The Writer’s Life, Part 2

So how many hours of work would you say you put into your writing during an average week?

(Thanks to Marcus for the question.)

The amount of time I spend each week depends on what project I’m working on at the time. Freelance writing is not my full-time job — I’ve got a regular 40 hr/week gig that pays the bills, but which allows me the flexibility to pursue writing as a hobby. A fairly substantial hobby, as it can take up large chunks of my available free time.

My busiest weeks as a writer are those during which I’m under contract for a book. Typically, a book contract will stipulate that a finished manuscript must be turned in by a particular deadline. For most of my books, this has been something like 90 days or four months (whatever we negotiate) from the time the contract is approved and signed. A 60,000-word manuscript in 90 days is just as challenging as it sounds. What this generally requires for me is at least three hours a day — every day — to dedicate to the project. I have a wife and two young children at home, and I try very hard not to let my “hobby” take away from my time with them, so my main writing hours are before they get up (6 to 7:30 a.m.) and after they go to sleep (10:30 p.m. to midnight). I can generally get by on about six hours of sleep a night, but keeping this schedule for 90 days straight is both mentally and physically taxing, as you might suspect. This is why most writers say it’s much better to have written a book than to be writing one. Most writers, of course, are notoriously whiny, but they’re on target with this one.

When I’m not working on a book (like now, for instance), my writing schedule is the same: late nights and early mornings. It’s just that the projects — magazine assignments, for instance — get finished faster. I might work on a 2,000-word article for three or four days before I’m satisfied with it. And that’s just the writing part. If it’s the kind of assignment that requires interviews, then you also have to consider the time it takes to set up the interview (when you’re generally at the mercy of the interviewee’s schedule), prepare for the interview (research the subject, develop a list of topics or questions), actually do the interview (typically a phone call), and then transcribe your notes or the recording. It’s easy to log several hours on a magazine article before you even get to the part where you put words on paper.

Most magazine assignments are for a set amount of money — usually a lump sum or a certain amount per word. My advice: Never divide this final payment by the amount of time you actually spend on the project. Unless you’re really famous or a lightning-fast worker, the number you calculate will not be so encouraging.

Other writing jobs — like writing back cover copy for books or coming up with content for a brochure or website — take much less time, at least for me. There’s always some research involved, but in these cases you’re either working from existing info such as a book or a marketing plan, so it’s a matter of synthesizing or repackaging or rewording, and I’m a lot faster at that kind of thing than I am coming up with something from scratch. This kind of work I do on an hour-by-hour basis and usually try to bill accordingly.

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Blog posts like this one, by the way, spill right out of the top of my head and usually are complete in about 15 to 20 minutes.

And don’t think I don’t know what you’re thinking: 15 minutes for this garbage? Yes, indeed. Good thing it’s free.

The Writer’s Life, Part 1

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