A Day In My Life As A Historical Novelist, by Ben Kane
I chose this topic of a day in the life of a writer because I thought it might provide an interesting insight into how I write my books, and also provide a platform for readers of this blog to share how they spend their days writing.
I could start by saying that I spend a lot of time prevaricating, networking on social media and being very inefficient, but that would only be 50% true. Yet my writing time is now totally different to what it was even twelve months ago, and that was different to how I wrote five years ago. I’ll start at the beginning and describe how it evolved.
When I started writing, I was working full-time as a veterinarian in a small animal practice. I did this job for sixteen years in total. Once I got into a writing routine, which did take a while, I would use all my spare time to write. I wrote in my car during my lunch break, in the office above the surgery or even on the operating table sometimes (not at the same time as I was operating!). I spent any spare time during my weekends reading textbooks about Ancient Rome, or writing.
After about three years writing, I began submitting my manuscript to literary agents. Three refusals were disheartening, but then I got the lucky break of a personal introduction to one Charlie Viney, the man who is still my agent today. Once I signed up with him, my amount of time that I spent writing increased further. Still working as a veterinarian, I got married and we had our first child. During the subsequent eighteen months, I easily notched up 80-90 hours’ work per week between my veterinary job and writing. Monday to Friday, I would get up at 4.45 a.m. and write for two hours before I went to work. I wrote at the end of each day, between the last operation and the start of evening consultations. I’d write for ten to twelve hours a day on weekends.
In August 2007, I landed a three book deal with Random House, the largest publisher in the world. Life changed again and I had to write a book every twelve months – as well as work full-time. It was really hard work, working the same sort of hours as I had for the previous year and a half but with the pressure of a deadline added in. When my first novel, The Forgotten Legion, was published, I made the concession of going part-time as a veterinarian. I couldn’t keep working those insane hours forever. My second book was difficult, as it is for many writers. I ended up rewriting 25% of it – twice! The time that took meant that I went over my deadline, and I took the mad leap of faith of giving up my job as a veterinarian. We couldn’t really afford to do it, but I was no longer able to do two jobs full time and have any quality time with my family.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made. At last I was free to write every day, to immerse myself in the ancient world and to do something that I absolutely adored. I am lucky enough to have an office in our wooden garage, and that has been where I have written my last four books. Once I started doing it full time, I developed a routine of having breakfast and getting out to my office by 9 a.m. at the latest. I would write until 11 a.m., have a coffee, continue until 1 p.m., break for lunch and then continue until maybe 6 p.m. That worked fine until my son started walking and talking. When my daughter came along in 2009, life got even busier. This also coincided with my career starting to take off. Suddenly, I was getting emails from readers all over the world, requests from my publisher for extra material, or to appear at library or bookshop signings. I also managed to get myself into events at Roman sites all over Britain where I could sell my books and raise my profile. These were all the things I had dreamed of as an aspiring writer, but they ate and ate into my writing time. In addition, in late 2010, I got involved in setting up of The Historical Writers’ Association (www.thehwa.co.uk) and my writing time took a further nose dive. Last year, my daily word count was suffering badly. I had to become even more disciplined about taking time to write – with no electronic interruptions. I also discovered the Pomodoro Technique, which has been the salvation of my writing. It’s really simple: write for 25 minutes, with no interruptions at all; take 5 minutes break, in which you can do what you wish; repeat.
Currently, that’s working well, but given the way my writing time has changed in just five years, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to find another method at some stage in the future.
Ben Kane’s author website: www.benkane.net
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