This week my fellow authors and I are all talking about managing time as a writer. That is we will all talk about it, if we have the time. You might note that some of us have missed a post here and there. Don’t judge us too harshly. When I became a professional writer, I had no idea how much of my writing time would be devoured by the day-to-day demands of being a writer. There’s a chunk of time that’s needed to write. A chunk of time needed to work on the business of being a writer. And there’s time for a personal life. I’m lucky enough to make my living as a writer… but most writers also have “daily job” thrown into the mix. I’m in awe of people who can do all of this. Jeff Salyards, for instance, has three daughters, and that he’s able to find time for everything marks him as superhuman as any of the characters in my Prepare To Die! novel. I myself have no children, no pets, and only one plant in the house… so my responsibilities are quite low, and I certainly don’t have to worry about teenage boys eventually wanting to date my African Violet, despite how it occasionally flowers in a delicate and alluring manner.
The fact of the matter is, I can easily put in a twelve hour day of writing, all without working on a single project. I’ve had weeks where I, barring only rewrites, didn’t have a chance to work on an actual project. Interviews and blogs take time. A lot of time. And emails chomp through my days like black holes. If I have a day when I write 30 emails, I consider myself lucky that I got off so easily. Even working on my twitter is a part of my professional life, because it’s as important for an author to remind readers that we exist as is it for Ford trucks to show television advertisements, and for Gillette razors to remind you that the mere act of shaving summons an aroused woman into your steamy bathroom.
So, how does one organize time for everything? Frankly, it’s a question I wouldn’t mind solving myself. My own version of solving it involves scrambling. All the time. scrambling. It’s like all my various deadlines and responsibilities are whizzing around me at all time, like flies. If a particular fly gets too close, I’ll swat it. Smack! That’s one deadline solved.
It can be draining. There really isn’t time for everything. Decisions have to be made. And social life is the one that usually falls to the wayside. There are months where, just to keep sane, I begin to consider “social life” as being those times of the day when I’m saying hello to the barista when I order a bagel (poppy seed, cream cheese, turkey and tomatoes) or when I go to my twitter, or when I’m buying groceries and the clerk mentions I have a nice sweater. That’s a social life, right?
Let’s do some math! This is my 13th post for the Night Bazaar. They take me about two hours each. That’s 26 hours. Also, this year I’m doing a “Top 25 Favorite Female Characters in Literature” series of posts on my website. They each take me roughly six hours of work. And I’m doing 3 extra, so there are twenty-eight of them. That’s a 168 hours. Add the earlier 26 hours and that’s 194 hours of blogging. And, make no mistake, authors do have to do things like this, because it’s necessary advertising for our writing. The fact that I want to do these things does not negate the fact that I have to do them.
So, let’s look at that 194 hours. It we consider a 40 hour work week, that’s 4.85 weeks of work. That’s well over a month of work during the course of the year. Yikes. And that doesn’t count the other blogs I do outside the Night Bazaar and “Top 25…” posts, or just the upkeep on my websites, or twitter. Toss in emails and meetings and interviews and so on, and I’d say we’re up to four or five months of the year just to do the “business” end of writing. That is… four or five months of my year as a professional writer AREN’T WRITING AT ALL. And then there’s the disruption of conventions, which, again… I pretty much have to do, as part of professional networking with fans and fellow professionals and so on. I’m writing this on Tuesday, June 19th. I leave tomorrow for a convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ll be there on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It means that I have to do this blog post today, or else it won’t go up on time for next Monday. It also means that the convention, when including preparation and recovery, takes up a full week of my time. And I’m doing 6 conventions this year. That cuts off another 6 weeks of my writing time. So, now I’m up to as many as 7 months out of my year where I don’t have time to write.
Well, it would mean that, if a writer could adhere to a forty hour work week. Instead, my work weeks are closer to 70 or 80 hours, minimum. I’m actually good with that. Writing is what I want to do. I’ve proved time and time again that if I can push aside my writing and grab some free time, I’ll use that free time to do some writing.
I think the two main takeaway points here are that if you’re looking to be a professional writer, understand that you’re not just going to be a writer, you’re going to be a professional writer, and there are a lot of responsibilities and demands that come along with that. And, secondly, if you write an email to your favorite writer, and it takes a few days / weeks / millennia for them to get back to you, go easy on them. They’re trying.