Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Writing Life -- Do What's Right for YOU!

Writing life?  Sure. But sometimes, you stop and hug your dog.
A week or two ago, someone on my NFforKids listserv asked how we all work on our writing.  I responded, and several people encouraged me to post it on my blog.  So here it is.  Hope it proves no way and every way is the right way to be a writer.  : )  Just do it! 


Because being a writer is my day job -- and my only source of income -- I do something writer related every single day, rain or shine, holiday or non-holiday, for at least ten hours a day.  I am almost always on deadline for something or I won't make my bills.  So I juggle it all as efficiently as I can. 

I wake up when I wake up, now that both my girls are able to drive cars of their own to get where they need to be. If my body says I need 8 hours, I sleep 8 hours.  If it says I need 12, I sleep 12.  I am very flexible with sleep when I'm at home because that pattern seems to keep me from getting sick.  Rest is really important to my writing life.  Once I'm awake, I start by checking my email, because email will determine my priorities for that day.  I juggle at least 4 projects at any given time -- proposals to backlist.  And every book deserves attention. 

A lot of my email is school visit related, but that's part of the job.  So I coordinate those first.  I do between 40 and 60 school visits a year, so that's pretty time consuming, from invitation to completion.  But it helps pay the bills, and it sells lots of books.  A lot of my email is in response to interview requests, as well.  So tending to that correspondence immediately is terribly important.  Most of my books take about 4 years to research and write, with a huge uptick toward their submission deadlines and their release dates.

Research fills the rest of my hours -- some for projects sold, some for projects about to be pitched to acquiring editors at various houses.  I do a LOT of research long before the book sells to be sure I have enough information to merit a book.  Some say that's risky, and maybe it is.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I have yet to do research on a book idea without selling it, eventually, with only one exception, and I still haven't given up on that project.  I'll sell it, eventually.

I don't write actual book text as efficiently when I'm traveling for school visits, but I do write in hotels and I absolutely do revisions in hotels.  I am pretty tired after a full day of school visits, so I'll sometimes take a 40 minute nap right after school, write until bedtime, then wake up for the next day's school events.  I am far slower with original text in hotel rooms than I am at home, but I can and do make it happen.

I also promote my books on social media, but I do more toward building and keeping my professional relationships strong.  I'm lucky, because a lot of the librarians i visit become real friends to me.  So when I talk to them on Facebook -- when I ask about their kids or their vacations -- I really do CARE about their lives, not because they buy my books but because we've connected in a real way.  But that also keeps my career healthy.

Chris Crutcher always says there is nothing in this life that is not about human connection and relationships.  I absolutely agree with him.  So I attend to those relationship every day, in all my writer capacities.  The work makes me happy...not rich, but happy.  So I feel really lucky to have that opportunity.  Lucky, but REALLY hard working, too.  

I could probably take more days off, if I wanted to.  But I get too antsy to take a whole day off.  I do play video games to break up the day a little.  When I finish part of one project, I'll pay a game to clear my head -- to prepare my mind to do something else.  So as odd as it sounds, playing is part of my writing process.  I have to play little tricks on myself to keep all the balls I'm juggling in the air.  So far, so good. 

If I have any advice for others, it's write every day, even if it's just a little bit.  Be flexible with yourself, because every one of us will forge our own path, our own way.  A glimpse at someone else's process is informative, but what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa.  So use other people's patterns to help you understand your way is GOOD for YOU.  If you don't have a process yet, try a few on for size, then customize them for you lifestyle.  Before my girls were grown, my babies were top priority, and I still managed to build a career. 

One last thing, writing friends keep you sane.  Never overlook the value of friends who do what you do -- who take it seriously.  They are armor against all those people who ask when you'll write a real book or ask, "How you written anything I've heard of?"  People outside the circle will still ask those dumb questions. But your writing friends will make it easier NOT to resort to violence in response.  : )

Hope this helps!


Kelly Milner Halls
Children's Writer


  1. Kelly! So happy to have found you have a BLOG, too! This is such a wise, helpful post...thank you. You are someone to aspire to :)

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth. I don't update my blog as often as I should, but I'm going to do better from now on. I hope. : )