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How to Write Full Time...and Stay SANE


posted by Lucy V Morgan

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Writing full time is awesome. It's a privilege and very cool--let's just get that out of the way. But it can also make you feel lonely and isolated; it can leave you wallowing in an abyss of melodramatic (but still crap) self-doubt. And it sure does make you fat. Doesn't sound like so much of a winner now, hmm?!

There are more and more of us writing full time from home since self-publishing and the ebook boom took off. Some of us are also working around our children. There are a lot of tips around on how to achieve work/life balance and how to cope with the huge output now required in order to make a living, but I want to get a little more specific. I want to tell you how to apply these things so they'll actually help.


In order to cope, you need to LOOK AFTER YOUR BODY AND YOUR BRAIN. And still find time to write, obviously. Here's how I (just about) manage it...


1) Do not sit at a desk! 

You're a writer; you spend a lot of time on your arse. That's just the nature of the beast. But all that time spent cramped over a desk is no good for your posture or back. Even with a good desk chair, you're still being pretty hard on your lower legs, and you may find that they end up feeling heavy or swollen after a long stretch of writing. Solution: find a way to elevate your legs, whether you sit in a comfortable armchair and use a footstool, or you sit on a bed with a good mattress, propped up by plenty of pillows. (Yes, I know this is useless advice for those of you with desktop computers...but it doesn't make it any less true). Your body will thank you for this.

Also, slightly off-topic but with regards to computers and typing: take good care of your nails. If they're long and regularly bashing a keyboard, they'll weaken and chip more easily. Avoid acrylics for the sake of both your nails and your keyboard(!). Invest in a good nail file (Leighton Denny make an awesome crystal one) and keep your nails reasonably short. 

2) Exercise

You knew this one was coming. As above--you spend a lot of time sitting down, and that's a lot of time for your muscles and joints to get stiff and achy. Your circulation will suffer too. But you have busy days, and you need a body in good condition to carry you through them. You must make time to exercise. And no, walking on your treadmill while you watch Sherlock isn't really sufficient. You need to sweat.

A lot of writers like to run; personally, I find it rather solitary if it's the only exercise I do. Gyms are fabulous places for people who work from home because they provide contact with Other Peoples. They also provide classes where instructors will shout at you mercilessly and not let you slack off (like you would if you were aimlessly wandering around the gym equipment, thinking wtf does that thing do? Is it from SAW?) Thus classes are an efficient use of your time. I do three a week, first thing after I've done the school run, and I swim after the class. It's cathartic to the extreme. If I have to miss a class, I do yoga via YouTube videos and jog on the school run. I wasn't always this active but my body now complains like hell if I'm not, which severely impacts my productivity.

Exercise is good for your brain, too; I've worked out more plot issues in the pool than I ever have while trying to read the entire contents of the internet over two litres of coffee.

(Also, apparently, sex counts. Even though MyFitnessPal totally refuses to tell me how many calories it burns).

3) Eat the good stuff

I'm not talking about sticking to a strict diet; we all need to indulge our vices now and again (Haribo! Cake!). But an alert, happy writer is a productive writer, and you won't be feeling that way if you binge on crap. Which is probably what's going to happen if you wait until midday, realise you only have cereal in the cupboard, and then call up the friendly man at Domino's. Again.

Solution: do a full food shop at a time that suits you. It sounds simple and obvious, but when you're pushed for time, it falls by the wayside. Don't buy a bunch of "diet" products just because you're sitting down for most of the day; they won't fill you up, and nutritionally, most of them are pointless (Muller Lights, I am looking at you. And let's be honest: Covent Garden soups have gone downhill, haven't they? They all taste the frickin' same). Eat meals that are heavy in protein; you'll find them far more satisfying than a heap of carbs, and thus you will switch off the hunger and switch on the awesome. I'll suggest a basic shopping list shortly (bearing in mind that I'm not a vegetarian) that gives you ingredients for loads of quick meals--soups, salads, casseroles, snacks.

Try to avoid using caffeine as a crutch--it's a vicious circle and your headaches will be bad enough just because you spend so long staring at a screen. How many writers do you know who are addicted to coffee or cola? I raise my hand for the Pepsi Max...it may as well be crack to me. But I try not to keep it in the house because I know I'll drink it like water. Instead, I buy a small bottle after the gym and drink it on the way home. Oh, Pepsi. You cruel mistress. Weep.

