A Day In The Life Of A Freelance Writer

You want to know what a writer’s day looks like? You want to see the Sisyphean journey of boulder-pushing from its fumbling start to its clumsy finish? Boom. Done. Gotcher back. Please to enjoy.

5:45AM

Awakening. Or some semblance of reanimation. Stumble into bathroom. While urinating, unexpectedly contemplate the sheer amount of words you have to write today. Suffer momentary panic that threatens to crush you under its mountainous thumb. Don’t worry. Panic-fueled anxiety needs energy, of which you have none. The panic runs swiftly out of steam because as yet you don’t have any coffee in your body. Idly wonder: would it be weird putting a coffeemaker in the bathroom?

6:00AM

Begin morning rituals. You don’t know what day it is, and you don’t much care. As the universal manna coffee brews, go outside with wife to walk the dogs. In the woods. In the darkness. Recognize that this is the complete anathema to “waking up,” but fuck it, whaddya gonna do? The dogs go to the bathroom after 17 minutes of trying to find the perfect poop nexus. (You long ago learned the truth: dogs can only poop on the convergence of certain ley lines: paranormal axes that shift minute to minute.)

6:17AM

Stagger back inside, drawn to the light like a moth, drawn to the smell of coffee like, well, a guy who will fucking kill another guy if he doesn’t get his goddamn motherfucking coffee. Contemplate breakfast. Ehhh. Nnngh. Mnblegbble. Fuck breakfast. Too tired to be hungry. Coffee. Coffee now.  Head upstairs.

6:18AM

Wife calls up steps: “Did you make my lunch last night?”

6:19AM

Back downstairs. Make wife’s lunch because no, no you didn’t, you stupid shithead.

6:25AM

Upstairs. Coffee. Desk. Computer. Internet. Email. Any good emails? No. But you have a lot of them. You read like, every third email, then shut that shit down. Did anybody say anything on the Twitters? Haha! They did! Oh ho! Funny! Amusing! Witty! You retweet the fuck out of because, hey, good for them. Plus, that saves you from having to say anything witty at — *checks watch* What the hell time is it?

6:30AM

Shit. Should really be writing. What first? Blog post, blog post, always a blog post. Should’ve written it yesterday. Didn’t. Should’ve done a lot of things. Like not eaten ice cream at two o’clock in the morning followed by some Sriracha peanut chasers. That heartburn could bring down a Brontosaurus. Wait, aren’t Brontosauruses in the same boat as Pluto? Not a dinosaur, not a planet, scientifically gone the way of the mermaid? Poor fucking Brontosauruses. Google that shit.

6:45AM

Okay, no, seriously, should really be writing. What’s today’s blogpost? Didn’t you have an idea for one? Yes. But it’s gone now. Check your idea file. Did you write this when you were drunk? (Answer: probably.) Time to make something up. Got anything? Got nothing. Think think think think think. Pinch bridge of nose hard enough that you see stars. Idea. Yes. It’s not a good one. But it’s an idea. Write it down.

7:00AM

Power goes out. Lose last two paragraphs of blog post (Thank Christ for obsessive saving, and goddamn you, modern living grumble fuck electricity gods sonofabitch power company gnaarrgh fnargble). Rewrite those lost words in a way that ensures they have lost their original meaning. Post that fucker. Wonder: “Will anyone care?” (Answer: probably not.) Wonder: “Why do I do this every day?” (Answer varies: you hate yourself / you love the attention / you’re fond of mental masturbation.)

7:05AM

Time to really start writing. For real. Really for real.

7:15AM

Zealously check Twitter and blog numbers. Realize that when you die, nobody will care how many people visited your blog on this particular day. Except, panic: what if they do? What if they talk about it at the funeral? What if Saint Peter has a list? What if he has your goddamned blog stats? Shit. Shit! Shiiiit. Then recognize that you don’t really believe in Heaven. When you die, you want to be planted under a tree. Or have a tree planted in your corpse so that it uses your bodily juices to fuel its blood-hungry ascent. Spend next fifteen minutes thinking about death. Obsess until you cannot breathe.

