Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Productivity, or, Why I’m Not a Full-Time Writer


For most writers I know, the ultimate dream is to eventually make enough money off your writing that you can quit your day job and write full-time. This is not my dream, for a number of reasons.

First of all, “write full-time” often turns out to mean something other than “writing the fiction or creative non-fiction that you love full-time.” It can mean (as it did for me during my stay-at-home-mom years) taking on a variety of writing jobs for income, many of which are just as tedious and dull as anything you might find yourself doing in the workplace. Frankly, if I have a choice between writing quality-control manuals for meat rendering plants, or teaching English to young adults, I’ll take the latter. (The meat-rendering gig was not actually one I ever had to do, but I know a writer who did).

Second, I actually like my job, and the atmosphere in my workplace, so at the moment I’m not highly motivated to leave it.

But the most important reason I don’t dream of life as a full-time writer is that I suspect I wouldn’t be all that productive if I had all that time to spend on my writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I can be very productive at times. I write well when faced with a deadline and can produce a lot of words very quickly. I can make a schedule and stick to it. But give me an  unfettered space of time — like, say, an unexpected day off when I have to stay home with a sick child — and the vague expectation that I’ll “get some work done,” and I become a world-class procrastinator.

You could try excusing me on the grounds that I am, after all, staying home with a sick child, but the fact is that a twelve-year-old with a cold needs very little intensive nursing care. I have to be here for her, but there’s not a lot I actually need to do. No, the sad truth is that when I try to focus myself to write, I have the attention span of a developmentally delayed mollusc. The internet has made this worse. So much so that when I am writing the first draft of a novel, I use an AlphaSmart Neo, a word processing tool that only allows me to type and has no games, no internet access, nothing fun and distracting at all.

But today I didn’t want to write a first draft. I wanted to hammer a query letter into shape to get ready to send out. A simple enough task with the whole day stretching before me, you would think.

Here’s how it went.

8:00 a.m.: Drive Chris to school, leaving Emma to sleep in. Stop at drugstore to pick up an inhaler and some cough drops for Emma.

8:30 a.m.: Return home to find Emma still asleep. Settle in at computer to begin Day of Productivity.

8:31 a.m.: Open Facebook.

8:32 a.m.: Open Twitter.

8:45 a.m.: Remember what I’m supposed to be doing and open the file with my query letter in it.

9:00 a.m.: After reading everything new on Facebook and Twitter and following links to several interesting articles, remember that I’m here to work. Consider shutting down Facebook and/or Twitter so I can really focus on writing.

9:01 a.m.: Open Lexulous (a Scrabble-type game to which I am sadly addicted) on Facebook.

9:02 a.m.: Grind my teeth becuase Lexulous won’t open on our old, slow computer. Realize this is a good thing because I’m more likely to get work done.

9:03 a.m.: Shut down and restart browser to see if I can get Lexulous working.

9:10 a.m.: Lexulous still not working. Stare at the two sentences I have written from my query letter. Think about how uninteresting they are.

9:12 a.m.: Dog barks. Go down and let dog out. Sing “Who let the dogs out?” Stand in kitchen cursing dog as he barks at invisible other dog in someone else’s yard. Let dog back in. As long as I’m in the kitchen, run through a load of dishes.

9:30 a.m.: Emma wakes up and comes into bed in our room. Commiserate with her about how awful she feels. Offer inhaler and cough drops and suggest she try to get some more sleep.

9:45 a.m.: Stare at query letter. Check Facebook. Check Twitter.

9:50 a.m.: Realize I can use social networking to my advantage! Message Tina, who is a real, productive writer who gets things done. Tell her that periodically throughout the morning she must send me messages that say, “WORK ON THAT QUERY!!”

9:55 a.m.: Answer some emails. Some of them really needed to be answered. This is important work.

10:00 a.m.: Fry an egg for Emma, which she can only eat two bites of. Bring her some juice and a book. Sort and put on a load of laundry.

10:20 a.m.: Facebook notification: “Tina has sent you a message!” Oh, it says, “WORK ON THAT QUERY!!” Right.

10:22 a.m.:  Chat to Tina about how frustrating the query is and how I’m not getting anything done.

10:35 a.m.: Check Twitter again. Oh look, a  Twitter message from Tina. It says, “WORK ON THAT QUERY!!”

