A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

A Day In The Life of a Debut Writer

I’m one of those people who loves mornings and has no trouble getting out of the bed (don’t hate me!) so I tend to start work pretty early. My writing life is divided into teaching days and writing days – my debut novel doesn’t hit bookshelves until this summer, so for now I’m juggling two jobs. On teaching days, I set the alarm for 5 am and write until half six. I know that’s the only time I’ll get to do any writing. The rest of the day will be spent teaching, marking, planning, going to meetings and then home to cook dinner and catch up with the family. By that time my brain is mush and I don’t do any writing unless I’m on a tight deadline. That hour and a half in the early morning is quality writing time though. Everyone is asleep so there are no distractions. I wrote all of my first book in those hours before sunrise.

Pure writing days are much more leisurely. For a start, I lie in til half six. (I know, how indulgent is that?) I make a cup of tea and head to my office in my PJs. I read through what I wrote the day before and look over the notes I made in my notebook. When I’m drafting, I don’t like research or changes to slow me down, so I keep a notebook next to my computer.

I check email and then go downstairs to have breakfast with the family. Occasionally I’ll do something healthy like have a bowl of muesli or porridge, but 99% of the time it’s two crumpets with peanut butter and Tabasco (try it – it’s amazing!).

By eight forty-five, everyone else has left the house and I can get to work in earnest. I make another cup of tea, head back up to the office and close the door. I’ll work until lunch, taking five-minute breaks every now and then to stretch and check Twitter. Working from home can be quite isolating, so checking in with writer friends on Twitter makes it feel a bit like we’re all working in one giant international writing office. Most of my writer friends are American, so Twitter is a bit quiet until the afternoon. Social media can be such a time-suck though; I try to limit my time to my scheduled breaks. I aim to write between 1000 and 2000 words a day or revise one chapter a day, regardless of whether it’s a teaching day or a writing day. In practice this means some days I write 500 words and some days I have to write 4000 to stay on schedule. I write every day, including the weekends, because it helps me stay in the story.

I break for lunch around 12:30 and then go for a walk. I like to be back at my desk by 2 because my daughter is home from school by mid-afternoon and that marks the end of uninterrupted writing time.

If possible, I spend time with the family most in the evening, usually working our way through a box set (Breaking Bad right now). However, if I’m on a deadline, I excuse myself at half eight and go back to the office until bedtime.

I always finish my writing day by leaving myself a note for the morning. It’s usually something like Chapter 2 sucks / need to research sea level rises / timeline is unclear – fix this.

One of my hobbies is star-gazing (though I’m hopelessly inept at recognising constellations – thank god for skymap apps). If it’s a clear night I’ll head out onto the balcony with my binoculars or telescope for a bit. Failing that I go to bed and read. I just can’t do late nights. (I never could, even as a kid – I’d go along to parties that didn’t start til 10, my eyeballs falling out of my head.) I set my alarm for the next day, depending on whether or not it’s a writing day or a teaching day.

Lots of people tell me that if they had enough time they would write a novel. But if you want to do something badly enough, you’ll find the time to do it. I know this to be true, because . . . if I had enough time, I’d exercise every day and be super-fit.

Author Helen DouglasHelen Douglas was born and raised in a small beach town in Cornwall. After leaving home to go to university, she lived in London, California, New Jersey and New York. She is now back in Cornwall, where she combines writing books with teaching secondary school English. A keen star-gazer, one of her first memories is of getting up in the middle of the night to sneak outside and watch the Perseids meteor shower with a friend. It was a telescope that she received as a birthday gift that helped inspire After Eden, which publishes 4th July, 2013. She is currently writing the sequel, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2014.

About helendouglas

Author of books for young adults. After Eden (Bloomsbury 2013) and Chasing Stars (Bloomsbury UK 2014 / Bloomsbury US July 2016)

2 comments on “A Day In The Life of a Debut Writer

  1. mrsswellswordpress
    April 12, 2013

    I’m so with you on all of this – apart from the early mornings! Oh yes and the peanut butter/tabasco combo! But tea and Breaking Bad are the mainstays of my days at the moment. Feeling pretty inspired to work harder on my early mornings and get back to my WIP. Thanks

  2. Rose Mannering
    April 21, 2013

    I’m am early riser too! Other people find it so strange, but I wake up and I’m instantly ready to take on the day.
    Can’t wait to read After Eden!

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