me. Thanks.

Shane Gericke said...

I screwed up my neck and back in the "good old days" of early computes and their terrible ergonomics. So now I have to be really careful with how many hours a day I type without a break. I shudder to think how many children today with their vast use of (unergonomic) keyboards and cell phone texting are going to be crippled in their 40s.