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A Day in the Writing Life: Dawn Metcalf

Welcome! Please gather your belongings and take your seats. I'm your hostess, Dawn Metcalf, and this is A Day in the Writing Life! Specifically, mine.

My day begins! *Bleurgh.* I am no longer a morning person. I believe late nights and two kids have sapped all my bushy-tailed-ness, which is kind of a good thing because all writing life must be put on hold like the coveted snooze alarm while I gather the children to be washed, brushed, clothed, fed, lunches packed, homework cached, backpacks zipped, car driven, parked, and unpacked, escort my two lovelies to their classrooms for good-bye hugs and kisses (or prying as the case may be) before jumping back into the driver's seat to begin my day as an author-to-be. My first thought is always, "Okay. I can make it home by 8:30 and start writing!" Believe it or not, I look forward to this every day.

This is also when my world goes quiet. The kids' voices are gone. The radio is off. There is only the purring white noise of the car cruising on asphalt and the whoosh of air (or rain or snow) sluicing off the windows. I am on a mission: I'm off to write! Sometimes, though, the drive isn't quick enough and it hits me: I'm INSPIRED! This is when I'm grateful for my little hand-held recorder where I can dictate whatever my muse, Maggie, has whispered in my ear at this precise moment specifically so she can watch me freak out at the wheel.

I think better than "Lo" might be the words "Don't Panic."

As you can see, today's gift of insight was timed for maximum-hilarity as my batteries are about to die and I couldn't record. Ah, Maggie, you're a pistol! (So often pointed at my head...) This results in either my reciting whatever nonsense aloud ad nauseum the rest of the way home or scribbling it down on any stray bit of paper while careful not to veer off the road. Has anyone ever mentioned the off-road hazards of random creativity? I think we authors should have yellow warning signs in our windows. Point of fact: I *adore* warning signs. I have a collection of faves on my filing cabinet:

I think "Warning: Skewered by Unicorn" and "Warning: Squashed by Giant Foot" are my favorites.

I rush home clutching the newest treasured bit of torn-off-back-of-envelope-hastily-scribbled-in-pencil in my grubby little hand and run to my desk. This might explain why my office looks like this:

Before you ask why I didn't clean my office...I *did* clean my office.

I like to think of my clutter sort of like other writer's playlists: it surrounds me with an ambient background humming that sets the tone for my brain this morning. Admittedly, a lot of these papers on the wall are kids' school notifications or crayon drawings or daily reminders for the rest of my life, but many of these Post-Its and scribbles are important bits of information, insight, research sites, character sketches, reference lists and gritty details that I find important for my writing process. (I know. That *is* a Mac on the desk and I swear I'll invest in Scrivener when I've got the guts to switch from my trusty MSWord. I'm very slow to adapt. I don't even own a laptop!)

Some of the scraps and notebooks I have next to my desk:

A notebook conversation with my editor, some printed feedback emails, character sketch, plot timeline, and a few random Muse-giggles like "sigh and rattle of ancient swings," a "squeal of metal on metal as (something) turned in the wind," and "I absolutely forbid you to fall in love with this girl and go harrying off to save her from a fate worse than death! Do you hear me?!"/"Yes, father..." Note: I have no idea what these are *for* just yet, but I'm eager to find out!

I have a document reserved specifically for such one-line randomness, having unearthed a number of short stories and one MG novel from revisiting this document over the years. (As you can tell, I don't like to throw anything away.) So I type these into the computer and then click through my Bookmark bar checking out industry blogs, marketing gurus, and a few favorite friends as well as answering email and posting Twitter/FB/GR updates. I treat this like my morning paper for news, opinion columns & favorite cartoons. Okay? Now I'm ready to work!

So: writing. I sit and I write. I don't know how other people do it, but for me it's Sit. Write. Stop. I will sit and write for hours and when I come up for air, it's because I am hungry, thirsty, or need to go somewhere. I write roughly 2000-3000 words a sitting. I am very diligent because I had to be: I used to get 45 minutes in the morning and 2-3 hours at night while the kids were sleeping. (Sometimes I even fudged that: I wrote my second MG novel during 4am feedings. ... What?! I couldn't turn pages, but I could type!) Now with the luxury of all this time while they're in school, I've somehow grown lazier. I think it's due to the whole "online presence" thing masquerading as goofing off on the web. I like "researching" almost as much as I like chatting with folks on Twitter, iChat, Livejournal or Facebook. Unfortunately, this doesn't add to total word count.

Sit. Write. Stop.

I pause somewhere around noon or one to eat lunch. This is the toughest part of my day. I'm pulling myself reluctantly out of the cocooned world inside my head to blink around at the real world outside my glowing box. Here there be no dragons, but this break is loaded with shiny distractions because I *love* to cook and I *love* to eat.

