A reader recently asked how long a “typical” 500-word session is for me. So this morning, I paid attention to what actually happens when I’m working on a book.
I never used to be a morning person, but I wake up at 4 AM these days — something that would have filled me with horror just a few years ago. Nine mornings out of ten, a phrase or a piece of dialog or a solution to a structural problem floats up as I awaken, so I keep a paper and pencil by the bed to write those down immediately. Often I go back to sleep then but if the dachshund is starting to stir, I’ll get up with her and give my husband Don a morning off dog-duty.
Three newspapers and two cups of coffee later, I’m in my office with my hands on the keyboard. My first two hours of work are editing what I wrote the day before — untangling and clarifying existing prose, filling out the narrative, thinking harder about the scene, adding dialog, etc. I generally seem to add 150-200 words to what I wrote the previous day.
About 10 AM, I check email and when I’ve finished that, I go upstairs for a shower. I rely on that Hot Water Zen State: I actually have waterproof paper in the shower to write things down as they occur to me. When I’m away from the computer but still have my head in the story, I’m thinking about what happens next, or what this character would say, or what could explain a puzzling historical fact.
I get dressed, make the bed, and go back to work for another two hours. By about 1 PM, I’m near the 500-word mark and the story’s advanced a few pages. At that point, I’m starving because I rarely eat breakfast. I know that’s bad but at 62, what the hell. That’s just the way I roll.
Early afternoon is lunch in front of the TV. I watch the news or HGTV or Downton Abbey on DVR. Then I do something domestic like laundry or grocery shopping. Whatever I do, I’m not thinking about the book anymore because I made my 500-word goal and I’ve allowed myself to quit for the day.
There’s often a caffeine crash around 3 PM. I know, I know — that’s bad, too, but I actually rely on what happens when I take a mid-afternoon nap. My mind goes into neutral and frequently I wake up for the second time in a day with whatever I need to go forward with the story. So there may be another two hours at the keyboard from 4-6 PM. That late afternoon session can yield a fast 500 words, but they’ll need to be edited in the morning.
Then I check email and Facebook until Don calls to let me know he’s coming home, at which time I turn off the machine and go make supper. So, there you go. That’s the glamorous life of one working writer!