April 2004 Newsletter: NINE-TO-FIVE IN THE WRITING LIFE
April 19, 2004
JERRI CORGIAT’S NEWSLETTER
News: Contest, Next Newsletter Series
Feature Article: NINE-TO-FIVE IN THE WRITING LIFE
Recommended for Other Writers
Best Book(s) I’ve Read This Month
Contest: Thanks to everyone who participated in the February and March contest—and congratulations to winner Diane P. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa! No new contests are planned for this month, but I’ll drum up something again soon.
Newsletter series: The vast majority of contest participants asked for “Creating a Novel” to headline the next series. I will start that next month (and it will run for... oh, about as long as it takes to create a novel. Lots of good questions came in!) I had a number of people ask me about my day-to-day writing life, so I’m doing a one-shot article this month on that topic.
------ FEATURE ARTICLE: NINE-TO-FIVE IN THE LIFE OF A WRITER
Every writer dances to different drummer. This is simply the tempo I follow... which often has me stumbling over my feet.
I’ve decided Mondays are Mondays no matter what your job. I don’t look forward to Mondays because they’re my non-creative days. They’re the days when I take care of all the other details of the writing biz that range beyond writing a book.
What kind of details? A perusal of a recent Monday To-Do List included prepping for a next-day’s talk at an alternative high school, updating my web site, exchanging emails with my publicist regarding a poster supposedly forthcoming for a Saturday book signing (it made it), exchanging more emails with editor and agent regarding a mid-summer conference (and registering and getting flight arrangements made for said conference), sending off a blurb for this month’s NAL Authors’ Newsletter, and schlepping to the post office to ship off (a) the prize to the latest contest winner (b) a supply of promotional postcards requested by a chapter conference, and (c) a book donation to a local library. On the way back, I stopped at Office Depot for a new supply of padded mailers.
On the home front, I also followed the normal Monday routine: paying bills, washing clothes, shopping for groceries. (And then there’s that hour discussion I had with my son regarding a particularly nasty test result that popped up among the A’s and B’s in his English class.)
Tuesday through Thursday—unless I have a writing-related commitment—are almost all writing, all day. I do not answer the phone unless it is my husband or son—who know not to call unless there is blood or the police involved. I do not answer the doorbell. I resolutely keep hands-off the internet. This isn’t nastiness spawned by an anti-social personality. For every interruption, it usually takes me an extra twenty minutes to get back into the book. And it’s simply not time I can afford to lose. Literally.
At noontime, I generally have lunch, peruse my email while nibbling, return any necessary phone messages, and then take a walk—cold, hot, or in-between. (Uh, “spread” doesn’t begin to describe what starts happening when you spend long hours at a computer.) Occasionally, there’s a household errand that needs running, too.
I’m an early riser—usually I’m up between four-thirty and six. I read emails until my eyelids are unglued and my mind de-fogged by a couple of cups of coffee. Then I barrel into my manuscript. By the time I need to wake our son, my head is in my book. I take a short break to dress (I’m one of those oddballs who thinks she writes better when not in a robe—although sweats, jeans, T-shirts, and ragged sweaters have no known negative effects) and chat with him over breakfast. Once he’s off to school, it’s back to the book for about four hours. In the afternoon, it’s more of the same until late afternoon. Depending on my page output for that day, I’ll either stop and answer emails or keep at it until five. Except in rare cases, I try to keep evenings free for family and friends.
Page output? Yep. Like most authors I know, I have a weekly writing goal. To stay on track between now and the next deadline, we have to. Right now my goal is twenty single-spaced pages a week on first draft material. Some days, my pace is fast. Some days, writing a paragraph is more akin to climbing a mountain. Even on mountain-climbing days, I keep my rear planted in the chair, figuring a few paragraphs is better than nothing at all.
