Monday, May 4, 2009

The Work Habits of an Author

This is going to be hard because I can only tell you about the life of a writer from my perspective. There will be other authors who have a different life to write about than mine.

Most mornings, I’m up by 7:30 (there are exceptions both earlier and later), I get a cup of coffee and check email, fix breakfast for hubby who is hungry by then, and I wash dishes. Smile. Once that is done, I get more coffee, visit MySpace, Ning, and Facebook to post there or read messages. When that is done, I check email one more time.

Next, I shut down my main computer and boot up my laptop because that’s where I do my real work. Write. I may talk on IM (Yahoo Instant Messager) while there to brainstorm ideas with other authors, or my editor, but I never read email or send email from my laptop.

I re-read my work from the day before and make changes if needed, then I start writing. If I have a good two to four hours to write in, I consider that a good day. It’s rare that I can write all day, but once in a while I’m able to, and on those occasions I’m ecstatic.

It usually takes me a half hour to write one page, so if I write for two hours I can get four pages done. I feel so good when I can accomplish that much, but there are days when that doesn’t occur. Some days, I can’t get anything done. When that happens I’m really annoyed at myself and everyone around me.

Here are other authors work habits.

Author, Scott Spencer:

I work every day, from ten in the morning till I’m done with my pages. I try not to write beyond a certain point. It’s my experience that if I write too much in one day it kills a couple of days work for me after that. I like to keep myself to three or four pages a day.

Author, Gore Vidal:

First coffee. Then a bowel movement. Then the muse joins me.

Here are two quotes by James Thurber:

My usual method. . .is to spend the mornings turning over the text in my mind. Then in the afternoon, between two and five, I call in a secretary and dictate to her. I can do about two thousand words. It took me about ten years to learn.

I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, “Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.” She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph.

My belief is that everyone works differently, but we all have to write. There’s no getting away from it even if we wanted to. Writers write, we may be unhappy writing, but we’re even unhappier not writing. My husband started me on this path, and he had no idea the monster he was creating. Smile.

Author, H.G. Wells:

There comes a moment in the day, when you have written your pages in the morning, attended to your correspondence in the afternoon, and have nothing further to do. Then comes the hour when you are bored; that’s the time for sex.

Most romance authors would be offended by that last sentence from H.G. Wells. He obviously wasn’t very romantic. One would wonder what kind of lover he was. If someone has read and autobiography about him and knows I would love to hear about him.

Author, Truman Capote:

I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.

Author, Annie Dillard:

I work mornings only. I go out to lunch. Afternoons I play with the baby, walk with my husband, or shovel mail.

As you can see, everyone has different work habits. What is yours? This question is not just for writers, everyone is welcome to share their schedule.

Thanks for visiting my blog. See you next week.



J Hali said...

Wow, can I borrow Thurber's secretary; I'd get so much more done!

Great post, Sandy.

Edie said...

Great quotes! I often work through the day when I can until I meet my goal. I take breaks, sometimes for hours. LOL I'll walk my dog this morning. Late this afternoon I might go to a City Hall meeting. My page goal, when I'm writing, is usually 10 pages a day. Right now, I'm reading over an old ms. I plan to finish 100 pages today.

Rebecca Royce said...

Oh wow. My work habits. If I am left alone, and that is tough because, wow, I have two small children I can write up to 10 K words a day. This is not to say that is what I always produce. LOL. Somedays when it is just not happening, I am grateful to get 500 words down on page.
Lately, and I know this is strange, I'm finding if I'm not connected to the internet, I can't write at all.
And then the strangest thing is that if I have a really productive day (and by that I mean writing a good 6-10 K of good work, i.e. work I am not going to throw out the next day) I cannot write the next day at all. Its like I fry something in my brain and it needs 24 hours to regenerate.
This is a great post Sandy and a great blog.

Rebecca Royce

KT Bishop said...

I usually get up around 8 on Sundays, start writing an hour later. I usually have a few distractions like little nieces coming in and breaking my pattern. I'll exercise and spend the evening writing. Wake up on Mondays to write. The goal for me is simple--- write one chapter a day on my off days. While I'm on the road during the week, I write 4 chapters (Wed. through Sat.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Sandy,

Most mornings I don't sign onto the computer until 9:00 AM or so. I write until I get my daughter from the bus around 4:00. Of course there is housework in between, etc...The summer is a different story, I write when I have the time though I try to spend at least three hours writing.

Great post!

Liena Ferror

Carol Ericson said...

Great post, Sandy. I don't really have set work habits because I also work a day job so I write when I can. IF I wrote full-time, I'd like to imagine that I'd get the kids off to school, go for a run at the beach, and then sit down at my computer in my office at home and write for as many hours as my muse takes me (or until the kids come home from school).

Dawné Dominique said...

This is a very interesting post, Sandy. For me, a usual day starts very similiarily to yours, unless I'm working outside my dungeon. Hubby is usually gone to work by that time, and the house is empty. But most "days" are spent editing other people's novels and creating their cover art. The nights are mine, and I usually begin writing after Hubby has gone to bed -- unless, of course, I'm working the next day. I light a candle or two, plug in my laptop, because like you, that's where I write, too. My PC is for "work".

I have a tendancy to miss words when I write, as my fingers don't seem to catch up with brain (and I type more than 80 wpm), so I have to read what I've previously written out loud to ensure everything is there.

