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My Daily Writing Habits, by Stephanie Cowell

For many years of my writing life I worked a day job, as so many of us do. I had a great deal of energy then, and used to go to sleep before 11pm and wake up at 6am to write for a few hours before going into my office job. I also wrote on office downtime and sometimes stayed late at the office to write. I only had a typewriter (I was a single mom and computers were a luxury) so I used to type at home and retype to the computer.

I went to the library for research during lunch. I had very empathetic work colleagues, so lunch stretched a long time. I read research materials on the subway going to work and sometimes walking across the long New York City midtown blocks. I was so desperate to write. I lived in the worlds I wrote. I edited printouts while walking.

There is a marvellous small book called Writer with a Day Job that I heartily recommend.

When I finally quit my day job, life seemed incredibly luxurious. It took me at least a year to begin to live at a normal speed.  My pattern is to get up around 8am and work for 4-6 hours, depending on my work-in-progress.

People ask me about when I research. I have a general familiarity with the period and place where my novel is set when I begin, so some of my research is already done. I knew the Elizabethan period very well when I wrote my first novel Nicholas Cooke but I researched along the way. I knew something about the work of the impressionists when I started Claude and Camille and a little about Monet but I had some familiarity with his water lily paintings. About 75 research books later, and after a few trips to Paris and Giverny, many museum visits in American and Europe, and two or three years of studying French, I knew a great deal. All this research occurred during the time of the writing, so I was discovering it as the same time I was writing the book. I’d read about a certain street or garden and say, “I could have him walk there!” I found his life situations in my research.

I rewrite a lot. I can write a scene forty times and throw it away, or keep one sentence and use it in another place in the book.  At some point in the book I put my history books away and just write. I hope by then I am fully inhabiting the spirit of the characters and the world. I have several unfinished novels.

When writing goes well, I stay off Facebook; when it’s lagging, I’m checking it.

In a way I miss my day job. It’s nice to talk to real people in the day.


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Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet     Garden of VenusEquinoxThe Tenth Gift

Writing Historical Novels

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have similar work habits, except that my work includes a lot of freelance articles as well as whatever book that I’m working on. The articles have deadlines, which pushes me to finish them. However, I average about 3 articles due each week and sometimes it leaves me drained to work daily on my book. Any thoughts on how to adopt a work habit to deal with that?

    November 14, 2013

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  1. Month In Review (November 2013) | Writing Historical Novels

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