A Day In The Life

I am a full-time writer. I’ve mentioned that about a million times on this blog, along with noting that I run my own business as a freelancer. But today, I’d like to dive a little deeper into what that looks like on a daily basis.I’ll give you a hint.

I don’t actually spend my entire day writing.

Nor, strangely enough, do I spend my whole day in my pajamas, although I work from home and generally spend the majority of my time with my kitty and my newly acquired puppy. No boss checking that I’m meeting dress code here! Except for me, and I have my own policies about that. But, we’ll get into that. In short, this is what a typically day as a freelance scriptwriter looks like.

5:30 – 7 AM: My alarm goes off stupidly early. My husband sets it for me every night, usually because I’m already buried in my blankets and stick my head out to ask if he will. He’s a good sport. I like to get up before the sunrise to get a start on my day before the rest of the world is awake and jostling for my attention. It gives me some space. Now that we have a puppy in the house, I take her out on her leash to use the bathroom, then walk over to my parents’ house to jump on their rebound mini trampoline.

People always laugh at me for the jumping thing. They can’t seem to figure out why I do it, and it weirds them out. Simply put, this is my time. I stick my headphones in, and I work on my books. Stories don’t just show up, you know. You have to plan them. You have to make space for dreaming and talking with characters and imagination, and this is my space. If I don’t have this time, I don’t have books. Period. You might say this is one of the most important parts of my day as a writer.

7 – 8 AM: When I get home, I clean. Obsessively. I find it very hard to be creative if the dishes aren’t done or the floor isn’t swept, so before my day really gets started, I make sure that all the little chores are well and truly finished. This is also when I get dressed—no pajamas here. I’ve learned through a bit of trial and error that I feel 100% better if I’m dressed for work and have done my hair and makeup. It’s the little things.

8 – 9 AM: I study Spanish with Duolingo. This is one of my weirder habits—it has nothing to do with my career, probably won’t be relevant to my daily life anytime soon, and as much as I enjoy it, I probably will never become a fluent—or even competent—Spanish speaker. But it’s something new and different for my brain to do, and it keeps me sharp.

9 – 12 AM: This is my first big ‘chunk of work’ for the day. I generally have meetings during this time to discuss scripts, casting, story problems, or just provide updates for deadlines and revisions that need to happen. When I’m not in meetings, I’m writing. Depending on the day, I might be throwing together an outline for the team to approve for a script, or drafting a chapter for one of my two books in progress, or writing dialogue for a script. This is all usually accompanied by a cup of tea, trips outside with the puppy, and my kitty attempting to crawl into my lap to get the love and attention she deserves.

12 – 2 PM: Lunch, another trip outside with the puppy, and maybe if I have time, I’ll walk over to my parents house to see actual human people and jump. Another brainstorm session helps get me back in the game for an afternoon of writing.

2 – 4 PM: More writing. Afternoons are hard, y’all. This is when I start falling asleep. Music generally helps, and sprints with my writers’ group over text. When we’re all working, it always encourages me to get more words in. If I’m working on books that particular day, this is also where I will switch projects. 1000 words in the morning for one book, 1000 words in the afternoon for another. We don’t always hit that, but we try.

4 – 6 PM: I’m prepping dinner, listening to crime podcasts or an audio book, and taking the puppy out for a good romp before the husband gets home and we eat together.

6 – 9 PM: This is supposed to be free time. It really, really is. But if I’ve got a tight deadline on a script that I’m trying to meet, or if I happen to be feeling particularly inspired, I’ll curl up on my couch with my computer and get in a few hundred extra words. My cat usually sits on top of me, and my husband plays video games next to me, so it’s all very cozy. Or, if my writers’ group is up for it, we’ll toss out a few prompts through text and free write for a while—which is always good for creativity and opens up dozens of interesting doors.


There you have it! This is what a typical day as a freelance writer looks like—at least in my neck of the woods. This was an enormously long post, but if you’ve ever wondered what a writer actually does in a day, now you know!

Messy Writing

I have a new book in the works.

Exciting, right?

My life has been a little crazy lately, what with work and being married and working through lessons on MasterClass and possibly even working on design ideas for a new house. (Gasp.)

But, in the midst of it all, I have my own work to get done. My personal projects. The ones that, just now, matter to nobody but me. This blog is one of them, and another, very special one, is the new book I’ve been working on.