7:30AM

Stop thinking, “I probably have bowel cancer.” Instead — Write, you asshole! Write! Okay. Doing this. Actually writing. One hundred words. Two hundred words. Steady, steady. Three hundred –

8:00AM

Wait, seriously? The little dog has to go to the bathroom again? What a little jerkoff she is. Didn’t she just evacuate her bowels less than two hours ago? The dog’s mouth must be connected to her butthole by an uncomplicated aluminum tube. She eats, and the food just slides immediately toward her telescoping canine sphincter. “I’m a writer,” you tell her. “I need to write.” She dances around in circles. Goddamnit.

8:15AM

She didn’t need to poop. False alarm. She just wanted to chase imaginary animals. And or, her tail. And or, the leash. Begin to suspect she is a time vampire. She does not drink blood but rather, productivity.

8:30AM

Back to the word mines. Slowly chip away at word count for the day. Gain momentum. Reach first thousand words. Celebrate in triumph. Have a little parade celebrating your sudden rise to divinity. Check Twitter. Check blog numbers. Think about Facebook, then think, “Fuck that.” Realize that you’re really hungry. You haven’t had breakfast. Get socked in the jaw by a tidal rush of self-loathing. Contemplate suicide.

8:45AM

Breakfast of champions: a hot dog from last night’s dinner. You eat it because you are starving. (You really should’ve eaten breakfast sooner.) Don’t worry. It’s totally healthy. That’s what you tell yourself. You convince yourself that this is a surefire part of the nutritional pyramid. Fruits. Vegetables. Grains. Hot dog. (Ketchup is a fruit. Mustard is a… vegetable. Grains in the roll.) Done. Sold. Delicious. Await heartburn.

10:00AM

Just about to finish the second thousand words of the day. This has been like pulling teeth out of a rabid dog. You hate what you’re writing. You hate yourself. No, wait. That last paragraph was pretty good, though. Wasn’t it? Maybe? Solution: hang your entire writing career on that last paragraph. Close down that browser window where you were Googling “How To Tie A Noose.” Move to finish the second thousand word chunk of the day… almost there…

10:05AM

Doorbell rings. Seriously? What the shit?

10:10AM

It’s the Radon Guy. You totally forget he was coming. (You hear your wife’s voice inside your head like some kind of disappointed Obi-Wan Kenobi: “I told you this morning he was coming.” She did.) He wants to tell you how your current radon system is not up to code. Then he wants to lecture you about French drains. Sump pumps. Manometers. You say, “I really need to finish my word count.” He says, “I don’t know what that means.” Finally, you just ask him, “Listen, will this kill the radon ghosts that haunt the house?” He tells you that yes, this will exorcise the radon ghosts. He’ll send you an estimate.

10:45AM

Back upstairs. Fine. Whatever. Time to write. Kick the tires, light the fires.

11:45AM

Did you really just waste an hour on the Internet? What happened? Do you even remember what you saw? Read? Watched? Heard? You try to reclaim it, but your Internet visitation is phantasmagoric: it evades your desperate grasp like a dream. Whatever. This is a probably a good time to gloomily pleasure yourself.

12:00PM

You need to hunker down. Get some writing done. So you go take a walk instead. You need to walk. Get that sluggish blood flowing through your torpid writer flesh. For the next half-an-hour, feel at peace with the world. Enjoy the sunlight. Hear the birds chirping. Decide you’d like some tea. Determine that the rest of the day is yours to own. If runners get a high, walkers get what? A moderate sense of self-satisfaction?

12:30PM

Get the mail. Hey, look. Bills. Somebody will probably want you to pay those.

12:45PM

Back home. Tea. Writing. You leap forward like an ass-whipped donkey. As you’re writing the next and final 1000-word stretch, you feel a sinking pit in your stomach, a hard knot of squirming snakes like one of those freaky garter snake breeding-ball fuck-parties. Each snake, a terrible question, a hungry dilemma: you have to do this again tomorrow. Check your email: no response from editors? No pitch acceptances? After this assignment, then what? The conundrum assails you: if you’re writing freelance work, you’re not doing anything personal (but you’re making money). If you’re writing something personal, you’re not bound to freelance work (but you’re making no certain money). Your head wants to explode.