Exhibit A: My kitchen.

Exhibit B: My backyard.

Exhibit C: My cat, Tigris. (Euphrates did not want to have his photo taken. Vain critter.)

Before I eat lunch, I get my brain moving by shaking out the cobwebs. I have small sets of free weights in my office and I do a sit-up routine every day (200) and light weights while I'm warmed-up; this gives me a little mental and physical pick-me-up before I indulge in foodie stupor and other errata. Sometimes I blow through this whole routine if I'm *really* writing on fire and grab something simple to eat at the keyboard. (I usually don't like to eat at my desk as 1) it risks crumbs, 2) it necessitates I stop typing & 3) there's not a whole heckuvalot of room!)

But I do drink tea. Lots of tea. Herbal tea. (Because me on caffeine would be a *BAD* thing.)

Even broken tea mugs find a home in my office holding all sorts of stuff.
In fact, one of these random objects features as a prominent role in my upcoming debut! (Can you guess what it is?)

I now have roughly an hour and a half before I go to pick up my kids and launch the Mommy part of my day filled with kid-commitments, appointments, extra-curricular activities, playdates, karate classes, dinner, washing, brushing, bedtime books and tucked-in-good-night. At the "end" of the day, I have another 2-3 hours before my husband comes home from work which I fill by writing (often a different project than the one this morning; currently this is brainstorming titles for the Book To Be Formerly Known As SKIN & BONES) or participating in various online group chats such as #kidlitchat and #yalitchat on Twitter or with my writerly friends on Verla Kay, Inkies (over at The Enchanted Inkpot) the Tenners and the Elevensies.

The end of the day is marked by the buzz of the garage door opening which means that I can give my husband a kiss and ask him how his day went before going to collapse around midnight with a good book for company. The curtain closes on another day where I can't believe that this is my life and I think my birthday card ala Margaret Atwood says it best:

Shhh! Don't tell!

So there it is: A Day in the Life of Writer Me!

"Keep writing!"
(Because sometimes you need to give yourself a bit of encouragement.)


( 51 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 3rd, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
Love your kitchen! LOVE your kitchen!!

And your desk - it is SO very neat. Really.

Backyard is a little scary, though. Trees can fall on people. I don't go out much.
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:08 pm (UTC)
I cannot speak to the aggressiveness of the trees, but watching them from behind a giant picture window takes some of the sting out of cleaning dishes.

Cooking is my zen. That and picking raspberries.
Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
Dawn, I love this! I get the kids-out-the-door routine and the need to stay on top big expanses of time.

What I'm loving most about these posts is that they yet again affirm there's no one way to do things and that there's plenty of room for all of us at the table.

Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
Thank goodness! And, if there was no room, we could all stand around the counters and assembly-line cook! (Our favorites are collaborative Chinese dumplings or Telefono rice balls or blintzes.)

It takes a village to make a good meal (and a good book)! ;-)
Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
Love that Margaret Atwood card.
Too funny about the bits of paper with flashes of creativity on them. I do the same thing while I drive my work truck. I bring them home at the end of the day and stack them beside my computer.
Thanks for sharing this. These Day in the Life's are so great to read!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
You'd think I'd be able to record more but I still find that risking my life while scribbling frantically against my knee works best!

And the card was from my husband. He knows me so well!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
lol! Your enthusiasm and boundless energy bounces right out of this post!

Is that a Far Side mug? Methinks it is.

I want to live in your kitchen & spend my days in your backyard - K?

Love your random lines. I collect mine, too.

Also - come to the Scrivener side! Once you do, you will never go back!

Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
YAY! The Far Side is my kind of wacky. (I'm tickled pink that my daughter now inhales these books with enthusiasm and appreciative giggling.)

Hey, grab a fork and come on over any time! ;-)

Scrivener. I hear such things. I suspect they lace the screen with subconscious things given all the love-fest. I don't know what will tip me over to the Light Side but I suspect I'll have to see someone use it first. >hint hint
(no subject) - juliakarr - Jun. 4th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dawn_metcalf - Jun. 4th, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
Your backyard is gorgeous!!!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:16 pm (UTC)
It's our yard up to the thicket and then it's a protected aviary as far as the eye can see. We have red hawks, river eagles, ducks, redwing blackbirds and some sort of owl nearby. This does not include the regular influx of squirrels, chipmunks, bunnies, deer and coyotes.

Serious hikes/tromping leads to thorough tick checks, though, and I don't like that quite as much. ((shudder))
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing Dawn! I can totally relate to writing around your kids / family schedule. Is there any other way? *sigh* Love your kitchen too - just because it's pretty - NOT because I like to cook! What was the object in your story? The scissors??
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
I hope one day to put more copper objects up on the cabinets and make it kinda steampunky-meets-nature. We'll see if that ever happens!