I’m wildly excited about it. It’s a middle-grade novel about monsters and kidnapped children and courage and fierce little girls and vegan toast and greasy lawyers. I have much too much fun writing it.

Since I work full time and try to be a fully functioning wife and human being part of the time, it doesn’t get as much attention as it should. Mostly just an hour every weekday, in that short squeak of time after work and before my husband gets home.

And occasionally on weekends.

And holidays, if I can sneak away long enough to pull my computer out for an hour or so.

This particular book has been coming together in bits and pieces, and it has been a solid lesson in humility for me. See, I’ve been a writer for about eight years now. I’ve written at least ten books. I get paid to write.

And yet, a first draft will always be a first draft, no matter how much experience you have or how much time you can put into it.

In other words, it’s a trash fire.

The story makes no sense. The characters refuse to do what I want them to do. The setting is rather gray and lumpy and not at all what I wanted it to be. And don’t even get me started about the theme, because the thought-provoking and inspirational idea I started out with has refused to show up entirely, and there’s a gaping hole where it is meant to be.

And yet, every day, I sit down to write a little more. And I remind myself that a first draft is a first draft, and its entire job just now is to exist. Not to be pretty, not to be complete, not even to make sense. It just has to be.

Because I find my books in the writing. I can plan and outline and think things through all I want, but once I sit down to actually write it, quite a different story emerges. The story that was meant to be. The one that is needed.

And the first draft is the first—rather messy—step to something I can be proud of.

What are you working on just now? Tell me about it in the comments!

Investing

Does anyone else ever get a weird urge to completely reinvent themselves and focus all their time and energy on a new hobby until you’ve perfected it?

Yeah, me too.

This week, it was drawing.

I can’t actually draw, of course. But I would like to someday. I would like to be able to draw and dance and sing and paint. I want to be a photographer and a fashion designer and a yoga master and a private chef and a master gardener. If I indulged every interest of mine with concentrated practice the way I wanted to, I would use every second of every day. I would have a new obsession every week, and I would never reach even basic proficiency within my obsessions.

So, I don’t indulge the impulse. I’m not an artist or a chef. I paint occasionally—and produce terrible work that I enjoyed doing—I cook for myself and my husband and sometimes a few friends, and I practice yoga in the mornings to keep myself in shape.

But I invest in my writing.

I take classes. I analyze scripts and books and stories that others have written to understand how they were created and what makes them powerful. I study humor and prose and story structure until I can’t sit down to a favorite show or movie without dissecting the plot, the jokes, and the motivation of each of the characters within the story. I practice daily, and focus my energy on becoming the best storyteller I can be.

Writing has always been my obsession. But obsessions, especially for me, are a dime a dozen. I can pick up anything and make it an obsession of mine. Obsession is easy.

And fleeting.

It never lasts.

So I invest when I don’t feel like it. When a shiny new obsession is beckoning, I’ve learned to ignore it. When I would rather draw or paint or cook or garden or learn to dance, I come back to what I know I’m good at. What I know is important in my life. My stories pay the bills, yes, but I write when I’m not being paid, because it’s important. Because it’s more than a job or an obsession or an impulse.

It’s a calling.

One I can invest in and know that, at the end of the day, my time was worth something.

Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself when my grasshopper brain is trying to convince me that I could drop everything I’ve been working on for the last nine years and learn to draw something better than stick figures so I can be an animator.

Because that’s a totally plausible outcome.

What kind of obsessions do you have? Tell me about them in the comments!

A Year of MasterClass

Christmas came early this year.

Mostly because of Black Friday, because who doesn’t love getting a good deal?

Neither my husband or I are big on gifts, so rather than running through the gauntlet and making him guess what I might like for Christmas, I made it easy and told him I wanted the all-inclusive subscription to MasterClass that was going on sale.

Now he has to play fair and tell me what he wants.

He hasn’t decided yet.

In the meantime, I get to play around with all my new classes! I’m going to fly through as many of them as I can in the next year, taking into account my somewhat limited time, and focus mainly on the writing classes, the directing course by Ron Howard, a gardening course by Ron Finley, and about ten different cooking classes, all of which I’m wildly excited about.

Oh.

And the Art of Negotiation by Chris Voss.

Because it’s taught by the FBI’s most successful hostage negotiator and who wouldn’t want to take that course??

