Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Day In My Writing Life

You know those people who diligently adhere to an implacable schedule? Who get up at the same time every day, do their jobs or others tasks in an efficient order of events, eat at regular times, and go to bed in time to do the same thing the next day? I am so not like that.

Oh, I fantasize about being like that. I make plans and lists and detailed schedules. But then something invariably throws me off--staying up until 2:00am searching for cheap flights to Buenos Aires, an email that takes forty minutes to compose, a blog post I forgot to write ahead of time....

In my writing schedule, there is only one consistent and constant thing:


(Okay, not necessarily at Starbucks, it can be a Panera or an independent coffee shop or anywhere with caffeinated beverages and comfy chairs. But it's usually a Starbucks, because there's one next door.)

Here's how a day in my writing life goes:

1. Walk inside. Scope out my comfy chair. (I'm very picky about this, and of the four comfy chairs at my Starbucks, only two are suitable.) If someone is in my comfy chair when I arrive, then I set my stuff at a nearby seat so I can pounce as soon as it's available.

2. Order my first drink of the day. What I get depends on my mood and the day. If I'm feeling blah, I'll get a frappuccino. If I'm feeling budget- and calorie-conscious, I'll get an iced coffee with toffee nut flavor. If it's cold, I'll get a soy chai latte.

3. Sit down (hopefully in comfy chair) and pull out all my stuff. When I'm writing something new, this includes any or all of the following: alphasmart (indestructible word processor), sprial-bound, pencil case, post-its, index cards, iPod shuffle, academic year planner/calendar. When I'm revising, my kit is the same except I bring my laptop instead of my alphasmart.

4. Put on headphones. This is a necessity whether I'm listening to music or not--it discourages people from talking to me (interrupting my work) and, if they're brazen enough to talk anyway, I can pretend like I don't hear them. (I know, I'm awful, but my concentration is very fragile. I protect it vehemently.)

5. Spend far too long looking at my calendar, making notes and lists of what I need to do when. (This is pure procrastination!) If I got stuck in a scene last time or if I'm not sure how to begin today, I'll spend a little time with my spiral-bound, brainstorming and trying to figure out what's working. (This is only slightly procrastination.)

6. Finally put aside the calendar and the spiral-bound and get to work. I'll spend anywhere from two to six hours writing--any longer and my brain begins to melt. This usually involves at least one more beverage, at least one trip to the ladies (leaving everything but my purse and alphasmart/laptop to stake my claim on the comfy chair). This also usually involves a lot of day-dreaming, staring out the front window, and making notes about interesting people.

(The staff at my Starbucks is convinced that I'm writing about them, but they're fairly normal. Nothing compared to some of the customers!)

7. When my brain/bladder/sleeping backside has finally had enough, I pack it up and head home.

So there you have it. My typical writing day. And, if nothing sets my schedule into a tailspin, I'll start over with the same thing the next.

OH. MY. GODS. -- Dutton, available May 1st!


TinaFerraro said...

Wow--TLC, while you MUST write at a coffee shop, I have never written there. I used to write all the time at work (covertly, in fact I did a blog on that) but I've never tried another public place. I do believe that a laptop is in my immediate future, however, so I'll probably have to give it a go...

We're in official countdown mode 'til May 1, right?

Steph said...

Hahaha do the coffee shop people know you by name?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such an insightful post. It's a lot of fun reading about the writing idiosyncrasies of published authors :o)

I have a couple of questions though, provided you have time to answer them of course:

Do you never feel any compulsion to leave the coffee house after a short while? I own an AlphaSmart (which I love to death) and as a student, albeit a mature one, I also hang about in a good number of coffee houses (although not Starbucks as I'm not a fan :o)). However as much as I'd love to stay and write all day, I'm compelled to leave within 30-60 mins as I feel as though I've overstayed my welcome. I'd love to do what you do, when I have the time and opportunity but I just couldn't.

What about the staff? Do they never hound you to pack up and leave? I know you wrote that the staff in Starbucks feel as though you are writing about them, but even so there's no sense of them trying to push you out of the door.

Anyway keep up the good work Tera. You come across as impeccably organised and that's inspiring for all of us wannabes :o)

stephhale said...

It's so weird how different every writers habits are. I cannot write unless it is absolutely quiet and no one is around. I wish I had your habits, TLC. I'd get a lot more writing done!

Heather Davis said...

Tera, you and I are coffe shop sisters! I follow almost the same MO as you do. The earphones are a total must -- and it is better if you go somewhere you're not going to see people you know, because (at least for me) you feel like you should say hi, but then they start asking about your work and then you end up gabbing and losing writing time. Totally your own fault -- not theirs!

Anyway, here's to coffee shop writing. Although I do quite a bit of work at home, the coffee shop is a good spot. I never feel guilty about staying nearly 2 hours -- I just make sure I always tip generously when I order my drink.



Me said...

Tina--18 Days!!!

X--Yes, sadly, they do. They try to know my drink, too, but I change it up all the time.

Steph--If I try to write in silence, I get too distracted by every little noise.

Heath--Yay, coffee shop writers (if the Beatles were writing songs today...)

Robert--Oh, I got over my fear of annoying the baristas ages ago. I figure my 1-2 drink a day habit is good for their bottom line. Plus, I like think it raises their cool factor to have an author writing in their shop. =) I've written in countless coffee shops in tons of different places (Las Vegas, Oklahoma, Boston, Houston) and I've never been hounded by a staff member. I wouldn't worry about it. As long as you're consuming more than water and not, say, taking up three tables during the lunch rush, they shouldn't complain.

Unknown said...

I envy writers like you. I would so much rather be artsty and hip and work on a laptop at a cafe (or cafe-like chain). Alas, I can't focus on anything writing-related if I'm not at my home-office desk (although even then it's a challenge!)--nor can I type on a laptop keyboard. I guess I'd get used to it...but I don't know how people at the local Coffee Bean would feel about me sitting there in my pajamas. :) XO

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

If any objects, I suggest mentioning that the Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh is getting a lot of mileage out of the fact that J. K. Rowling used to sit there are write the early HP books. So if you should ever get that famous... :-)

Robb said...

From what I've heard about the AlphaSmart, I'll have to get one soon. I can splash out a paragraph of text on a keyboard a LOT faster than I can write/print my name and mailing address. Thanks to Eolake for bringing the AlphaSmart NEO into my realm of interest.