The object is, indeed, the scissors. REAL scissors that are made of steel and chipping paint, not aluminum and plastic. These babies were meant to Cut Things.

Stay tuned! ;-)
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:20 pm (UTC)
Love your backyard - so pretty!!!

Thanks for the fun peek into your day. :)
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks for peeking. Now to run errands...alas, not in the backyard outside.
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
I miss those days
I had two and half years of work at home and my days were very much like yours, except I dropped everyone off and walked the beach. GOD I MISS IT! One way clearing my head. The way back, all plot all the time. Then I'd sit in the van by the ocean and write until life and lack of food dragged me out of the fabulous insanity. Now I scratch out tiny chunks before the train, on the train, and luckily at work (in between the mania) followed by all weekend sprees. I want my old life back. Enjoy it!!!! The kidlets are only small once. Mine are 16 and 18 and both over six feet tall. Now I barely see them.
xo chicka
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
Re: I miss those days
I try to adore my children as much as possible when they aren't attempting to throttle one another and scream to wake the dead.

Ah, parenthood.

But treasuring this stage of life is sort of like telling expectant parents to store sleep now. It can't be done. I just live life and try to keep my priorities in order: while writing is important and necessary for Mommy, my kids need Mommy when they're around & awake!

(Thanks for stopping by, Kat!)
Re: I miss those days - kmblack - Jun. 3rd, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
Object with a prominent role.
Must be the tube of antibiotic ointment... Or perhaps the scissors... which might necessitate the former if there is any running involved.

Jun. 3rd, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Object with a prominent role.
LMAO!! You so rock!!

P.S. I love Weird Al!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
I read this and thought *sigh* b/c I'm just a few years behind that open expansiveness of day (my youngest one starts preschool in Sept).

I can't wait until the quiet hours of kids-at-school open for me. But I know it's a challenge to keep focused and productive (I know what you mean about being lazier w/more time - though I would hardly call you lazy! You are immensely productive).

I love your desk and the way you save everything. I can see you writing many, many books. :)
Jun. 3rd, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC)
*grin* I have indeed written many many books. My cats and ficus have been very impressed. It was only recently that I started sending stuff out...hadn't since high school... and now, look: young ones who vaguely look like me! (Actually, they look like my husband. I was just the oven for this crew.)

Enjoy all these moments. As my cousin quoth: "The days are long but the years fly by."
Jun. 3rd, 2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! And believe me, your office is not messy. Wait till it's my turn.
And BTW, I am in AWE of your 2,000-3,000 words a day!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
Please remember I cleaned up for the pic! ;-)

You know the weirdest thing is that I never knew that was unusual until my editor said that it was. I thought that was "normal" for an "amateur" goofing around. Who knew?
Jun. 3rd, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC)
Great post, Dawn. Tigris is beautiful. I am very envious of your devoted writing time, and your output! I too am a tea drinker, but mine needs to be caffeinated otherwise I would be sound asleep at the keyboard. Well, this ends up happening most nights anyway!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
To each their own drug of choice. Mine's chocolate. :-D
Jun. 3rd, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)
Oh my, I think we live parallel lives!! Two little kids, check (though, okay, my husband does the dropping off at school in the a.m.). Huge iMac with post its all over it and scraps of paper lying everywhere on messy desk, check. Maniacally reciting lines of prose or dialogue till I can get to a dirty scrap of paper, check.

Now if only I could be as good about spending the "kids at school time" productively as you!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC)
Hey! We can be Lifestyle Twins! (Or at least one another's cheerleaders. Go Kristi!!)
Jun. 3rd, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
Wow! Your days are so full and productive, Dawn. I'm suddenly ashamed of myself for staring stupidly at my computer for such long chunks of time.

I do relate to the scraps with lines scribbled on them. I'm always flipping through the piles of paper to find those little scraps, certain I wrote something brilliant on them. I'm usually disappointed, but still manage to tweak them into something workable.

I love your backyard view. And I want to kiss your cat's furry little face!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 11:11 pm (UTC)
Scraps of paper are my friends. And, perhaps, the kitties' as well. (They are not allowed in the backyard. If a hawk or coyote could manage to carry them off, they'd be easy four-course meals even though they've both slimmed down to trim 19 lbs and 12 lbs.)
Jun. 3rd, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)

LOVE your kitchen!
And your yard!
And your kitty!

Jun. 3rd, 2010 11:11 pm (UTC)
*hee* I do love these things in my life and I shall endeavor to leave some room in my heart for my book. And family. ;-)
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( 51 comments — Leave a comment )


The Elevensies
a mid-morning snack
with coffee or tea

A group of YA and MG authors whose first books debut in 2011


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