Mark Terry

Monday, November 06, 2006

It Ain't Nine to Five

November 6, 2006
My first year freelancing I pretty much worked nine to five, give or take. I'm typically up about 6:30 and around 7:15 or so I hit the office and check e-mail, make sure I've got the day's to-do list up-to-date and touch on a variety of blogs if I've got time.

Then, after getting my youngest off to school and walking Frodo, I'm usually at my desk by 9:00 with a cold caffeinated beverage awaiting inspiration.

Then around the beginning of the second year I started going to the gym in the mornings around 10:30 or so, and I tended to work a little longer in the day to make up for the time.

And if necessary I'd work in the evenings. Usually evening work was for interviews with sources on the west coast, although sometimes I would find myself proofing galleys or editing the journal I edit. Then weekends, off and on, depending on what's been going on.

The last 6 months or so I was working a lot later, until 6:00 or later, and often put in anywhere from 4 to 12 hours on the weekends. This was because I was working on a nonfiction book, the "Laboratory Industry Strategic Outlook 2007" and I got a slow start on it, plus I had other work to do as I worked on that.

Well, I'm more or less done with the LISO2007 (we're copyediting and proofing it, but it's almost to the printer) and I had a couple other projects to finish, and low and behold, last Friday I hit 3:00 and thought, "There's work to do, but nothing pressing, so why don't you take the afternoon off."

So I did.

Then later that evening I got an unexpected galley. In other words, a galley for the journal I edit came a couple days early. And my editor at Midnight Ink wants a synopsis of THE SERPENT'S KISS for the sales staff by the end of the month. So Saturday I spent a couple hours working on the synopsis and on a novel and on Sunday, despite myself, I worked on the 2nd galley of the journal issue.

Which makes a sort of sense, actually. Today I needed to drive into Clarkston to get my blood drawn (fasting) and I know they always make me wait (35 minutes today), and then I was going to hit the gym, and tomorrow I know I have an eye doctor follow-up and I want to go visit some bookstores on the east side.

Most of the time this writing gig resembles a 9 to 5 job, or at least as much as I can make it so. Sometimes it requires more--much more--and voila, sometimes less. I commented to my sons' guitar teacher when we were setting up their summer schedule that, "Well, I'm self-employed, so my schedule is flexible, in theory." He laughed at the "in theory" part and said he knew what I meant.

It's true I don't punch a clock, but I'm not alone in finding that I need a pretty regular schedule in order to get things done. And also, because I don't have a line-of-sight supervisor (thank God) to make me feel guilty, I can get distracted by things like blogs and websurfing and e-mail and whatever.

Periodically over the years I've read a day-in-the-life accounts by various writers and novelists, and what strikes me most about them is how unlike writers on TV they are--no sipping wine at the outdoor cafe all afternoon, smoking ciggies with your compadres, and having affairs with beautiful women by riverbanks. Most writers who make a living at it, both fiction and/or nonfiction more closely resemble galley slaves chained to their fricking oars, pulling their brains out while Donny the Debt Collector lashes their back with a cat-o-nine-bills. ("Don't rock the boat, baby, don't tip the boat over...")

Back when I was a tiro writer, I often wondered what novelists did with their time? I mean, I was working fulltime with a long commute, had a wife and kids and still wrote about a novel a year, so what did a fulltime novelist do with his time when he only wrote a book a year?

Well, they're pretty rare anyway, but I find that most of the bestsellers I've met and interviewed, like Harlan Coben and John Sandford and Michael Connelly and Barry Eisler and Vince Flynn and Gayle Lynds spend a tremendous amount of time in research and promotion and the business aspects of the job, which if you're at that level can involve interviews, going over contracts from a dozen different publishers around the world, and in the case of Sandford, Connelly, Flynn and Lynds, all have at one time or another done scriptwriting of some sort for TV shows, or consulted with TV producers; Barry Eisler travels to all the locations in his books, as does Vince Flynn.

I think it's a good idea if one of the concepts aspiring novelists lose is the idea that once they've "hit it big," they'll be working a couple hours a day and lounging by the pool the rest of the time. Well... at least most of the time.

As for me, well, maybe someday.

Best,
Mark Terry

9 Comments:

Anonymous spyscribbler said...

... while Donny the Debt Collector lashes their back with a cat-o-nine-bills.

Hah! Hey, I know him! Self-employed means it never, ever stops. And you're never done. I write-work every second I'm not working, and I even write-work when I am working. And my day job is self-employment, too, so that never stops, either. Heck, I even read in bed, and listen to my characters converse when in the shower.

I remember an insane urge to clear my desk at the end of every day, when I worked in an office. I don't think I've "finished" everything for years now. But then, there's the freedom to say, "Hey, next week ... wanna go on vacation for three days?"

Ya gotta make up the work, but ... you still get to go!

1:06 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I'm due, too, I think. Maybe at Thanksgiving...

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Early on in my freelancing career I decided not to fill out a time card for myself! When you're available for work, and sometimes do work, any particular hour of every day, it's hard to estimate how much time is spent compared to a five day 9 to 5 job, which no one has anymore come to think of it. Then too, a lot of time is wasted at the office. Some on things like coffee breaks and a lot more on stuff like meetings and reading memos.

One good thing about working at home, I get interrupted a lot less than when I worked in an office. But then, my kids are grown!

I have noticed that over the years I've drifted toward doing more work in the evenings and even at night. I always considered myself an early bird sort whose best working time was the morning but there are days when I don't get going until the morning is over but am still plugging away at 11 pm.

It is great not to have to adhere to a schedule. If I were not writing a bit of fiction and only doing legal articles, working freelance on my own schedule would still be infinitely preferable to the office.

Mind you, if I had to spend half my time doing public appearances and looking at contracts I'd prefer to write legal articles.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Eric,
Well, I'm fairly certain that much of my schedule is dictated by the fact I have kids in the house, so I get up at 6:30 in order to get them off to school, etc. In the summer I get up a bit later, but still keep to a "normal" schedule.

I'm not sure what I'll do once they're out of the house. Probably a lot would have to do with what my wife's schedule is.

In terms of body clock, I've never been much of a morning person, and I note with some amusement that my schedule as described has apparently created an "internal" shift so I don't actually do much work in the morning. I check e-mail, I read blogs, then I work on fiction or whatever is pressing for about an hour, then, oh, well, off to the gym, run errands, have lunch, walk the dog, and then I really settle down for 5 or 6 hours in the afternoon for my most productive period.

4:41 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

It's a dirty little secret that most of the wealthy people in this country got there by busting their behinds. Writers aren't in a special category. Once you've reached the mountaintop, there's a whole bunch of goats looking to knock you off. The hard work has only just begun.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Ron,
I think so. God knows I thought all I had to do was finish a novel and someone would pay me big bucks for it when I started this gig way back when.

Now I view it as pretty hit-and-miss where hard work and a little talent will take you far, but to take you to the top you're going to need more than a little bit of luck.

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