The time and page count I need for revisions is harder to judge since it depends on what snarls I encounter. Very generally, I can usually accomplish about fifty pages a week. And then there’s the polishing stage... the time when I pretty up the language or make sure no character “glanced” or “looked” or “stared” too much in the same scene. I have never kept track (been scared to!) of how many times I go through a book before my editor receives it. It ranges from around five to countless.
Fridays and weekends? Depends. Fridays I often divide between the writing business and the writing itself. If I’m ahead on page count for the week, I might take the afternoon off. Or, if it’s a beautiful day, I might take it off anyway. But if I do... well, you’ll know where to find me on Saturday. As I approach a deadline, weekends can become undifferentiated from the rest of the week. (I try not to burn the midnight oil—too hard to look at that computer screen for more than eight hours.)
The above is a “dream week,” and they don’t happen with regularity. Life has a habit of intruding on the best-laid plans. Home Life, often... and the Writing Life, more often. There are those unexpected editor missives: “We need an excerpt from your next book for inclusion at the end of the one in production. Even if you haven’t started writing it yet.” Or “Editorial board just met. We hate your title. Can you dream up three hundred more to choose from?” Or “Production just notified me they need the back cover blurb copy yesterday. If you want input, prepare something in the next twenty minutes.” Or the copy-edited version of the last book arrives, and turnaround is one week. Or the latest contract arrives—all twenty-five pages of legalese—and it’s due back the following day.
(Yes, I’m exaggerating. But not much.)
It’s often a scramble to keep up with the beat, but so far I haven’t tripped up too badly.
Many of you asked for other specific details:
1. Do you have an office?
Yes. Formerly a corner bedroom, it’s ringed by windows, has a nice-sized closet for supplies, and I love it. The walls are pale blue and sponge-painted with clouds. At least where you can see the walls... I collect all manner of stuff that I find creative and fun.
2. How do you keep going as a working mother?
The same exact way other mothers do... often with difficulty!
3. What have you had to give up as a writer?
The things I’ve had to give up have been replaced by work I love to do (okay—I don’t love copy-editing or plowing through the contract or those strange email missives I keep getting from someone calling himself “The All-Knowing One,” but that’s not what I’m talking about here). The only things I’ve had to give up are spending as much time gardening as I’d like—which I dearly miss—and a clean house—which I also miss, but it’s lovely to have an excuse not to do it.
3. What is your day-to-day inspiration?
The next check.
RECOMMENDED FOR OTHER WRITERS:
If you’re as-yet-unpublished, you may still be wrestling with a dilemma I often see discussed in way-too-much detail on writers’ lists: What font should I use? How do I calculate word count?
Let me assure you that as long as you use a readable font like Courier or Times New Roman, and proper manuscript formatting (simple: one-inch margins, double-spaced, indented paragraphs, a header that includes the book title, your name, and the page number), you’re okay. Really. Honest. I mean it.
As for word count... There are lines that insist on a particular word count (the Harlequin and Silhouette category books come to mind), but a little over or under won’t matter. On single title books, write as long as you think the story requires... my manuscripts generally come in at 350 to 400 pages (TNR, one-inch margins, double-spaced). The first book I sold had a page count of 426. This isn’t a matter requiring unswerving diligence because...
It’s THE STORY that counts!
P.S. And it doesn’t matter if you underline italicized words or use the “italics” function on your computer. Editors don’t care.
BEST BOOK(s) I’VE READ THIS MONTH:
GRACELIN O’MALLEY, by Ann Moore. Originally published in trade size, and now available in paperback. I was swept away by this mainstream historical novel set in mid-1800’s Ireland. Rich in detail, packed with emotion. I highly recommend this one. (And, joy, there’s a sequel I haven’t read yet: LEAVING IRELAND.)
THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN’S PIER, by Ann Packer. Wow. Ms. Packer puts her heroine in the midst of a heart-wrenching dilemma with no right answers. You’ll spend the entire book playing “what would I do in this situation?” Wonderful writing, sharply-etched characters.
Happy Reading! Jerri
Fiction for and about women rediscovering themselves