As Dame Alexis recently tweeted, routine is up there with home, clothes, food, and Baroque music as one of the fundamentals of human existence, at least for old people like us, and her comment makes a nice intro for a post about my daily schedule.
I’ve long adored lists. To-do lists, goal lists, shopping lists, any kind of list that turns my future week or year into neatly bulleted sense. Since iOS5 arrived, I’ve taken to using Reminders, iClouded over to my iCal, to keep track of everything from my current workout stats to my daily schedule. My need for a well-organized schedule comes from working at home, where I have no boss, and no one keeping tabs, and the temptation to laze is ever a danger. This blog itself is part of my plan to stay on track…a gesture of accountability, a public check-in to prove to myself, at least, that my day hasn’t yet fallen apart.
Because my current situation is as follows. I was a stay-at-home Dad with our son. That was great. I didn’t miss commuting to an office, I got loads of quality time with the boy, and I was able to find freelance copywriting jobs for several years. Whenever I had free time, though, I wrote novels. I hoped to have one published by the time our son went to kindergarten, because once he was going to school full-time, I’d need an accuse to stay home even if the freelance work wasn’t flowing like it used to. Sad to say, he started second grade and I was still home writing novels, still unpublished, and the freelance work had mostly dried up. But I was getting close, so very close, to getting one of my novels published that it seemed crazy to quit now (I said this, in fact, three years ago), and so I had to treat novel-writing like a real M-F job. A job with no boss, and no real accountability, and the constant option of pretending I’d spent my day toiling on a book when nobody, really, was keeping tabs and I might have spent the day napping or futzing around.
It all came down to self-discipline. It all came down to lists, and plans, and a level of anal-retentiveness that flies in the face of cliches about writers, who are supposed to be sloppy and freewheeling and not at all scrupulous about Office-Grade Discipline. That cliche, I believe, is total garbage, and I more than suspect that most successful writers, even fiction writers, are as disciplined and unsexy in their work ethic as any successful businessperson. It’s a job, not a hobby, and even when it’s loose and fun it takes willpower to sit, every day, and get it done. I learned all this by slacking off during my 20s, a decade in which I accomplished nothing in my quest to become a published novelist. By the time I hit 30, I was all about SCHEDULES.
So here’s my current M-F schedule. Weekends are unscheduled, since even us writers need a break from our Weirdly Tiring Work of Making Stuff Up.
5:30am – Wake, eat breakfast, drink coffee
6-7am – Weight lifting at local gym
7-815am – Eat again, hang with son before school
9-10am – Web (blog, email, Facebook, surfing)
10am-12pm – Work on current novel
12-1pm – Read, lunch
1-3pm – Work on current novel
3-6pm – Hang with son after school
6pm – Dinner with family
7-10pm – Read, futz, TV
10pm – Bed
That’s four hours of writing a day, for a total of 20 hours a week, which sounds kind of pitiful compared to a 40-hour office job. But it’s all I can sanely manage without ignoring my family or forgoing some relaxation at night, neither of which I’m inclined to do. I can get an awful lot done in those 4 daily hours, though. When I’m actually writing instead of plotting or revising, I can write 1,000 words a day pretty consistently. That’s about 3 pages in a regular printed book, so I can finish a solid 300-400 page draft in half-a-year. It’s a pace that I can live with, and one I enjoy. The day itself feels nicely rounded, with exercise and reading and social interaction, and whenever I manage to stick with this schedule, I feel satisfied at night, even if the work itself didn’t go as well as I had hoped.