Thursday, October 27, 2011

I don't do it as often as you'd think

A television news crew spent yesterday morning filming the staff at my day job for a feature on our city’s tourism bureau. We were told beforehand to think of a good answer to the question, “what do you do here?”

Something besides, “surf porn at my desk while sucking cookie crumbs out of my keyboard.”

I did pretty well summing up my role as the marketing and public relations manager for Visit Bend. My job is to plant hundreds of little fishing lures designed to reel visitors to the outdoor playground of the West with blog posts, brochure copy, web content, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, and wooing journalists to write about us.

Not a bad gig, really.

The process of summing up what I do 24 hours a week at the day job got me wondering how I’d describe the remaining 168 hours I wear my author hat. It’s a question I get at nearly every public speaking engagement – what does your writing routine look like?

Delete the word routine and writing, and you’re on the right track.

People are often surprised to learn how little of a published author’s time is spent writing books. Sure, I write blog posts and promotional copy. I write the occasional new scene in contracted books as I move through the editing channels. I write emails to my agent, editor, critique partners, court mandated psychiatrist, publicist, and various readers and bloggers who write to me.

But new material designed to go in a brand new book written from scratch?

The last time I did that was in early January. Almost nine months ago.

Is that scary to anyone besides me?

I don’t know if that’s unusual for an author in her debut year, but I suspect it isn’t. True, my debut year has been packed with major life events like divorce and adapting to new housemates and a surprising new relationship and a top secret new project I promise I’ll be allowed to announce any day now.

But still, what author doesn’t have a personal life? We all struggle to balance everything, and it’s a sad fact that actual writing often gets shortchanged.

I’m comforted to realize I’m literally salivating with eagerness to start writing something new. The drool pooling in the keyboard makes those cookie crumbs very difficult to remove. The fact that I haven’t lost my passion for it bodes well for my continued love of writing, even if I haven’t had the chance to pour myself into it for awhile.

If you’re a writer, how much time do you devote per week to crafting brand new scenes for brand new books? If you aren’t a writer, are you surprised to learn how little of an author’s time is spent doing that? Please share!

And seriously, let me know if you’ve got a hint for those crumbs in the keyboard. I don’t think my tongue is long enough.


Nicole Basaraba said...

For the cookie crumbs:

Lift keyboard off desk, flip over and bang it hard a few times. Crumbs should fall onto desk for easy tounge vacumming.

Nicole Basaraba said...

For the cookie crumbs:

Lift keyboard off desk, flip over and bang it hard a few times. Crumbs should fall onto desk for easy tounge vacumming.

Nicole Basaraba said...

For the cookie crumbs:

Lift keyboard off desk, flip over and bang it hard a few times. Crumbs should fall onto desk for easy tounge vacumming.

Sarah W said...

I don't know exactly how much time I spend writing new stuff, but I currently have a shoulder bag crammed full of scribbled scenes on scratch paper, envelopes, bad photocopies, old library catalog cards, meeting agendas, torn-off legal pad paper, and, I think, a Thai menu.

So my brain is pretty much engaged all day . . . or at least when I'm not supposed to be writing.

When I am supposed to be writing, all bets are off . . .

Linda G. said...

Gaaah. I don't spend nearly as much time as I'd like on the new stuff. Not even close. Either I'm going to have to learn to juggle my time better, or else give up sleep.

Since my brain doesn't function without sleep, I know which one it'll have to be. *gets out the practice balls*

Michelle Wolfson said...

It's also scary to me.

Matthew MacNish said...

This just made me feel so much better. Aside from some silly flash fiction I haven't written anything truly new in months - or more.

Tina Moss said...

*Sigh* It's awful and frustrating how little hours of the week actually get filled with new writing. But, as you mentioned, it's all a juggling act. Writers do the best they can.

Diane Henders said...

I'm deliberately not thinking of my new WIP. I'm deliberately not opening the file. It's always living in the back of my mind, but I haven't taken it out and looked at it for nearly two months. It's probably the hardest thing I've done lately.

If I start working on it, I'll neglect everything else, and I can't afford to do that with three more of my books coming out in the next four weeks. I know, sucks to be me.

When I'm actually allowing myself to write, I usually spend a couple of hours a day at it, but I have to make sure I have all my other work done first. Writing is my reward for getting my "real" work done. :-)

Patrick Alan said...

There seems to be a large gap between how often I want to do it, how often I think about it, and how often I actually do it.

Geoffrey Cubbage said...

Like a lot of the important things in life, it's all about how you're measuring it.

I write all kinds of freelance stuff -- that's my job -- so the daily "word count," if you want to use that metric, is usually huge. Lots and lots and lots of words that I was paid real money for. And that's a good thing!

But at the end of a 10,000+ word day of work it's hard to cheerfully switch over to writing a few thousand more words of fiction.

So...I guess the conclusion here is that I'm doing it ALL THE FREAKIN' TIME, but could maybe go for some new ways of doing it.

Boys, y'know?


Nicole, I’ve done that more than once! I really like the canned air stuff, but it scares the bejesus out of the pets.

Sarah W, good for you! I’ll bet your purse is fun to dig through :)

Linda G, I’ll be super interested to see how your debut year unfolds. I know you and I have chatted a bit via email about the shock of finding all your time sucked up by writing related “stuff” but no actual writing. I know we’re not alone, but it’s still frustrating.

Michelle, I live to scare my agent :) If it’s any comfort to you, you could tally up the words in all the new scenes I’ve written in the last nine months for edits on my three contracted Sourcebooks titles, plus all the new words I wrote for the “secret project,” and I’m betting the tally would come close to the word count for a brand new book. Add in word counts for blog posts and things like that and you’d probably have another three or four books. I’m still writing, still flexing those muscles, but the focus has definitely shifted to “edit and promote” instead of “create from scratch.” I’m hoping that will change soon!

Matthew, writing definitely happens in fits and spurts for a lot of us, and it’s no fun if you put too much pressure on yourself to achieve a certain word count every single day/week/month. Just do what works for you and don’t worry about how productive you SHOULD be.

Tina, I’m hoping my best gets better, but you’re so right!

Diane, I tend to do marathon sessions when I’m in the thick of writing, so I’m looking forward to a few high-word-count-weekends in the near future!

Patrick, truer words were never spoken. Or written. Whatever.

Geoffrey, great point about those of us who make a living writing words for the day job. In the average workday, I might crank out a blog post, a press release, several carefully written media pitches, and a few copy blocks of web copy. I’m definitely working my writing muscles, so it can be tough to go home and force myself to write MORE. But I do want to find a better balance, which was the whole point of me doing the part-time day job thing.

Thanks for reading, guys! Great discussion.


Jason said...

At this point all of my writing time is spent crafting new scenes. Well, maybe not, since I'm in the third draft, but then again the third draft demanded serious structural changes, so it led to a lot of new scenes.

I think I just confused myself. Um, what am I doing?

So that...and exactly what Patrick said.

I keep writing little tidbits on new documents, snippets of story seeds I don't want to forget.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I recommend the Lysol wet wipes that come in a cannister at any Wal-Greens...they are good for removing drool encased cookie crumbs from any keyboard.