Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. A few years ago, a reader of this blog asked for suggestions about ways to clear the mind in order to begin writing. I made a note at the time that this would be a good subject for a blog. Then I filed the note away and forgot about it until the other day when I was wondering what to write about in my next post. I’d barely begun to jot down ideas when a related topic popped into my head. Every once in a while, a teacher will contact me to ask if a student interested in writing as a career can job shadow me. I always say no. I can’t think of anything more boring than watching someone write, assuming I could write with someone staring at me! I offer a one-on-one interview in my home office instead.
But back to the alleged subject of this blog. I’m not sure what follows is exactly what that reader had in mind, but rediscovering her question prompted me to reflect on my typical writing day and how some aspects have changed over the years. I can’t help but notice that it takes me a lot longer to get started than it once did, but I’m not certain that’s a bad thing. Maybe I’m just mellowing. Anyway, here’s what my days have been like, seven days a week for the last month or so. I do take days off now and again, but I really like to work at least a little each day just to keep the momentum going.
I tend to wake up fairly early, sometime between six-thirty and eight and usually around seven. I do not set an alarm clock. If my body needs the extra sleep, it gets it . . . unless the cat has other ideas. On a typical day, I roll out of bed, disconnect from my CPAP machine, pull on a set of sweats, run a comb through my hair, and stagger downstairs. I swing into my office long enough to turn the thermostat from 60 to 70, flip to the new day’s page in my day book, insert my hearing aids, and grab the binder that contains the current printout of my WIP. I leave the binder on the sofa on my way through the living room and head for the kitchen, stopping, despite loud complaints from the cat, to pull back curtains and turn up the thermostat that controls everything but my office. Once in the kitchen, I turn on the Keurig, put away the dishes left on the drain board from the previous day, and give the cat her pills, her treat, and her breakfast. Next up is cleaning the litter box and a stop in the bathroom, followed by a return to the kitchen to make toast and coffee and collect my pills. Doing all that takes close to half an hour. Longer if I’m really groggy.
At this point, once upon a time, I headed straight for my office and got to work. Not anymore. These days I settle in on the living room sofa to check email, blogs, and Facebook while I have breakfast. Sometimes I spend a lot longer than I should on this. It isn’t uncommon for another hour to pass before I finally pick up that looseleaf and open it.
Right now I’m revising two manuscripts of mystery novels, one contemporary and one historical. No, not at the same time. One, then the other, then back to the first to proofread a clean printout. I work on a paper copy using a red felt-tip pen to make changes. When I’m working on a new project and there isn’t anything to revise, I work directly on the computer in my office. I don’t reread the previous day’s work first. I plan a couple of chapters ahead at at time, so I just go on to the next one and see what develops. When I come to the end of my notes, I devote a little thinking time to what happens next and move ahead as soon as I figure out where I’m headed.
With new writing, I try to write a scene a day. In some of my books a scene is the same thing as a chapter. In others, I write longer chapters consisting of three scenes in each. Either way, that amounts to between five and ten pages and most often ends up being around 1500 words. When I’m doing what I call a read-thru/revision, as I have been lately, my goal is to revise at least ten pages a day and I usually manage more than that. Some pages end up with arrows, asterisks, inserts, and a lot of cross outs in red ink. Others have minimal changes, usually in word choices or to eliminate repetitious or unnecessary words.
Whatever stage the WIP is at, I rarely work more than one and a half to two hours a morning. When I get to the end of the scene or scenes, I take a break. A real break. This is when I drive into town (seven miles each way) for the mail and sometimes drive farther to do the grocery shopping. If I have appointments—doctor, dentist, accountant, etc.—this is the time of day when I schedule them. And I have lunch.
In the afternoon, when I work by hand in the morning, I put the changes I’ve made into the appropriate .doc file. This needs to be done while I can still read my own handwriting. I make more corrections, additions, and changes as I go along, so this amounts to an extra revision of the same material. If I finish early, or if I have been writing new material in the morning, the first part of the afternoon might instead be devoted to promotion, research, answering email, and so on.
I break in mid-afternoon to exercise. My regular routine includes time on a stationary bike and assorted stretches, followed by the apple a day that keeps the doctor away and one piece of dark chocolate. What? I need a reason for the chocolate? Ok. It has antioxidants. Also, chocolate is a vegetable. Honest.
I read for pleasure while I’m peddling and while munching the apple. Sometimes I keep reading. Other days I go back to work to finish putting in changes or writing a blog or researching some detail I need for the next writing session. By four in the afternoon, I’m pretty much brain dead. This is good timing, as it’s also time to start supper. My husband and I both come from families who served the evening meal as soon as everyone was home from school and work, so five o’clock is the normal hour to eat at our house. Usually we have the local news on in the background.
Occasionally, I get a second wind, especially if I’m really into the story I’m creating, but nine times out of ten I just veg out in the evenings. I read other people’s books. I do jigsaw puzzles. And I watch (or re-watch) movies on cable, DVD, or On Demand. Nothing heavy. There’s enough of that in real life.
And so to bed, as the old novels used to say. That’s my typical day. It’s not very exciting, but by the end of the year I will have written at least two and probably three new novels . . . and a minimum of twenty-four of these blogs.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty-five traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.