I never want to discourage anyone from pursuing a career in writing. I'm a big fan of "following the impossible dream," particularly after a few well-intentioned friends told me--in absolute seriousness and sincerity--that I needed to give up on "this publishing thing" back in the day. That being said, I'm also a big advocate of people understanding what a writing career entails. One thing I'm constantly explaining is that once you've signed a contract with a publisher, you have the same responsibilities as any job. You can't just write when you feel like it, anymore than you can show up for an 8-5 job when you feel like it. Sad, but true.
Another thing I've recently been talking about is how a huge part of an author's job isn't actually writing a book. Days when I have nothing to do but write a fresh manuscript are few and far between--and wonderful when they happen. When I made this comment, it triggered questions from some: what exactly am I doing if not writing?
Let's take a look at the things that take up an author's work day.
1. Revising, editing, and proofing the previous book
It never fails. I'll be a few chapters into writing a new book, getting really excited about some awesome plot point...and bam! The manuscript I thought I'd finished a month ago literally shows up on my doorstep, marked up with comments and corrections from my editor--that need to be dealt with ASAP. Trufax: in the 9-month cycle of start to publication for a book, it takes me about 2 months to write the first draft and at least 4 more to revise it. There's no such thing as a perfect first take. Revision is a huge part of the process, and it's not nearly as fun as pure writing. Revision is surgical, involves problem solving, and requires re-reading something over and over. It's not always enjoyable, but it's sooo necessary. I've written some terrible first drafts, and my excellent editors are there to catch me on it. I'm not talking about typos either. I'm talking about things like, "This chapter contradicts the rest of the book." Fixing something like that is a lot of work, and although the editor helps find the problem, it's on me to find the solution. I can't emphasize again how essential revisions are, but man, it's wearying continually going over an old manuscript when you just want to move on. Remember that exciting plot point I mentioned earlier? Revisions can delay me a few weeks in getting back to it, and then I probably only have another few weeks to work on the new project until the next round of revisions from the old one show up. It's a juggling act.
2. Promo and marketing - everyday
Lots of authors have big internet presences these days, no matter how famous or unfamous. We're active on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and whatever other trendy sites du jour are all the rage. Most of the time, this isn't difficult. In fact, for some people, the difficult part is limiting what they say on Facebook and Twitter. But still, if you know you have readers hoping for an update, you have to keep that in mind and post accordingly. If a few days have gone by without a word from you, it's good to let readers know you're still alive--preferably with something a little more compelling than what you had for breakfast. Blogging takes up even more time (this post will take me an hour, which is 1000 words in a manuscript) but is such a great way to connect with readers that it's well worth it. Website maintenance is something else that needs to be rolled into this category. Even if you aren't updating your own site like I am with ~1995 HTML skills, you still need to periodically keep in touch with your web designer and send them relevant updates.
3. Promo and marketing - the unusual
The stuff I mentioned above are the typical, day-to-day things authors stay on top of. But, every so often, other promo and marketing opportunities come up, and it's really hard to turn them down. If you want to be a professional writer, expect to be involved in promo and marketing a lot--again, no matter how famous or unfamous you are. This week, my Australian publisher sent a small team to Seattle to film a series of videos promoting my August books. It was a lot of fun, and I think readers are really going to love the finished product. It was also 3.5 days out of my writing time--or about 12-15k words lost. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. Meanwhile, down in my living room, I have a box of 2000 Bloodlines title pages that all need my autograph. They'll eventually be bound into finished books for promotional reasons. A very cool thing--but it's time I need to account for in my schedule.
4. Communicating with other people
What a pain! Shouldn't I be allowed to exist in isolation to pursue my art? Nope. Some of this communication overlaps with promo. Writers are always periodically doing some sort of outreach, be it an interview or guest blog. Maybe it's a quick Q&A with a book blogger. Maybe it's a phone interview with a major publication. Regardless, it's time when you aren't writing. Email is the other beast in this category. Living on the west coast means that everyone in publishing has a 3-hour lead on me when I get up, so I often wake to an inbox full of messages from my agent and book companies--not to mention readers. It can take me a couple hours each day to get through all that.
Whether it's a full-fledged city-a-day book tour or just a weekend conference, getting out in the world can eat up writing time too. Some authors can actually roll into their hotel rooms at midnight and still knock out 10 pages after a long day. Not me. After a long day, I roll into my hotel room and go to sleep and have to figure out the words when I get home. I love travel and meeting readers so much, though, that it's totally worth it.
6. Personal life
No, really. And I don't just mean fun stuff. I mean the daily things that take up anyone's time. Here's a sad but true fact: if you're a full-time writer with a spouse or partner who works outside the home, a lot of errands/tasks will fall to you. This has nothing to do with gender, relationship inequality, or anything like that. It's just reality. For example, if you're getting some major household repair done, who's going to be the one to talk to the workers and hang around while the work is done? Is your partner going to come home from his/her job 10 miles away? Or will you do it since you're already in the house and it'll "only" take an hour? Most likely, the latter. And again, it's not about inequality. It's just doing what makes sense for you guys, but those hours here and there will nick away at your schedule. Kids, sick time, and a million other things all play into this too.
I always feel so cruel and pessimistic after writing posts like these--or like I'm trying to elicit pity for this job. I'm not. Let me reiterate what I said earlier: I don't want to discourage anyone from being a writer. I just want the realities out there. If you've gone through this list, there probably isn't any one thing that seems like a huge time sync. And really, none of them are. It's the culmination of them that adds up and leaves you wondering, "When was the last time I spent the day writing?" I also want to reiterate that I don't hate any of these things. I love my job and am grateful to have it. I love travel, doing cool promo projects, polishing a book to perfection, talking to readers, working with my publisher, and all of the other necessities of this job. Really, they're what make this such an enjoyable profession. I'd probably be bored if I just wrote from sunrise to sunset with nothing else to do. Most importantly, these things also ensure I continue to have a profession.
So, yes. Just keep these in mind as you embark into the wide, wonderful world of authordom. Because once you sign a contract with a publisher that says you will turn in your next manuscript by such-and-such date, that date becomes your lord and master. All these other things will try to get between you and it, but you can manage it all. Just keep your eye on your scheduling--and don't stay on Twitter too long.