“What does a writer DO all day?”
Funny you should ask, because for several weeks now, I’ve been making a list of the activities that fill my days.
Of course, “write” would be at the top of that list, correct? You’d think so, anyway. And on good days, it is. On most days, I get in three or four solid hours of writing, and I feel like a million bucks when I’m done. On good days, the rare five-writing-hour days, I feel like I’ve run a marathon when I’m done.
But I have to be honest with you: working from home is neither for the faint of heart, nor for the easily discouraged. When I get distracted, I’m the only person who can get me back on track. Self-reliance is a helpful trait to have, for freelance writers. Those 37 minutes I spent this morning unclogging my pores? I can’t get ’em back. You see what I mean.
So here are some of the things I spend my day doing when I’m not writing.
Without breakfast, I’m not accomplishing diddly-squat. This was not true when I was younger, but my experience of middle age states that brain fuel is a must. I prefer a hot breakfast, too. Last week saw me eating home-fried potatoes covered in cheese, two scrambled eggs, and a big link of andouille or boudin (Cajun sausage delicacies). But there are the other meals of the day to deal with, and I don’t like eating the same thing two meals in a row. This means I cook—a lot.
I own two large slow cookers and often have both simmering along at the same time. Sturdy food reigns supreme around here. Think rib-sticking meals like pot roast, chili, jambalaya, chicken soup, stuff I can eat and then not be hungry again for five hours. I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure do hate stopping in the middle of a writing “roll” because my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut. When I make a non-Crock Pot recipe, I make enough of it to last for several days: Greek pizza, buttermilk fried chicken, lentil-sausage stew, cornbread, and the occasional batch of cupcakes. At my house, cooking happens almost every day. It has to.
In addition to my freelance writing career, I work as a writing coach and corporate communication consultant. If you’re thinking about starting your own business, I’m here to tell you that doing so is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. So much research! So much paperwork and legal red tape! So much to figure out so I can protect my intellectual property! So many ways to get (or miss) start-up funding!
And that’s all while drumming up new B2B clients, preparing to launch an online creative writing course, and making new connections. I spend time every day making calls, returning calls, writing emails, answering emails, filling out forms, figuring out fees, and writing website copy. It’s exhilarating even when it’s confusing and exhausting—because it’s my own business we’re talking about here.
Groceries, pet food, car care, the vet’s office, the Post Office, the tax office, the bank, the doctor, the drug store…you know how it goes. If I leave the house early enough in the day (by 8:30am, ideally), I still have enough mental energy when I get back home to write for several hours.
However, if LaGrange traffic keeps on screwing up my day the way it has been since, oh, August 2010, I may not have enough brain power left to do anything when I get home. Surviving a town half-full of transplanted Gwinnett County drivers uses up all my smart.
And if these people keep getting between me and my beloved Waffle House—well, let’s just say that things are gonna get mighty ugly, mighty fast.
This may or may not involve actually leaving the house, but on occasion it does. I’m out and about taking photos, interviewing people, retracing steps, or trying to retrace steps told to me in oral histories. I find this time out on the road to be highly productive. When I’m driving down US 27 or up I-85—or even when I’m lost on some dirt road in Randolph County, Alabama—my mind spins with new ideas and new connections. Troublesome knots in my daily writing untie themselves when I’m driving to talk with someone who’s the last person to do [X], or the first person to own [Y], or one of only three people to witness [Z].
And even when I’m sitting at the computer in my home office, I find research time very rewarding. Last weekend, I researched selling fine art prints of my photographs, and came up with much more satisfactory answers than I’d thought possible. A couple weeks ago, browsing the Troup County Archives’ online photo albums, I discovered photos of my own beloved Hillside neighborhood from almost 50 years ago. These photos sparked three new project ideas…and all while I was sitting at home. Pretty good, for a quarter-day’s work.
As a recovering slob, I can tell you that not only has regular housecleaning saved my life, but it’s also saved my sanity. In general, I vacuum twice a week (I have no carpets, just hard floors), and sometimes more depending on how writing’s going. If it’s going poorly, I may vacuum every day. There’s just something about vacuuming up cat-sized dust bunnies that makes the ideas pour back into my brain.
Every day, I wipe down the kitchen counters, and I wipe down the bathroom about every other day. Sheets and blankets get changed and washed once a week—sometimes more, if the weather’s hot and/or I’m sweaty. And don’t get me started on how much I enjoy ironing. That’s right: ironing. As in shirts, dresses, tablecloths, aprons, cocktail napkins, dinner napkins. With heavy starch.
For some people, this is way, way too much. But remember: I work from home. If it’s not at least passably clean, I am NOT going to be able to concentrate. The modernist aesthetic (open, light, clear, free of clutter, lots of empty white space) has truly saved me. (More on this later.) So: you live at your house, and I’ll live/work at mine.
“How many cats do you have?”
My hand to Bastet: I never meant to be a cat lady. Really, I didn’t. But people are crap, and throw them out, and you know the rest of that story. All these cats, plus two sweet dogs and three hilarious chickens, require daily care. Scooping litter, feeding, cleaning up messes, triage for health crises, vet trips, breaking up inter-feline fights….yeah, it’s a lot of work, in short bursts spread over the course of the day.
But these animals are the best writing companions I’ve ever known. They’re patient, loving, funny, quiet, and mostly non-judgmental. As I type this, Nooz, Flannery, Hank, and Zora doze in the kitchen floor, pretending not to notice that I’m drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer—a salute to my late father—with my afternoon pretzels-and-hummus snack. They’re beer snobs. What, you didn’t know? (Note that I said “mostly non-judgmental.” Mostly.)
So this is a lot of what happens when I’m not writing—and I write just about every day. And now you know.
© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)