Writer's basic shopping list

A chicken (salads, soups, sandwiches, omelettes. Just unwrap it and put it in the tray. It takes less than an hour to roast. Bag up any meat you haven't used the next day, and freeze it).
Random veg (anything you fancy)
Salad bowls or bags (I'm lazy; I like pre-made salad. You can buy items loose if you wish. I literally just put meat, fish or cheese on them, and usually a little sauce or dressing).
Smoked salmon (salads, omelettes, sandwiches. It's the bacon of the sea, people, and less expensive than you think. Also, better for you than bacon).
Canned beans (cannelini, kidney, anything you like; good in soups and casseroles. Also, try them cooked with chicken, tomato puree and a little barbecue sauce. Eat over salad and thank me later).
Full fat yoghurt (dairy is one of the few things worth eating organic, so consider that. I like Greek yoghurt with honey, often for breakfast. The fat keeps you full, and your body needs some fat)
Nuts (to be eaten in small handfuls, rather than truckloads)
Wraps/wholemeal rolls etc (add meat, salad, possibly sauce; eat one with lots of filling rather than two sparsely filled)
Fruit (I like bananas and red grapefruit. You can buy it pre-chopped and packed if it helps).
Eggs (for the omelettes. Consider them with smoked salmon, or poached with the barbecue beans)
Cheese (add a bit to anything to make it 100% better, or eat a small chunk as a snack). 
Salad dressing (I like to make my own with either balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil, or butter and lemon juice. Sweet chilli sauce is also very versatile).


4) Sleep

If all of the above is looking like a metric fuck tonne of work, it's probably because you don't get enough sleep. Many writers are night owls who do their best work at 2am; if it works for you, great, but if you have children, I'm guessing that it probably doesn't. Organise your day better and go to bed earlier. You need and deserve sleep--you do not have to earn it.

5) Socialise

With Real People. You know, in the flesh. I'm guessing many of us have lovely writer friends but that these friends live a somewhat huge distance away. A bit of friendly banter on Twitter is great, but nothing beats going out and living a bit, whether it's a coffee with a friend or a trip to another town at the weekend. If all you can manage is just dawdling on the school run for a bit in order to chat, do that. Be interested in the people around you--don't always feel that you have to rush home to work right this second. Save those days for when you have a deadline.

If sharing some office space with like-minded people is feasible for you, DO IT, at least for a portion of the week. You need that interaction, and not getting it can make the happiest writer quite miserable (not to mention uninspired).

Oh, and conferences. If your budget allows, go to these. And be nice to everyone.

6) Feed your brain with culture

Books. Films. Museums. Galleries. Newspapers. New places. Feed your brain with one or all of these things regularly. Make time once a week to go to bed early with a good book; embrace the idea of going to the movies alone in the daytime (I love this); travel as much as your budget allows, even if you only visit neighbouring towns. I'm a single mum and not likely to jet off to the Bahamas any time soon, but when the holidays arrive, my daughter and I get the train to a new town and explore for a few days.

If nothing in your life changes, you'll reach a point where you struggle to build new plots, worlds and characters. Since we're releasing far more titles a year than we used to, this point is especially important. You can only write the same book so many times before your readers catch on and you stop earning money.

And finally...

7) Treat writing like a job

It can be really hard to treat your books as your career, especially if things have just taken off and the people in your life are sceptical as to whether you can really make it work. It's awful when your work is treated as an over-indulged hobby (especially if your partner feels this way). How many of us have received their first big cheque and almost felt as if they hadn't really 'earned' it?

But if you're writing full time--if your income is making it possible for you to do that--then it is your job. Treat it as such. Be protective of your working time; don't feel guilty about using childcare. And don't feel guilty because your leisure time falls when most people are at work; you're most likely making it up in the evening. I've lost count of the amount of people who tell me I'm lucky that I can go to the gym in the morning--yes, I have a convenient schedule. But that schedule also involves some stressful periods when books aren't selling, or a large dose of parental guilt because I'm working at night (even if the child is asleep). It also is a schedule and if I don't keep up with everything--running a home, working, looking after myself and those around me--then it all falls apart pretty fast, just as anyone who works will know. Don't allow yourself to be treated like a different species just because your job doesn't fit into an accepted notion of "work."


I hope all of the above helps you to be a little happier, a little more productive, and a lot more successful. Keep at it.



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