10:40 a.m.: Stare at query. Cut and paste three paragraphs in from old query that clearly wasn’t working. Add more material. Re-read what I have and notice it’s much too long.

10:55 a.m.: Put on another load of laundry. Clearly, if I were a full-time writer, we’d have a lot more clean clothes.

11:10 a.m.: Oh, and dishes. Do another load of dishes. Come upstairs and suggest Emma try to take a nap.

11:25 a.m.: Cut and paste query and send it to Tina for critique. She tells me what’s wrong with it and makes useful suggestions. I immediately see that she’s right about everything. Stare at query.

11:30 a.m.: Run downstairs to check mail, hoping for a royalty cheque. If I get my royalty cheque today, tonight we can buy a new computer which will be better, stronger, faster so that I can play Lexulous again work more efficiently.

11:45 a.m.:  Try to play Lexulous again. Restart browser. Try again.

12:00 noon: Drive 5 minutes to Wendy’s drive-thru to get chicken sandwich for Emma because she thinks she may be able to eat now. On the way out the door, retrieve mail, which is sadly lacking a royalty cheque.

12:30 p.m.: Bring back sandwich, which Emma eats with enthusiasm. Is she feeling better or is the sandwich tastier than my fried egg?

12:35 p.m.: Ruthlessly chop extraneous words from query. Incorporate Tina’s suggestions. Make it better, stronger, faster!

12:45 p.m.: Word count. Query is now four words shorter than it was before.

1:00 p.m.: Discuss The Hunger Games with Emma. Talk about what we liked and didn’t like about the ending. Decide to update my book blog with my review of The Hunger Games.

1:30 p.m.: Suggest Emma try to take a nap.

1:45 p.m. Get laundry up from dryer.

2:00 p.m. Stare at query. Check everything new that’s been posted on Facebook and Twitter. Chat on Facebook with one of my students who also is not in school today because of her own childcare issues. Note that Tina’s chat status now says that she’s away. Wonder if she’s shut it down to avoid distraction from me.

2:10 p.m.: Try Lexulous again.

2:15 p.m: Stare at query. Find another sentence I can cut. Rearrange sentences. Suggest Emma try to take a nap.

2:25 p.m.: Remember another email that needed to be answered. Find and answer it.

2:35 p.m.: Permit Emma, who has not at any point taken a nap, to watch a DVD now that school hours are over (house rules being you can’t play on the computer or Wii or watch DVDs during school hours if you’re home sick). Ah! Now that she’s watching Mythbusters, I’ll get some real work done.

2:45 p.m.: Check Facebook. Chat with Amanda about the Cake Decorating honour she’s teaching for us for Pathfinders.

3:00 p.m.: Send latest version of query to Katrina who kindly offers to read it for me. Chat briefly with Katrina, who seems to have a life of some kind and is not available for unlimited chat. Still, nice of her to agree to critique my query.

3:15 p.m.: Check Facebook. Check Twitter. Check email. Try to play Lexulous again. Curse computer.

3:30 p.m.: Go downstairs to watch Mythbusters with Emma for awhile before leaving to pick up Chris at 4:00. Fall asleep in comfy chair. Ahhhh, naps. Kids don’t appreciate the value of naps. If I were a full-time writer, I’d get a lot more naps!

Bottom line: Did I get something accomplished today? Yes. I answered a few important outstanding emails, revised my query, and got two people’s opinions on it.

Did I get anything accomplished that I couldn’t have done in an hour if that was all the time I had? No.

So basically, given an eight-hour writing day, I will do an hour’s worth of work and seven hours’ worth of … Facebook, Twitter, chatting to people online, talking to live people if any are around, blogging, mild housework, napping … oh, and playing Lexulous. If only I could.

Best not quit that day job just yet.


6 thoughts on “Productivity, or, Why I’m Not a Full-Time Writer

  1. LOL! some of my days look like that, too… i’m hoping once my son is in school i’ll be way more productive. right? right?

  2. I TOTALLY hear you! It seems like I’m reading about my own life.

  3. This makes me feel better! At least I know I’m not the only one that does this! Thank you for the motivation to at least try a bit harder!

  4. haha, i varying degrees I’m sure we’re all guilty of it!

  5. I feel better now. I wrote this mostly in hopes that I wasn’t alone and other writers struggle with the same things! (Well, that and to make my husband laugh, which I accomplished).

  6. That pretty much describes my days in retirement.

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