1:00PM

You take the gun out of your mouth and finish your word count for the day. It’s actually not that bad. You pull up your pants and go get some lunch downstairs.

1:05PM

You didn’t go to the grocery store, did you? Crap. Unless you want to cut up a fryer chicken and boil some cabbage, your lunch is relegated to a handful of almonds, some old lunch meat, and a cup of ranch dressing. Part of you thinks: “Maybe this could be a new fad diet. I should write this down.”

1:10PM

After you belch up a bubble of Ranch dressing, you stop transcribing your hot new diet.

1:15PM

Time to switch gears. Time to get your Sexy Editor Pants on (but that means you can take your real pants off, huzzah, because, y’know, pants are for assholes). No more writing for the day, because too much writing makes Jack beat Wendy to death with an axe handle. Redrum, redrum. Though, let’s all be honest: if you were haunted by Shelley DuVall’s voice, you’d probably go ratfuck nuts too.

1:30PM

Editing feels good because it’s like self-flagellation. You’re going over your work and punishing it: hooking its scrotum up to a car battery, cooking nipple clamps on a hot griddle before biting down with mean alligator teeth. You cut, you clip, you stomp, you crush. It feels satisfying. It even feels like progress.

2:00PM

Wife calls. “Did you do [insert list of things] that I asked you to do?” “Yes,” you lie. “You’re lying,” she says. “Well, you should’ve stapled the list to my forehead like I asked you to.” You realize that this is not a good way to earn sexual favors. You tell her you’ll do the [insert list of things] that needs doing.

2:30PM

Ring, ring! Impromptu conference call! Woo! Time to talk about (script, novel, freelance project, radon ghosts). Yes, it’s technically productive, but it feels like you just threw your time into a hole. Where it was promptly eaten by rats.

3:30PM

Fifteen-minute power nap. It’s necessary. It’s necessary, or you’re going to go punch a tree. Or eat a gallon of ice cream. Or join a cult. You decide: this nap will be the best thing ever.

3:35PM

Five minutes into the nap, Something Happens. Mom calls. Dog needs to poop. Radon Guy forgot his manometer. Fuck this nap. Fuck this nap right in its ear. Time to shower. You are stenchworthy.

3:45PM

In the shower, get awesome story idea. Like, the Best Novel Ever. Will sell astronomical numbers but will also gain earnest critical acclaim. It’s genre, but it’s literary. It’s YA, but it’s porn. It is a literary panacea.

4:00PM

Look at your grotesque trogbody in the mirror. You are pale and chubby like a wood grub. Writer Body is the antithesis to Swimmer Body. You should be under a bridge somewhere threatening to eat goats.

4:15PM

You totally forget that story idea, didn’t you? Think. Think really hard.

4:16PM

Yep. You forgot it.

4:20PM

Oh, shit. You have to make dinner. Did someone say something about boiled cabbage? Mm-mm-good. Hey, wasn’t there something your wife wanted you to do? Well. Sure. Probably. But she didn’t staple it to your forehead like you asked. This conversation sounds familiar. You decide on two choices: a) as cabbage boils, run around house desperately trying to accomplish tasks, or b) fall into a deep fugue-like stupor and forget any of this ever happened. Ponder throwing yourself down cellar steps for sympathy. (“Look, I have a boo-boo.” “That’s a compound fracture.” “Oh.”)

5:15PM

Wife comes home. Dinner. She doesn’t castrate or crucify you no matter how much you deserve it for she is a forgiving soul. She asks you if anything interesting happened today, and you don’t really know how to answer that. You neglect to mention anything about nooses, guns, axe handles, or tree-punching. Instead you just shrug: “Guess not?”

Rest Of Day

Wine. Liquor. Television. Dog walking. Go to the gym. Emails. Twitters. Blog stats. Internet. Cat videos. Movie trailers. Cram cram cram. You need work. Long con, short con. Can’t feel legs. Anything from the agent? Editor? Anybody? Fraud. You’ll be found out. Lights out. Doubt. Triumph. Glee. Detestation. Can’t Sleep, Word Count Will Eat Me. Midnight ice cream. Repeat. Repeat.

