Today's Ask A Wench question collected by Mary Jo:
"What are your work cycles? Do you prefer writing in the morning, late at night, or high noon? Are you more productive in winter, when there is less incentive to go outside, or in the summer, when you burrow into the air conditioning and might as well write? Or--is your writing rhythm all about your deadline???"
Mostly I write in the morning, though sometimes I also write in the evening. Mid-afternoon, around three, I'm pretty brain dead so I use that time to walk the dog or do housework or go shopping. If it's raining and I'm deep in housework-avoidance, and the fridge is full, I might read for a couple of hours or do craft of some kinds — usually jewelry-making. The closer a deadline is, the less these times matter. In the last week or two of a deadline, I'll be at the computer at all hours -- can't stay away from it, really.
I often write in my journal at night, and sometimes that stimulates a thought or an exchange of dialogue or a scene, so I write it down by hand. I'll often wake with an idea in my head, so I'll write it down by hand, too, from my bed. Morning writing from my bed is especially prevalent in winter, because I have a large bay window that captures the morning sun beautifully, so the room is flooded with sunshine, which cheers me up, drives away the gray glooms of winter, and stimulates scenes and story ideas. (Picture is Lady Reading by Window by Thomas Benjamin Kennington, 1856-1916.)
Nicola, back from the RNA Conference:
The first thing I do each morning is take the dog out for a walk. I go out early. I love walking on the hills whilst the sun is rising and the dew is still fresh on the grass. My best writing ideas come to me when I am out in the open air. Out on the Downs, walking along the Ridgeway, I can actually feel the layers of history beneath my feet and the presence of it all around me. There is something so refreshing and inspirational for me in being outside. Sometimes when I am in the house I feel too confined. If I am stuck on a point of plot or uncertain which direction my characters are going to take, I’ll put on my walking boots and set off for the hills.
When I get back at about 9am I’ll make a cup of tea and settle down to my writing. I write best in the morning. My study has big windows looking out over our garden and the fields beyond. This is a problem because the view is so wonderful and frequently distracts me. In the summer I have the long windows open so that it is almost like working outside. I find I do work better in the summer; I feel more alert and fresh, whereas in the winter when it’s dark I so often want to curl up with a good book or doze in front of the fire!
After lunch I usually have a dip in concentration, so I will do something different such as reading or gardening. After another cup of tea I’ll tackle emails or articles I need to write or other projects, coming back to my writing later in the afternoon or evening. Each night before I go to bed I write in my journal and I keep it at my bedside in case I have an idea in the night and need to write it down. If I don’t, it will be gone by morning!
Like several wenches, I'm a morning writer. Before I eat breakfast I'll read over the prior day's work. That gives me time to edit and get back into the story flow. On the best days, I take my laptop into the garden to write. Or if the story is in a really tough place and I need to concentrate, I'll just take pen and paper. The Internet will lure me otherwise. Since I live in Southern California, season only makes a difference if the morning is cool. I crave warmth so if the sun isn't out, I might sit beside the fire to write.
I do my walking at lunch, usually along the beach where I just empty my head. Then I shift into editorial mode and work on revisions or copy editing of whatever book I've already finished. After that comes promotion and social media, followed by the boring business side of writing. I often work well into the evening formatting books or editing scans of old books.
And then I drop the whole mess and run away from home for a few weeks, as I'm doing for most of July!
I used to try to make myself write morning, noon and night, but though the heart was willing, the head simply didn’t function productively that way. I realized I was wasting a lot of time staring at the screen, as my brain was as empty as the taunting cyber page. So I’ve come up with a far more sensible routine, though I do find it’s influenced by the seasons.
I naturally get up early, especially in summer, so I take my morning coffee down to my writing room, usually by 7 am, and do a quick run through of social media, doing my FB posts, checking on what things I should respond to, reading a few key things. Then it’s quickly on to a morning of serious writing. I try to keep going until around 1 pm. Then it’s time for a break to do errands, or—gasp—a little housecleaning.
In summer, I head out for a long walk in late afternoon, usually to my golf course, which is on a peninsula jutting into Long Island Sound. The setting is spectacular as the sun sets on the water, and the wildlife is wonderful—there are birds galore, from sandpipers to ospreys to loons, and the family of foxes on the first hole have become my playing partners (One stole my ball from the sand trap last week!) I find walking and thinking about a physical game like golf gets the mind working on a slightly different wavelength, and it’s amazing how many plot points get untangled as I walk, the problems in a scene suddenly become clear. Left brain-right brain! It really works for me.
In the evening I’m sometimes inspired to write a bit more, but mostly I do other some writerly tasks, like working on promo for my self published e-books or doing graphics for promos—the business of being an author is a full time job in itself. And then I try to carve out some reading time!
Winter slows down a bit on the outdoor activity, though walking along the harbor in all seasons is endlessly interesting because of the light on the ocean. But the shorter days definitely are conducive to less work and more curling up by the fire with a good book.
I don't know whereas I have enough routine in my life to have a genuine 'work cycle'. Chaos rules. I would have no form and order at all if I didn't have a dog and cat to run my life.
Sometimes I'll get up at dawn and manage to work for a good long time as the sun comes up and the day opens around me. That's a good creative time. But mostly my productive stuff is done in the broad and frank daylight. Sorta expected workaday time. Going-to-the-office time. And like any wage slave I put in a full day of work before I break off. Or a cheaty 5 or 6 hours anyway.
I find a comfy seat in some cafe and tune out the coming and going of all the other folks and dive into the computer. I know it's stooopid to pay good money for an espresso and an ambience, that I then ignore. I like to think of it as my super sekrit working method. And espresso always tastes better when someone else makes it.
Mary Jo now:
Reading of the beautiful walking spots several of my sister Wenches have is giving me serious walking envy! I get my exercise by going to Curves three mornings a week where I perform gerbil-like activities to prevent the aches and pains of too much computer time.
I'm nocturnal by preference and am slow to start the day. Give breakfast to everyone, whether two or four footed. (The four footers get fed first. Always.) Amble up to the computer with coffee and ice water so I can check the e-mail, see what's up with the world, answer anything that needs answering. Some mornings go to Curves and errands, others start working directly. Evening is a good time for me, (But I do waste a fair amount of time through the day, alas.)
This changes under deadline pressure. Then I start using my Dana, an electronic keyboard with no internet which I've found is good for drafting text. (This works well as long as I know where I'm going in the story.) Later in the day I edit it into my manuscript, making changes and usually lengthening. Generally I knock off about midnight. Yep, me and the owls! I like working in the winter, cozily inside, but in recent years all my deadlines have been at the end of summer. I do what I must do! (Research assistant PandaMax to the right on my desk.)
So what are work cycles? What do you prefer, and does life allow you that or you have to work at odds with your preferences? Any more night owls like me??
Mary Jo, adding another gorgeous picture from Andrea/Cara.