Thursday, August 10, 2006

So...Just What Do you Do All Day?

Update: I'm so glad that we have some readers who are on board for a little fiction challenge Hey, all you lurkers, don't be shy! Join us! Whatever your goal: revisions, queries, WIPs, be prepared to post them every Monday. I'll do the same.

Question of the day: I've always wondered what it's like to be a freelancer - I suspect that I wouldn't have the discipline to get anything done. What's your typical day like? How do you actually get things done?

You know, my husband doesn't really understand how I do it either. He's one of those guys who needs the structure of going into an office every day - or else he'd be parked on our couch watching Food Network from dawn until dusk, with random baseball games thrown in when he's already seen the FN show. (Oh, how I haaaaaaaate baseball season. He'll watch ANY game on air EVER.)

I, on the other hand, would wither up and die if I had to go into an office every day. I did it early on in my career, post-college, and I felt the literal life being sucked from me. Which is my way of saying that freelancing is definitely not for everyone. Not only do you have to be incredibly self-motivated (the lure of the TV beckons in the background), but you have to be cool spending a lot of time by yourself. No Grey's Anatomy water-cooler discussions (though that's why I love Television Without Pity!), no grabbing lunch with your gal pal co-worker, no happy hour cocktails with your cube-mates.

So...what's my typical day like? Here's how it usually breaks down:

8:00 - Nanny arrives.
8:15 - I head out the door with our pooch, Pedro, for a romp in the park. (For him, not me.)
9:15-9:30 - Return home, chat with son, pour coffee (YES, I'M PREGNANT - I KNOW! It's only half-caffeinated, so don't send me admonishing emails. The world is dead to me without coffee.)
9:30-10:00 - Catch up on all of the websites and blogs I like to visit.
10:00 - Cereal! Yum!! (I've mentioned that before.)
10:15 - Start my work. I've found that I write my best at this point in the morning. I start every day with a "to do" list, and I love, love, love crossing things off. So by tackling the list right away, I'm ensured that I'll at least accomplish something in my day before lunch.
1:00ish - Take a break from my work - whether the work was drafting a story, interviewing experts, following up with editors, etc - and head to the gym for an hour, and run errands afterward.
2:30 - Back at my desk, where I surf around the web while eating lunch.
3:00 - Run pooch out to the dog run for his second romp of the day.
3:45 - Pick up work wherever I left off. This usually revolves around the straggling items on my to-do list. As I said, I think that I write my best earlier in the day, so this stuff might be more busy-work than real, actual writing. But if I'm coming up on a deadline, I'll write whenever I have to.
6:00 - Nanny leaves, and I make darling son dinner, most of which he then proceeds to throw to Pedro and giggle maniacally while doing so.
7:30 - Darling son conks out. (Or so I hope.)
Evening - If my husband is out, I'll head back to the computer for a little more work or deal with West Coast interviews/contacts. That's the problem with working from home - you never really get to leave the office.

So that's my typical day. The beauty of freelancing is that, quite obviously, you have the freedom to shift all of these elements as they best suit your schedule. The downside to all of this is that if you're not disciplined, you'll shift it to the point where you're entirely unproductive. Thus, the critical importance of really having a schedule and sticking to it. This is also why I really make my mornings work for me: if all crap hits the fan in the afternoon or my motivation takes a total nosedive, and I can't manage to get anything done, I've still accomplished a lot.

I imagine that these floating schedules are the reason freelance writers get a bad rap. Most people hear "freelance writer," and they raise their eyebrows, silently thinking to themselves that what this really means is a couch-loafing, pajama-wearing, unemployed, perhaps talentless, lazy ass, and to be fair, I'm sure that there are plenty of them out there. I can't tell you how many times people have asked what I do, and upon hearing that I'm a writer, say, "oh, whom do you write for," never expecting that I've actually been published or, gasp, really truly earn a good living at this. Which both pisses me off and brings me great vindictive joy.

Anyway, the point of this post wasn't for me to ramble on about other peoples' judgments, rather just to say that freelancing requires a lot of discipline - in some ways, it might be harder than going into an office because you don't have a boss breathing down your neck. You're your own boss, and if you screw up, fail or just end up with your ass on the couch the entire day, you can point the finger only at yourself.

Anyone else have good discipline or scheduling tips? Or just want to rant about the labels (and stereotypes) that go along with being a writer?


Trish said...

To-do lists are so important. I also work well in the late morning and thus need to get through my vital stuff then or I lollygag through the day and come up on 4 pm and nothing to show for it. Plus, I need instant gratification, so if I cross something off, I'm on a high!

Mike Vecchio said...

Actually, as an independent consultant, I use a back-loaded philosophy. Whatever I can't get done during the normal hours that Allison cited, I do from about 9:30 to midnight. Knowing I have a back door like that keeps me from stressing during the day when unexpected things can pile up. Don't always do that, but I'm pretty alert during that time so it works for me. My focus usually is to be done by 6:00 PM when my wife gets home. To do lists can be life savers. Although, I don't experience the evanescent glee that you do when I cross things off! In fact, I use the "Franklin Planner" approach which provides status. Item Begun, in process and completed.

Sara Hantz said...

Hahahahah on the to do lists. I'm a to-do list freak. I put on all sorts of things just so I can cross them off - I just about fall short of putting things like 'go to the bathroom! I write in black, cross off in red. And if it isn't on the list, no way will it get done..... because I won't remember.

I love the sound of your day, but do you seriously only spend half an hour catching up on blogs/web?????

Bernita said...

I hate the term "wannabe."

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Sara-I love that you add things on just to cross them off! :) Such gratification. As far as only spending 1/2 an hour surfing the web,'s defintely more than that. I just really try to start my work by 10:15ish in the AM. But I'll click over periodically to a few sites throughout the morning, like when I'm blocked on a piece or if I've wrapped up a story or whatever. Or if I'm just majorly procrastinating! :) And then, don't forget, I hit them all again after lunch!

Aimee said...

Hey Allison,

I totally feel you on the soul sucking office - the bleak beige cublicle make me want to run the other way, but here i am sitting in one, writing you! So here's my question how did you transition from the office to writing full time? Can you talk about how, when, and why you started your career? For me that transition is the most daunting part. Thanks so much for all your insights!

Anonymous said...

Although trying to tranform myself into a morning person (and making some progress at it), I can easily relate to mtv. When working at home, non-working friends assume your schedule is as flexible as theirs and interruptions seem to be part of the daily landscape. OTOH, the evening hours beckon with silence and everything tends to get done. However I do know there are more relaxing ways to spend a night, especially with a new TV season approaching. *g*

Guess the bottom line is: No matter how your work-at-home schedule is arranged, it's still all about self-discipline.