How Does Gail Work? FAQ Writer Logistics

So, Gentle Reader, many of us writers whine about the fact that the single most common question we get is:

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I admit to having gotten this question, or a variation, on many occasions. My answer? My arse, if I sit on it long enough. And, occasionally, running water if I stand under it long enough.

However, by far the most common quesiton I’m getting these days is: 

How do you work?

And by this people mean the actual physical logistics of the business of writing.

For a while I was concerned by this question, because of the old adage that in a creative endeavor everyone is different. I don’t think it is necessarily wise to try to model your behavior on anyone else’s. If I tried, for example, to write like Mur Lafferty of I Should Be Writing, I’d probably go bonkers inside of a week.  But her technique works for her.

Desk set up before and after

With that in mind, you should take this as an example of one way to do it. Not the way you should do it. Alternatively, you can take it as a horrible warning. Also, I must codicil this by saying I developed this technique over the past four years, and there is a good chance it will alter in the future.

For now, this is my coping mechanism for life as a freelancer…

I have a strict pattern to each day:

  • I try to get up around the same time, drink tea, eat breakfast, stretch, putter on the internet.
  • I post to the blog, get some form of exercise usually by biking into the office or to a cafe.
  • I do business and busy work until lunch, eat something reasonably healthy.
  • I start writing between 1 and 2 pm, stop for tea around 3:30pm (which, during rough draft phase, is usually after I’ve done the read through of what I wrote the day before and am heading into uncharted waters), finish up with the day’s writing by 5 if I’m lucky, 7 – 9 pm if I’m not.
  • Then I have a podcast interview, or I’ll work on a written interview, or back to blog posts.
  • Once I’m home the writing brain is, hopefully, turned off so I can relax. Sometimes, I’ll putter more on the internet, but usually I try to switch my focus entirely away from work so I can be present for my partner and my cat, and we can do proper civilized couple-with-a-cat things.

I do not work on the weekends, aside from events and conventions. I’m 99% strict on this one. I try to make certain all my editors and agents know that weekends are sacred. If I’ve been naughty and not made my word count that week, or took a day off to do something non-writing during the week, then I have to sacrifice weekend time for writing.

Which brings us to…

I punish myself. 
If I don’t meet my goals for the day I don’t get any sugar or TV. If I don’t meet them for the week, I have to work on the weekend. If I don’t meet them over all, I go a little bonkers. My whole obsession with this structure and system is to stop that from occurring.

On the flip side…

I bribe myself. I work well under a reward scheme and so I allow myself certain perks when I achieve goals. Small goals, like having finished my writing for the day early get small rewards, a caramel or a chocolate. Larger goals like finishing a rough draft, get larger rewards, a glass of champagne and a nice sushi meal out. When a new books releases to the market I get a new pair of shoes.

Because I operate on such a strict reward punishment scheme with such a ridged schedule I have to set SMART goals. For me, when I’m on a new project, that’s 2000 words a day. When I’m editing it’s 1-2 chapters a day. When I’m on a break between projects that’s lists of things to attend to that have been put on the back burner. (Mail to answer, contracts to review, short stories to proof, travel and book launch planning, contests, finances, and so forth…)

Logistically, I have a standing desk and a Wellness Gel Mat. I try to break to stretch and if my wrists start to ache I have special support mitties that I wear. I sit down to do read through edits and copy edits.

The standing desks at home and in the office.

I keep my environment clean. I’m easily distracted so my office has to be very tidy for me to function, and if, for some reason, I’m working at home, the same applies to the living room. This means I have to budget time to clean a bit before I can start writing.

I work from an outline and I build time into my deadlines to draw up that outline. It’s necessary to the process. It deserves respect and to be counted as part of my word count. I also give myself permission to deviate from the outline should story or character require. Some of the best moments and twists in my books happen when I let go. It took me a while, but I’ve learned it’s OK to do so.

So there it is, a glimpse into my routine.

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Posted by Gail Carriger

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  1. Angelica R. Jackson said:

    Yes, an untidy workspace is a distraction for me too–it's such a temptation to fuss with clutter. Because, let's face it–it's easier to clean than write on some days! And you can see your progress in a much more concrete way too, haha.

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