I mean, how cool does that sound?

I’m pretty sure I can use that information in my life.

Somewhere.

In one of my books, at the very least. I’ll make something up.

I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my progress through the classes, give you shining reviews, and tidbits of information as I go along! I’ve started my first one already, and because I am a writer with a lot left to learn about story, I naturally jumped for Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Art of Storytelling’.

Because I love Neil Gaiman. His books are brilliant, his characters are everlastingly memorable, and I could listen to his accent for years. Seriously, narrating his own audiobooks was a genius move. I would listen to them just for his voice.

I’ll let you know how the MasterClass turns out! Thus far, it’s been very interesting and surprisingly helpful. I’m excited to see what else he has in store.

Have you gotten into any of the MasterClasses lately? Tell me about them in the comments!

Doubling Down

I took a couple of days off work this week.

So I could . . . work.

Extra.

Because I party hard, y’all.

See, my husband left on Monday to go hunting with some buddies and I had the house to myself. First time overnight separation since the wedding! Woohooo!

I didn’t like it.

But I did figure I should use the extra time to double down on a project I’ve been doing on the side. You know, when I’m not writing for the radio show or managing this blog or doing any of the other million things I’ve been juggling.

Yeah, I needed a couple of completely obligation free days to get some real, solid work done on it. Before it slipped into obscurity.

So I took Monday and Tuesday off. I haven’t done any serious, focused, non-radio-related writing in a while, to be honest. I’ve done five hundred words here and eight hundred there, but most of my days I get between three and four hundred done after I finish at my nine-to-five and before my husband comes home after his nine-to-five.

Thankfully, my nine-to-five is more of a seven-to-three. So I’ve got a gap. Long story.

But what I really needed was a full, uninterrupted day to get a solid chunk of work done. So at 8 AM, I sat down with a cup of tea, my trusty computer, and a few encouraging notes from my writing ladies, and . . . I wrote.

I was kinda shocked. You know how you usually carve out time to do something and then all your inspiration goes out the window and you could care less about whether you get the thing done or not?

That didn’t happen!

I was expecting it to. Just sitting down was nerve-wracking, because I could just feel the words trying to decide whether to show up or flee and leave me to drown my sorrows in tea. But I actually buckled down and—get this—very nearly doubled the size of my project.

Yeah.

I mean, I was pretty close to the beginning still, but four thousand words in one day is nothing to sneeze at. I was pretty excited. I felt like a word ninja. It was awesome.

Then the next day I tried again, and the empty page mocked me and I gave up and had to make dumplings instead, because apparently you can only have one really good writing day at a time. C’est la vie.

What are you working on at the moment? Any special projects? Tell me about them in the comments!

A Phoenix

I got interviewed for a podcast for my job last month.

It was very exciting. I’ve been working as an apprentice scriptwriter for sixteen months now, and they figured it was probably time to ask me some questions. You know, get the scoop about what it’s really like to be a writer for an international radio show. We talked about the hard stuff. The tough topics. What it takes to be a writer in a fast-paced, highly competitive industry.

Not to spoil the interview, but I got asked what kind of magical creature I would be if I was a magical creature.

I was shook. They didn’t even warn me that was coming. I had to think on my feet.

Or, you know, in my closet, since I was sitting with a microphone, two computers, and my phone in my closet during the interview. With a sheet draped over my head.

Because sound quality is essential, y’all.

Essential.

Frankly, I thought it was a brilliant question, but since I was caught off-guard and trying to keep my phone from disconnecting from the internet and the sheet from smothering me all at the same time, I answered really fast. Way too fast, as it turned out, to actually think about why I picked what I did.

I said a phoenix, by the way. In case you were wondering. Because when asked, who wouldn’t choose to be a mythical bird who bursts into flames at the end of its lifecycle and rises again from the ashes of its own destruction like a glorious representation of new life and continuing hope?

Plus, you get to fly and stuff. And have orange and red and yellow feathers, which are all the colors that I passionately love and cannot wear because of my skin tone. They wash me out. It’s bad.

Know your skin tones, people. Pick the right colors.

But after the interview was over and I crawled out from under my sheet like some kind of tiny gremlin emerging from its fabric lair, I took a little time to think about my choice. Because let’s be real, sometimes your quickest, tip-of-the-tongue, no-time-to-think answers are the most honest. And this one was definitely honest. A kind of deep, soul-touching honest that really struck me way too late for it to be an interesting and intellectual part of my interview.

