Let’s talk about scheduling. Everyone has a schedule in their life. You wake up at a certain time, you get to work at a certain time, you probably eat lunch at a certain time, you clock out at a certain time, you get home at a certain time, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
If you’re a writer (and assuming that writing is not your sole means of employment), where do you fit writing in? Do you take something else out of the mix? Do you skip lunch so you can write? I know guys that do that. Do you stay up super late, sacrifice your sleep, so you can write? I know guys that do that too.
But since this blog is all about me, let’s look at my schedule. The full schedule, in case any of you decide you want to stalk me.
I wake up (ideally) at 6am. I get out of bed at probably 6:15-6:20, jump in the shower, spend 20 minutes or so showering and getting ready (add 10 minutes if I need to shave, in which case I try to get moving by no later than 6:10). I’m usually out the door by 6:50, 7am at the latest. I start work at 8am, and only work about 20 minutes from my house, but I leave early to miss the awful highway traffic, and to give myself enough time to fill my body full of caffeine.
“Give me coffee or I’ll kill you.” This is my morning mantra.
Anyway, I get to work at 7:30-7:45 most days; will relax with my coffee and a book (occasionally a comic, but recently it’s been the crime/action novels of Lee Child that have been filling my mornings). Then I start work. I work until 4:30pm, it takes me anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes to get home, then I eat, unwind, drink coffee, watch TV, talk to my girlfriend, and go to bed.
Hold on, where’s the writing time?
I am a writer who is unable to write at home. Which probably sounds very strange to some, but I’ve never been able to get into any kind of good rhythm writing at home. I used to blame it on the desktop PC, so I got a laptop, but that didn’t change anything. I’m way too comfortable at home to get into the right mindset to write. I can create like crazy at home, and I’m always writing down notes about new ideas or new projects, but the actual act of sitting and writing just doesn’t come naturally when I’m at home. Everything feels and reads really forced, so I just stopped doing it.
I write at work. I’m pretty lucky to have the time to do that. Between my current job and my last job, I’ve always been able to work in probably two hours of really solid writing time every day. Now that’s not a lot of time, but I’m pretty quick, I can get a lot of scripting done in two hours. I once wrote a 50-page graphic novel in one 5-hour span. I spent a lot of time at my old job writing during my down time (and there was a lot of it). I wrote all ten Breakneck scripts there. I wrote the majority of Long Gone there. I wrote all of Ghost Lines there. I was lucky to be able to get up, go into work, and write. I think that’s when my writing-at-home schedule stopped working. Writing, for me, was like a job. I got up in the morning, clocked in, and started writing.
Any regular followers of this blog might remember that back in January 2012, I was let go from my job (along with 500 of my co-workers). I got a pretty decent severance package, and basically had four months paid time off. My first thought was: Holy shit, do you know how much writing I can get done in four months? No other distractions, just pure, solid writing time? I was really geared up and gung ho for it.
Know how much writing I got done in that four month span? Sweet. Fuck. All.
I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t like I had writer’s block, the ideas were still coming fast and furious, but the actual act of sitting and writing was just incredible painful (not in a physical way) and it stressed me out and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. It wasn’t until I started complaining about it on Facebook (where else do you complain about shit these days?) that a fellow writer told me something that made a lot of sense: I was used to treating my writing like a job. I needed to get up and get out and write. It wasn’t going to happen at home.
I experimented with the coffee shop thing, hoping to trick myself into believing that I was up and out and ready to write, and it worked. It didn’t get me back to 100%, not even close, but it gave me a little of my mojo back. I wrote the Free Comic Book Day “Apes With Uzis” short at the coffee shop. I wrote a couple other short things. Nothing major, but things were getting written. I was slowly scraping the rust off.
Four months without any real proper writing was awful. I was lucky that I never really fell behind on anything, because I was so far ahead of most of my collaborators. As far as it seemed, my output was just the same. But if you’re a writer, I dare you to take four months off and not write a thing. It was excruciating. The coffee shop only fixed part of it. I still had no schedule, and it was starting to catch up to me.
I actually fell behind on two projects for the first time in my fledgling writing career. The first full issue of Apes With Uzis was a casualty, and I was profusely apologizing to both Rolf and Kurt because I was dragging my ass, but the real reason was: I couldn’t do it. I needed the right environment, and I just didn’t have access to it.
Then I got this new job, and things turned right around. Within the first couple of weeks of starting, I was back to getting some writing done every day. I started writing the crime novel. Started writing four different comic scripts. Started to regularly update this blog. Writing every day, while at work. Taking my writing seriously, treating it like a job.
This isn’t how most writers do it, I know that. I don’t think I know another writer who is unable to write in their own home. I think I would have been really successful back in the days of the old bullpens, sitting elbow-to-elbow (or cubicle-to-cubicle) with other creators. Out of the house, earning my keep.
My schedule now is pretty informal, but I stick to it: I write my current day’s blog update between 10am-11am. Sometimes earlier if I’m struck with a really good idea. Sometimes later if my real job is busy. And then some scripting. I’m going to work on a comic later today tentatively titled “NRV” (No Redeeming Value). I have a few more pages of Instinct to work on, I had a great idea for the next scene. I’ve got a page full of notes for the next part of the novel. I’m constantly creating. My brain is on overload.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do yourself a favor and go listen to “David Comes to Life” by Fucked Up.