29 comments

  • That sounds suspiciously familiar, and I don’t even freelance. (Perhaps I should rethink that strategy. Hmmm.) Though I could never get up at quarter ’til 6 everyday. Yikes!

  • I’d like to pass your wife a piece of free advice, because this just dawned on me the other day.

    If you ask your husband for a list of things, even a short list, make the most important item the last thing you mention.

    This is because on Friday I emailed Rich asking for beef broth (most important), a bottle of wine, and a can of DEET free bug repellent and ended up with a bottle of wine. He forgot the broth because he spent 15 minutes in the store scouring shelves for bug repellent.

    Luckily the beef stew was excellent anyway. Luckily I now know how it works.

  • Ah, this is just like me writing my thesis. Wake up at 6:00. Finish breakfast and ablutions at 6:30. Sit down. Realise you are the worst student ever. Stare at wall until noon. Tap out 100 words. Stare at wall until midnight. Tap out 50 words. Realise you are the worst human being ever. Go to sleep. Repeat until you have to repeat a semester.

  • Oh God.

    Oh. GOD.

    This life? This perpetual living literary hell you have so wonderfully described?

    It’s attractive to me.

    Oh God.

    I need help.

    I. NEED. HELP.

  • Thank you for this! It’s hilarious and sad at the same time, like a busload of clowns driving off a cliff. Now we need the counterpoint day in the life of a writer who works 50+ hours a week in a non-writing job.

    • Thank you for this! It’s hilarious and sad at the same time, like a busload of clowns driving off a cliff. Now we need the counterpoint day in the life of a writer who works 50+ hours a week in a non-writing job.

      Heh. Darren, well said.

      I’ve been that guy, too. (Well, not 50 hours a week.) That is a life that offers its own difficulties.

      — c.

    • I think my wife would like me to make clear:

      I am not actually considering suicide. This post is, of course, semi-fictional. Please do not send help. I do not need counseling. (Well, not for this. The balloon animal fetish, maybe.) Any attempts to tie a noose are *purely* for the purposes of auto-erotic asphyxiation, and nothing has ever gone wrong there.

      — c.

  • As a college student earning a B.A. in English and creative writing, I may have to up the prozac after reading this. But damned if those sneaky writing ideas don’t always sneak up on you when you’re off guard–showering, sleeping, burying the bodies, etc.

  • I read this. Several times. And all I got out of this was:

    Three thousand words a day? THREE THOUSAND WORDS A DAY?

    Someone needs to take you out back behind the barn and shoot you like Old Yeller.

    THREE THOUSAND WORDS A DAY.

    May you have many children. A litter. A passel. A freakin’ flock of time-stealing, attention-getting ankle-biting offspring.

    I say that with love.

    WITH LOVE WENDIG. LOVE!!!

    …threethousandwordsaday…

    (Seriously though. If you trade out all the writing-time bits for I-sat-down-and-tried-to-write-but-my-son-tried-to-build-a-deathray-out-of-Megabloks-and-the-baby-wants-her-eight-millionth-bottle-of-the-hour-and-then-the-doorbell-rang-and-it-was-the-upstairs-friends-wanting-to-borrow-money-and/or-smokes-and/or-cat-food-or-needing-to-be-buzzed-into-the-building-and-the-kitchen-is-on-fire-and-ohmyfuckinggodit’ssuppertimealready… yeah, that’s pretty much my day.)

  • @Chuck: You know I totally want you to have rugrats munching on your manuscripts as you run around with a metal strainer on your head playing aliens-and-space-cowboys while trying to keep the baby from sticking pencils up their noses while another kid’s drawing on your nice clean whiteboard and doodling all over your monitor with whiteout.

    Hell, if you want to do that without going through the whole process, I can express-mail you mine.

    Please?

    *sob*

    PLEASE?!

    • What’s great is, if you mail me children, I can just keep them in the box and give it to somebody else. I could put it on a the back of some dude’s truck at Wal Mart. FREE TO A GOOD HOME. Etc.

      — c.

