Today was a writing day. Not every day is, I’ll confess. I know this is bad writerly practice. All the best authors say you ought to, must sit down at the same time every morning, and not get up until you’ve produced 500, 1,000, 1,500 words.

I would so love to have that kind of life.

But I am not a full-time writer. And between 12-hour shifts at the hospital, a house with 4 stories of living space to keep clean-ish, 3 teenagers, 2 needy dogs, and 1 husband—all of whom expect to eat actual food on a regular basis—I can’t always carve out time to sit down and write 1,000 words a day. I do what I can, when I can, and I try to let go of the rest.

Note to self: This is good advice, not just for writing, but for life.

Still, a couple of times a week, I do get to spend the day just being a writer. Today was one of them. 

I've always read that writing routines are important to productivity, and I am not without mine. When I sit down to write, the first major, indispensable step for me is to check Facebook. After that: Twitter. Then Pinterest, and my 2 G-mail accounts. Next, I go back and re-check them all, in case I missed something. And then a third time, on the off chance that something urgent has come up that will require my attention and absolutely prevent me from having to being able to write today. When this—inevitably—doesn’t happen, it’s time to knuckle down. Research

I start Phase 2 by pulling up The Twin Oracles (a.k.a.Google, and Thesaurus.com)in two separate browser tabs. I keep them both handy as I open the files I’m working on—files that will be an actual, written part of a book someday. As both websites begin to glow, and then to burn red-hot, I set to work. (I also, at this point, may begin to drink my 3rd pot of coffee, depending on how close to 8 a.m. it is.)

The Twin Oracles are necessary, because like it or not, research is an indispensable part of writing even fiction. Most readers probably never think about how much fact-searching has gone into their favorite books. Writers may not realize it either, until they work with an editor like mine, who has an unsettling way of checking up on details I’ve never even considered. She asks about my characters’ birthdays. About weather patterns. Leap years. Divorce laws. The life cycle of tomato hornworms. Her ability to spot holes, and to keep them from ruining my credibility, is amazing. She is involved and invested in my book in a way that no one else will ever be.

My editor is good at her job, and I like her, and want her to think I’m a credible writer, so I try to turn in my homework when it comes to researching the things I write about. Just for fun, today I kept track of all the things I researched as I wrote (mostly compliments of The Twin Oracles.) Here they are:

  • Synonyms for parsimonious and proclivity.
  • A road map of the route numbers in downeast Maine.
  • The definition of inertia.
  • Thom McAn Women’s Cut-Out Wedge Oxfords, circa 1970 (which, thanks to the omniscience of the Internet, now show up every day in my Facebook sidebar.)
  • Synonyms for closet, meal, and anger.
  • A quote by Walt Whitman, which turned out to actually be by Robert Frost.
  • A tide table for September, 2014.
  • The life expectancy of cats.
  • Catholic hospitals in Boston.
  • The question, “When do pansies bloom?”
  • Synonyms for urge, feeling, pet.
  • Current rent rates for 2 bedroom apartments in this part of the state.
  • The technical definition of a thoracic surgeon.          

All that netted me around 3,000 words, which is fewer than 10 pages of a published novel.

The conclusion of the matter is one that I will go to my grave arguing: writing is hard, hard work. It’s brain-draining, creativity-sapping labor that will sometimes leave you, at the end of your 500 or 1,000 or 3,000 words, lying in a limp, be-sogged mess on the sofa, with the remnants of a caffeine headache whispering at the edges of your ocular field (cf. vision; perspective; eyesight.)

Writing takes smarts. And time, and commitment. How amazing that so many of us do it—not because it’s easy, or pays well, or is even particularly rewarding.

It is truly a craft of love; a labor of the heart and, yes, also of the mind.

Comments (38)

  1. Boyd Jamison

Haha, I feel ya. This reminds me so much of my routine and it's so easy to do an awful lot of research for what amounts to a rather small collection of words. And I sympathise with the need to check social media before hand. These days a writer...

Haha, I feel ya. This reminds me so much of my routine and it's so easy to do an awful lot of research for what amounts to a rather small collection of words. And I sympathise with the need to check social media before hand. These days a writer must be capable of so much more than just writing.

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  1. Lev Raphael

I love how you broke down research into the large and small moments! We writers are constantly looking things up, constantly delving deeply into subjects we don't know or need to know better. And the Internet has made all of that easier. BTW,...

I love how you broke down research into the large and small moments! We writers are constantly looking things up, constantly delving deeply into subjects we don't know or need to know better. And the Internet has made all of that easier. BTW, I've published 25 books in many genres, seen my work translated into over a dozen languages, published hundreds of stories, essays, reviews and blogs--and let me assure you, I do not write every day. I think that is terrible advice. It works for some people, but not for everyone. We all need to find what works for us. If that means I'm not one of the best writers, so be it.

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