We authors are strange creatures, aren't we? *snickers* We all have our own idiosyncrasies in order to allow our muses to run free and be productive AND creative.

Sandy said...

LOL Me, too, Joann.

Thanks for coming by.


Sandy said...

My gosh, Edie, how do you do so many pages?


Sandy said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your work habits. I know when I have a good day, then the next one isn't so good. Good analogy of frying your brains. lol


Sandy said...


It doesn't surprise me at all that you accomplish so much. Good thing you have the little ones to distract you sometimes. Smile.


Sandy said...


Thanks for sharing your schedule. It's difficult to do a lot in the summer when you have children.


Sandy said...


We can always imagine the best schedule for us, but it would probably never happen. Smile.

Thanks for commenting.


Sandy said...


You're so right that writers are a strange breed. That's what makes us write. lol

Thanks for coming by, Dawne.


Wilburta Arrowood said...

Sandy, I enjoyed the quotes. Everyone works differently, but the bottom line is the necessity of putting words on the page. How they get there may differ, but until they are on the page they can't do their job. Thanks for the interesting post.

Sandy said...


Thanks for stopping. I'm glad you liked the quotes and the post.


Anonymous said...

Schedule -- ah yes. My ideal schedule would be from 10 pm to 2 am -- that's when the creative juices run most fully. Unfortunately I have to live in the real world with the rest of humanity and most particularly with my husband, who goes to bed at 10 pm and wakes up at 5:45 -- not a schedule that meshes really well with mine. So I try industriously to work in the morning when I'm not teaching (sometimes successfully), in the afternoon whether I'm teaching or not (also a sometimes successful option), and when I have to get something done, let dh go to bed and I work until my eyes close on me, generally around 2 am. Since I wake up when dh does, this means I'm generally crabby and hard to live with the next day.

Marianne Stephens said...

Interesting quotes from authors. My schedule varies and I'm at the computer most of my free time, writing when I can and doing promo stuff to keep up with readers. I actually like writing at night, but have to recheck for spelling/grammar mistakes the next day!

Chiron said...

I usually work through my email while sipping my first cup of tea. If there's a lot, I'll shelve it and focus on my writing.

Each day I start off by doing a read-through of the previous day's writing. Usually inspires me to get back to work!!

Great blog, Sandy!

Chiron O'Keefe

Linda LaRoque said...

Sounds like you've established a good routine. I'm still struggling to get into one. Right now, I write when I get everything else finished.
Interesting quotes you have.

Sandy said...

Dear Anonynomous/Beppie,

I know exactly what you mean about your schedule and your husband's not meshing. My dear husband is usually up even earlier than 5:30 a.m., when I need to sleep until 7:30 a.m., and not only that the cat gets me up at four to let him out. He doesn't like to use his poop box. lol


Sandy said...


Thanks for stopping by and letting us know what your schedule is like. Glad you liked the quotes.


Sandy said...


Thanks for stopping by. I'm trying to learn to do the same with my e-mail, so I don't cut into my writing time so much.


Sandy said...

Hi Linda,

Glad you liked the quotes, even those authors didn't have an easy time writing.

Thanks for coming by.


Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

Hey Sandy

Great post, loved the quotes and how they illustrate the point so well. Like you said, it's different for everyone.

On a good day, I can pound out 25-30 pages, usually a full chapter of 10-15K in about 3-4 hours. What helps here is that I know my story outline inside and out and I just need to lay it all down. I'm a compulsive daydreamer - I daydream my stories all the time. That's great when needing to while away some time at that boring wedding dinner, lol! Or even on car trips. Caught myself a few times getting a lightbulb moment while I was behind the wheel on the deserted motorway, but gotta reign that in.

On a typical day, I wake up at 5 to get the kid ready for school and out of the house by 8.45. Come back home at 8.30, head straight for the PC where I catch my email, Facebook, blogs I follow, etc. Do that stuff until 11 (and don't forget to add the daily 20-mins call from my mom in there!) and then I sit down with the laptop to write until 2-2.30. Then I go pick up the kid and it's the housewife life that starts, with cooking and all the hoop-la. Evenings usually reserved for some TV or reading, though I have been known to work at night too (editting). With a job as editor and also a life as part-time uni student, it's not easy to cram wriitng in there, but it's in our blood and we imply cannot not write.

That's my two, very big, cents!

EmilyBryan said...

I don't believe in the Muse. She's an excuse not to write. Writing is a muscle that is strengthened with consistent exercise. BITCHOTK is my motto: Butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard.

If I ever exceed 10 pages a day, it's time to alert the media. However, because I tend to edit as I go, the pages I do produce are usually keepers.

I like your idea of having a separate computer for your writing. It might make me more productive if I didn't have such ready access to the internet.

Thanks for a great post!

Sandy said...


You are so hyper. lol That's the only way you could do all that.

Thanks for coming by. Always good to hear from you.


Sandy said...

Hi Emily,

Thanks for coming by.

As you can see by my post having two computers doesn't really help me produce a lot, but I do produce something. Smile.

You have the right attitude when it comes to writing. Butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard is the only way you'll any writing done.

I also believe writer's block is an excuse, too. Or, it could be caused by a fatigued mind. Smile.


Brenda Nelson-Davis said...

It's interesting to find out what other writers do. Thanks for sharing.

Sandy said...

You're welcome, Brenda. Thanks for stopping by.

I find it interesting that authors in the past didn't have any easier time writing than we do today.