  • Thanks! Like Josh, I find the whole thing incredibly attractive. Especially the auto-erotic asphyxiation… errr, I mean “research.” It is research, right? Right?

    I’m giving myself until the end of Summer 2011 to transition to a less full-time day job (current 50-60+ hours per week is not conducive to writing) and supplementing with freelance writing & design income.

  • Well… that looks disturbingly similar to my Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are my “No-class-get-stuff-done-at-home” days.

    Only I don’t get up as early. Although I honestly have been thinking about it.

  • No chicken & cabbage creative ideas that make me wish I have your pantry, if not your life? Suddenly my 4:30 – 6:30am grind seems much less grindy.

    K

  • Haha Chuck – reading your blog posts help me to tolerate my day! xD I always get a good kick out of them; really love your off-the-wall, in-your-face writer-tude.

    It’s scary how much the day in a life of a freelance writer mirrors the day in the life of an office peon or even my days as a freelance artist. In some ways it’s kind of comforting to know I’m not the only one looking up on Google how to properly tie a noose… In other ways, it’s kinda fucked-up-scary. Is this supposed to be our life???

    But then you have those totally kick ass, awesomesauce days when you GET that call back from the editor or client or producer or what have you, and they tell you that you landed that holy grail job or deal or whatever and it makes it all worth it and little white doves with Benjamins in their cute wittle talons will fly out of my…

    At least I keep telling myself that’s what it’ll be like…

    On a side note – I’ve really got to work on containing my Internet addiction too. I check my e-mails, my Facebook, my Twitter, my blog, other people’s blogs, random news stories (like dude, did you hear the one about the segway owner falling off a cliff to his death on his segway?), etc. way wayyyy too often! I don’t want to even know how many hours I lose of productivity just doing that. Never mind that I’m like totally doing it right now either… The project manager in me knows I need to set certain times in the day to do that and keep it to a specific length of time…but the nervous, rabbit-hearted, scardy-cat, Internet addicted coke-head needs to feed the addiction.

    On a side-side note: having kids…yeah. My boyfriend has a 4-year-old and he is a handful and a half. I have to keep all of my art supplies under lock and key, and heaven forbid if I have to get up to pee – more than once I’ve come back to see scribbles on a drawing I was working on. Luckily I’ve been able to salvage the images he’s ruined thanks to Photoshop but I’m still scared that one of these days it’s not going to be recoverable. I’ll be so thankful when he’s in school!

  • This post is pretty spot-on for me. Exchange out forms of the word “write” for ‘illustrate” or “design”, and trade out the Mrs. for the Mr., and there you have it.

    The internet has done so much good for the instant access to information, but sweet buttry Buddha, it really is an irresistible black hole of time suckage. There are web utilities one can download and install to “black out” internet access for periods of time in a day, but that’s pretty much not an option for me due to how much visual research I randomly need to do at any moment.

    Adding to that the websites and blogs of interesting people with good things to say (who suck up all your spare time) and have you pinned to reading their blogs and –

    HEY. WAIT. YOU JERK.

    Back to work.

  • Hilarious, and something I can relate to, but as a freelancer who still has a day job (hey, it’s good pay), my freelancing day only *starts* at 5:15. I go through much the same routine, but my day usually ends at, oh, 3 a.m. And then it’s up at 6:30 again for work.

    Thanks for this. :)

  • This totally cracked me up! Truth can be so horribly funny. Though I don’t know what you’re worried about. You have the Beard, right? Nothing can go wrong! Unless it leaves you in the middle of the night when you’re not looking. Then you’re screwed. You better keep an eye on that sucker. heh heh. :P

  • YA Porn? Hmmm…what would that look like?

    Non-consensual hand holding?
    Writing teenage angst-poetry together?

    I’m reminded of a Patton Oswalt routine about clean filth.
    I believe his words were, “I’m going to fill your hoo-ha with goof-juice!”
    That Oswalt is a poet.

  • Best. Post. Ever. Laughed my ASS off. I’m pretty sure there’s something my husband asked me to do that I haven’t done yet. There might be a couple of things actually. But I just cleaned up a pile of dog puke and I forgot.

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