Rats, right?

So I’m sharing it here instead. Because I am a phoenix. Every writer is. It’s our bread and butter, our rite of passage. Only a phoenix could survive as a writer. Because writing is all about burning to the ground. I’ve seen so many ideas go up in flames in the last year. Ideas, outlines, even scripts. The amount of criticism I take on a weekly—or even a daily—basis would have paralyzed me when I was a teenager. I would have dropped everything and given up.

But I am a phoenix. I watch my stories—and my ego—go up in smoke again and again . . . and again.

And like the phoenix, I rise from the ashes and begin again.

Every writer goes through the flames. You might say it’s an occupational hazard. The first time, the fifth time, even the hundredth time, it’s scary and painful and not what we wanted to do that particular day.

But it won’t stop us. We’ve done this before. We’ll do it again.

Out of the ashes will always come our best work yet.

A List of Lists

I got engaged last week.

Is that crazy or what? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Sometimes it amazes me how quickly life can change. All the sudden, my weekends are booked with wedding planning, engagement photo sessions, and attempting to figure out all the things one is supposed to do to prepare for a wedding.

Apparently there are a lot of them.

I need to make a list.

Two lists. I need two lists.

Okay, I need to make a list of all the lists I need to make.

Thankfully, my fiancé’s brother and sister in-law rescued us from wedding planning on Sunday and took us up to a reservoir about an hour away. We took their boat out on the lake, and my fiancé and his brother tried wakeboarding.

They offered to let me try.

I declined.

I’m happy to watch people get sprayed and dunked and yanked along behind a speeding boat while attempting to stand upright. Not so happy to do it myself.

Thankfully, they didn’t insist.

I’ll try next time. When we have a tube instead of a wakeboard. Tubes need less balance. And strength. And skill.

And basically all the things that I have in short supply.

However, watching is great fun, and so was sitting on the back of the boat when we stopped for lunch and fed the geese.

I got toasted in the sun.

Okay, I got toasted on one side. My arms are unevenly burned now. Red on one side, white on the other. Hopefully that doesn’t last long. I don’t want to add ‘uneven tanning’ to one of my to-do lists.

Any wedding planning tips for me? Tell me about them in the comments!

A Dozen Worlds

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You know what’s crazy about being a writer? Especially one with a full-time job?

The worlds I visit.

When I first started writing, I had one story.

One.

I had fragments of others, of course. But one ‘project’. One world that occupied all my time. The characters that whispered over my writing desk and tugged words out of my poor tired brain all belonged to a single story, and I liked it that way. It helped me focus. I knew what I was working on, I knew when to work on it, and I could devote my entire attention to one lovely, blossoming story that was growing bigger every day.

That was eight years ago.

Eight very long years.

Now my life is very different. My single world has split into many. I have a half a dozen stories sprouting up at my full-time job, all in different stages. Some are seeds of ideas, still needing a little sunlight, a little love before they’re ready for other eyes on them. Some are outlines, not quite blooming yet but sprouting up hurriedly, with lots of leaves and stems that will need trimming. And some—some have flowers.

But as much as I love seeing those half-dozen stories grow and flourish, they’re not the only worlds I live in. I have others too, books that are out in the world, books that are hopping back and forth between my editor and myself, books that are still trapped on my computer. Some of them are half-finished, others need a few chapters cut here, a section rewritten there. These stories get my love after my ‘official’ work is done for the day. When I can steal ten minutes or two hours out of a busy schedule. When I have a day off or a weekend free. When I can hide away, I grab my computer and add something to the growing pages. Five hundred words, or two sentences, a new character outline. Anything I can conjure up.

These projects grow very slowly. So slowly that sometimes I worry that I’m not making any progress at all, that I’ll never reach the end.

But I will. One day.

I have two stories like that just now. One with multiple books connected to it. Two stories. Two more worlds on top of a half-dozen others.

Then, there are the stories that live nowhere but in my head. No documents, no updated notebooks, not even an outline.

The stories that will be. The worlds that haven’t been created yet.

I have a dozen of these. Some of them are small still, just ideas. Some are completely fleshed out with characters and settings and plot lines that have never yet seen the light of day.

