What Do You Do All Day?

I’ve recently, for reasons of pure curiosity, been keeping track of how much time I spend doing various activities during a working day. For reasons of clarity I’ve broken this down into Planning, Editing and Writing days, although frequently a writer’s workload means that I’ll be dealing with several things at different stages. With that said, these charts show the average breakdown of a day that approximates what I spend my time doing when I’m concentrating on one of those particular tasks (although as the charts reveal, perhaps concentrate isn’t the right word!)

To explain the terminology a bit: By Community, I mean writing this blog, posting on message boards, Facebook and the like. I also lumped looking for and reading reviews into this category. Web Browsing is simply me farting about reading the news, looking at messages boards without posting and so on. Research can be looking up something specific in a book, emailing someone for an answer or doing a search online for more information. Emails is writing and answering emails that are not connected to research, community or planning…


A typical editing day

Most of my editing is carried out on a hard copy of the text, sat on the sofa with either some sport on the TV or music in the background. I usually do this for fairly long stints and then take long breaks. In this case ‘Planning’ often means taking separate notes that will be relevant for later stories of novels, such as reminders of plot hooks that have been deliberately left unresolved, physical descriptions of characters I know will re-appear and so on. ‘Research’ is often going back to earlier volumes in a series to check up on some detail or other. Some editing is done on-screen – usually after a first draft has been sent to the publisher I’ll mark up a hard copy and then put the corrections into the mss in preparation for the feedback from the editors. Later proofreading and tweaks are supplied as hard copy to the editors as they are usually written on a typeset manuscript.


A typical planning day

This is the days where I’m sitting around thinking about stuff wot I am going to write in the future. This can vary from scribbling in my notepad to using the flip chart I have to link plot elements and scenes. That makes up the freeform part of the planning process. There’s also the other days when I sit at the computer and turn those notes into a solid plan and a synopsis. The former type of planning is very casual, with frequent tea breaks, trips to the shop and so on. The latter is more formal and I’ll spend several hours at a time writing up a synopsis.


A typical writing day

The act of actually tapping away at the keyboard turning those plans into a story or novel. I try to write for at least five hours a day whilst in full-on writing mode, which basically takes me from post-lunch to the evening, often in short intense burst punctuate by short intense breaks while I catch my breath. Depending on schedule and what stage I am at, I aim to write between 15,000 and 25,000 words a week. For short stories I tend to write in shorter clumps, maybe 2,000 or 3,000 words a day, while novels require the upper writing rate.

That’s it, really. If you want to know what a writer actually does for their job, this is my life.

Black Library Live!

A big thanks to everyone – BL folks, customers, fellow writers and artists – for making BL Live! such an enjoyable day. Like many of the visitors, I think it would have been great to have even more time to talk to people, but there are never enough hours in the day, are there? It was good to put faces to some familiar names, I’m sure I’ll see most of you again at Games Day, or one of my signings. Thanks also from Dennis, whose reception by his adoring fans has only served to boost his megalomania. I caught him trying to book flights to Russia the other day; I think he wants to become an oligarch…

Watching: Caprica – mixed at the moment, some nice themes and performances, but will need to give it a bit more time before I’m wholly convinced. 24 – more of the same. Renee is clearly nuts, but can’t say I’m really hooked this time around. Lost – well, it’s great, innit? Redemption/ karma vibe, and still no clue as to what’s going on. Love it. Watched the Iron Man movie again recently and still enjoyed it immensely. Have been rubbish and should go to the cinema more.

Reading: Still on The Age of Wonder.

Listening: Added the Rome soundtrack to my writing playlist. Not found anything else new recently.

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm  Comments (12)  

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m reassured by your stats. I find myself worrying that I spend too little time actually “on the job”, when it seems I’m about par with you.

    Well, normally. Today looks like a write-off!


  2. Oh yeah, and it was good to see you at BL Live! That conversation with Jon was suitably epic. 😉


  3. now I don’t feel so bad spending ours planning (i.e. thinking stuff out/through) and not having as much as I’d like to show for it! admittedly I’m an aspiring writer, as I have to spend most of my time doing other stuff like work or study. cheers!


  4. This is really interesting. How long did you spend making the pie charts? And why did you use a different style of pie chart for each one, you showoff?

    I’m sure a lot of people might be interested to see this kind of analysis extended over the period of writing a book from start to finish – i.e., within the period of time that encapsulates, how many writing days are there, how many planning, how many editing, and how many of those end up being on the book itself and how many on other projects in the queue. I suspect that would surprise a lot of readers.


    • The charts themselves were pretty simple with Excel, it’s just a matter of entering a column of headings and the values next to them and pressing the magic chart button. I tried a variety of chart styles which is why they are probably different – it wasn’t intentional! The fiddly bit was exporting them as pictures and then using paint to turn them into jpegs for WordPress…

      I like the idea of breaking down the time required at different stages of a novel, I’ll have a go at that when I start Path of the Seer (since I’ve already spent time planning Caledor and Crown of the Conqueror). At some point I also want to publish the complete ‘journey’ of a novel plan from scribbled notes to finished synopsis, but I have to wait until The Crown of the Blood comes out for that.
      [I mistyped that as Crown of the Blodo, which could be a different book entirely]


      • If you want a very basic graphics programme to make it easier to handle screen captures and such like, search for Paint.NET. It’s not very flashy, but it’s a bit better than paint for pasting from the clipboard, saving different file formats, resizing images, and so on.


  5. You should give Spartacus Blood and Sand a look. It’s mindless gratuitous sex and violence but is way more entertaining than Lost, 24 and Caprica.

    Lucy Lawless is in it as well as John Hannah.


    • Someone else mentioned this to me recently (not least Lucy Lawless), I’ll have to check it out.


  6. … this seems much more like actual work than people would think. Where’s all the wine, women and song ?

    Another cherished myth shattered.

    Do you find what you’re writing affects your appetite with regards to food ? I spoke to various comic book writers a few years back and several of them said they found themselves drawn to different types or flavours depending upon what they were writing. I wondered if it became a sort of cycle : you associate writing X with foodtype Y, and thereafter whenever you eat Y you find yourself thinking of X. Guess the same thing happens with music.

    Agree totally about Caprica, looks good and is well acted but, ironically, seems oddly soulless at times to me, and…hmm…padded out a bit.

    I can’t help but think they seem to have high expectations from their friends too : it might be a bit awkward for a teenage schoolgirl to steal a prototype robot and then smuggle it off world methinks.


    • The only nutritional association I have with writing is a tendency to get wired on diet coke whilst planning and conceptualising; writing and editing is a more mannered, tea-drinking period.

      Oh, and hopefully the wine, women and song will along later once I’ve got some more books on the shelves…


  7. Hey Gav. Thanks for the BL Live chatter – particularly about ‘How to write for BL.’ Lots of good advice from the panel.

    Thanks again for signing stuff for me. Taking a break from Shadow King for a bit of 40K-ness involved in Thousand Sons and Soul Hunter. So back to it in the next week or so.

    On a drive back from Cambridge yesterday I listened to Raven’s Flight. Gripping stuff throughout. Posted a review here: http://timkenyon.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/ravens-flight-review/

    Nice work and keep ’em coming. (Audio dramas that is, though if you’d like to chuck out more pie charts then that’s cool too.)


  8. That’s dedication!

    This is making me skeptical that I’ll ever be able to turn my creativity into being a novelist. I can satisfy myself with cranking out a few short stories over the years but I don’t think I could ever dedicate that much time to all the writing and editing involved.


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