One Month Update

It’s been 5 weeks since I officially started my new job as a full-time writer. What have I learned since then?

(1) Distractions are everywhere. Here’s one.

Still Life With Black Walnut

I went for a morning run/walk, and found these on the ground underneath a tree along the bike path. Although I’ve labeled them in the picture as black walnuts, my dad thinks they might actually be butternuts, from the way I described them to him. Butternuts are sometimes called “white walnuts”.

Doesn't that look walnutty to you?

Now that I know what to look for, I’ve found a bunch more trees. The nuts look like green tennis balls. Some of them are falling off the trees, but if you look up, you can see a lot more up in the branches. I’d never seen one before, so of course once I got it home I had to cut and then smash it open to look inside. When you first cut into the skin around the walnut (which is like the pit), the cut surface is green, but it soon turns brownish-black on exposure to air. Back in olden days, people used to use these husks to dye their clothes. I ended up dyeing the cutting board (I also dented it from smashing at the walnut with a meat cleaver. The shells are very thick and hard!). And my palms and fingernails. The brown spots are mostly faded from my skin, a week later, but it still looks like I haven’t cleaned under my fingernails in a few days.

Oh. I was supposed to be talking about writing. Right.

(2) There aren’t as many hours in a day as you think there are.

I had all these fantasies about how much free time I’d have once I was a full-time writer. I was going to spend 7 hours every weekday working at my computer (6 hours writing, 1 hour blogging and/or reading other writers’ blogs), an hour a day reading, 8 hours a night sleeping, and still have all the time I wanted for exercising, cooking, reading cookbooks, spending time with Donald and friends, staying caught up on my email … perhaps I’d even have time to take up new hobbies, like gardening, or soapmaking.

I sometimes manage to spend 7 hours a day writing or doing writing-related work, and an hour reading, and I’m getting better at it. I’ve also been sleeping more than I used to, and getting exercise most days. Cooking more, for sure. (I like cooking as much as I like writing. More, sometimes.) But I’ve certainly had to adjust my expectations as to how much additional free time I was going to have.

(3) It’s possible to spend 6 hours trying to work on a story without actually writing anything.

Most writers seem to set productivity goals for themselves in terms of number of words written. I don’t find this particularly helpful, for me. I’m often a very slow writer. I’m also rather unrealistic in the expectations I set for myself, in writing and in other things. If I expected myself to write, say, 2000 words a day, some days I wouldn’t be finished until midnight. (Other days I’d be finished by noon, and when I’m having a good day, and I know where the story’s going, it seems to make more sense to ride the productivity wave for the rest of the day. Why stop at 2000 words when I can write another 2000?)

On the other hand, since the daily goals I set for myself are “hours spent” not “words written”, it’s a little too easy for me to spend 5 hours clicking through Wikipedia and calling it “research”. Of course, I’m then consumed by guilt and self-loathing for the rest of the day, and Donald has to reassure me that his love for me is not based on my daily word count.

Today I wrote about 300 words over 6 hours. I did a lot of “research”, though. Ask me about European polecats.

(4) When you don’t meet your daily productivity goals by bedtime, it’s better to go to bed and remember that tomorrow’s a new day.

Initially, if I hadn’t spent enough time working by the end of the day, I’d stay up later. Unfortunately, Donald has a day job, so the alarm still goes off at the same time the next morning. And I’m trying to get by without being addicted to caffeine. (I think using caffeine to manage your sleep deprivation is a losing battle, anyway, though I still sometimes fall into the trap. It works for a few weeks, but only until you build up a physical tolerance to the amount you’re using, and at a certain level of sleep deprivation there’s just not enough coffee in the world.) After too many unproductive mornings trying to write new material while dozing off at the computer, I decided that if I hadn’t gotten enough work done by the end of the day, I just had to let it go.

(5) You’ll never be happy with the number of stories and/or chapters you finish.

In my first month as a full-time writer, I’ve finished two novel chapters, a novella (short novel), a novelette (long short story), and a short story. The short story I did from start to finish in the last month. The novelette and novel chapters were mostly written in the last month (at least two-thirds of each). The novella was mostly done, but I added a few thousand words to wrap it up. This is nowhere near what I’d hoped to accomplish, which was more on the order of two novel chapters and a new short story every 2 weeks. But it’s important for me to remember that, in the past three years, trying to write in my spare time while holding down a full-time job, I managed to write and finish 2 novelettes and 1 short story. I did spend a lot of that time working on the novella that I didn’t finish until recently, and editing/revising stories I’d already written so that I could submit them to magazines. Still. I have to keep reminding myself that I really am getting a lot more writing done now that I’m doing it full-time. It’s not nearly as much as some of my friends manage to accomplish even with full-time jobs. But … I’m not them. Maybe I’ll improve, maybe I won’t. One thing is certain: guilt gets you nowhere. Except feeling bad.

(6) Variety is good. Have several different projects to work on, so that if one isn’t going so well, you don’t feel like you had an entirely unproductive week.

Somewhere on the internet, I read that “All advice is autobiographical.”  A lot of what I’ve learned for me isn’t helpful for other writers.

My week goes something like this:

Monday–Work on a new short story.
Tuesday–Find new places to send any stories that have gotten rejected in the last week. Revise and edit stories I’ve already written (or old stories that I’ve decided suck so badly I have to rewrite them from the ground up).
Wednesday–Work on my novel.
Thursday–Novel again.
Friday–Critique stories for writers group, or for friends. Check market listings and see which magazines have opened or closed for submission, or if there are new magazines coming out that sound interesting. Work on website. Other miscellaneous stuff that’s not actually writing, but still needs to get done.

This can vary from week to week, especially if I decide to take a day off. Also, since I’m currently doing my grocery shopping on Tuesday afternoon to fit in with my CSA vegetable pick-up, I usually end up doing a lot of my Tuesday work on Saturday. (I might switch my grocery shopping day back to Saturday once the CSA ends in late October, though it is kind of nice not to have to deal with crowds and/or traffic at the grocery stores.)

Sunday’s usually my day off, at least that’s the plan right now. We’ll see how consistent I can be with that.

I’m definitely enjoying this new adventure! It can be stressful and frustrating, but so far it’s the best job I’ve ever had. Even though I’m not really getting paid for it. Yet. 🙂

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1 Response to One Month Update

  1. Jessica Bennett says:

    From what I can tell, it sounds like a black walnut to me, but I don’t have any experience with butternuts. I know black walnuts are found in New England as my parents have one in their yard, and they’re also in Virginia as we have 2 in our yard. They are often planted in yards because they give a lot of shade. But personally, I’d rather burn the house with sun than deal with the bigger problem they present, which is when the tree is over the roof of the bedroom, the walnuts drop at all hours of the night and WAKE ME UP!!! This is the time of year when they do that (late August/early September, although the unripe excess nuts fall as early as June). Two nights ago, one fell at 3:00 AM. I was just falling back to sleep around 5:00, when 2 more slammed down. I really wish I wasn’t such a light sleeper or that I could fall back to sleep more easily.

    Anyway, I’m glad you don’t use other people’s progress as a way to judge yourself. Everybody works in different ways and has different skills. As time goes on, you’ll learn what works best for you, you’ll figure out new things that help, and you’ll get better at things if you try consistently. Just continue not to beat yourself up if you’re not making the progress you hoped you would. Know when to push, when to relax, know yourself, treat yourself kindly, etc. And enjoy 🙂 But it’s true, there are never enough hours in the day for everything. You just have to make choices.

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