And they won’t.

Not yet. Probably not for years. When it’s time, I’ll dust them off and write that first word. That first chapter.

Until then, they’ll live on in my head. One more world to visit—when I have the time. When I can steal the minutes.

I live in a dozen different worlds at one time.

Occasionally I visit my own world too—although maybe a little less often then I should.

What kind of worlds have you been escaping into lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

Adapting

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I was scheduled to go to a writer’s retreat this last week. Three days in a cabin in Glen Eyre, packed with good food, good friends, and a wonderful mentor. Long walks, gorgeous red rocks, sunsets, and laughter.

Obviously, it didn’t happen.

There are a lot of things getting canceled just now—for everybody. Flights, concerts, vacations, work trips. Just about everything. I was expecting the cancelation, but it was a bit of a blow anyway. This particular writer’s retreat has been a yearly thing, somewhere to connect with my group, love on my friends, and get a bit of fresh perspective on my writing and life in general—something I could definitely use just about now.

Unfortunately, the retreat’s been suspended until October, so I’ve got to find my own fresh perspective.

This quarantine is all about adapting.

New ways to connect.

New ways to refresh and recharge.

New ways to love on my friends.

Lately, my writer’s group and I have been adapting. We all need the connection and refreshment of a retreat, but now is not the time to be renting cabins, meeting up, or planning sleepovers. Instead, we’ve found new ways of encouraging each other. Writing exercises and challenges over text, sharing bits and pieces while we write, and meeting up through Zoom and FaceTime.

It’s not quite the same as a weekend in the mountains, but it helps. It’s a way to encourage each other, keep ideas fresh and flowing, and connect in a time when connection feels impossible and friends feel far away.

Physical distancing is important just now. But we need our friendships and all the connection we can get just now, and that means adapting. Finding new ways to relax. New ways to refresh.

We’ve been practicing our new ways this week. Connecting, making up for our missed retreat. I’m still very much looking forward to seeing everyone in October, but we’re managing for now. Life doesn’t stop because of quarantine, and friends are still friends—even if we have to find a new way to get together for the time being.

We can always adapt.

What are some ways you’re adapting to quarantine—and loving on your friends in the process? Tell me about it in the comments! I’d love a few new ideas.

Devouring Stories

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Last week we started talking about things writers can do to move their careers forward when the next step seems impossibly far off.

Sometimes ‘making it as a writer’ seems like it’s full of huge, gigantic leaps forward: finishing a book, finding an agent, getting published, working full-time as a writer, earning this award, being asked to speak there—the milestones seem impossibly far apart and way too difficult to accomplish.

So, I think it’s time to start talking about the small steps.

The little things we can do every day to deepen our understanding of this craft.

Time to pay attention to the little things, my friends, because believe it or not, those milestones aren’t the building blocks of your career. Sure, they look fancy and they’re fun plaques to have up on the wall. But there is a whole lot of in-between steps before you can reach them.

We’re here to talk about the in-between. The practical.

And today’s practical?

Devouring story.

I’m not here to tell you to read War and Peace or 100 books in a year. But as writers, we need story. Not just our own stories, because we all know how we get caught up in the complexities and frustrations of our stories, and, unfortunately, we all have our blind spots.

Writers need story. I write for a radio drama. I spent all Sunday last week binge-watching The Mandalorian. I listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, I’ve watched movies specifically for work to better understand story structure, and I have started to be able to predict what comes next in the movie theater simply because I know where we are in the story.

Writers. Need. Story.

We need to analyze story, we need to pick apart our favorite books and movies and video games and graphic novels and see what makes them tick. We need to be that irritating person in the movie theater who leans over and whispers, “Yep. ‘All is Lost’ moment. Right on cue.”

I am not a fan of dictating exactly how anyone needs to ingest story. Books, movies, TV, video games, radio. It doesn’t matter. But as a writer, you need story. Not to listen to mindlessly, but to analyze, dissect, learn from.

So next time you want to take another step and or do the next right thing, watch a favorite movie. TV show. Pick a story, and grab your notebook. Find the ‘All is Lost’ moment. The quarter mark, where the upside-down world begins. The catalyst. Pick the story to pieces and see how it works, what theme the writer used. Write a pitch for it.

The more you devour story, the better you will understand it.

What are some of your favorite stories? Tell me about them in the comments!