A Typical Day in an Insane Life (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines, we’re supposed to talk about a “typical” day in the life of a writer and what sustains us as writers. You know: how we keep going.

I have no typical days, or at least not for long stretches of time. And I probably used to say, somewhat tongue in cheek, that Diet Coke sustained me. But it turns out that Diet Coke was bad for my teeth (WTH, teeth!), so poof! Foiled again.

The truth is, if you ask a bunch of artists about their “typical” day, you’ll get a bunch of wildly different answers. We aren’t making widgets; we’re creating art. And art doesn’t like to be locked in.

But I’ll be a Good Girl and take a stab at this anyway.

I’m not writing novels right now. I do hope to be again soon, but I fried my brain putting out three novels last year, a month apart from each other, and fried brains don’t want to create new novels. Or, at least, mine didn’t. Then, right when I was about to start writing again, for National Novel Writing Month this past November, I crashed my scooter and wrecked my right shoulder and arm. For a LONG time, I couldn’t type. I couldn’t do anything.

So, instead, I ramped up efforts on my upcoming debut album. (GOLDEN GIRL arrives on June 23!) I couldn’t play guitar, but I could sing and give input as my songs were mixed. And now, with a June 23 deadline (and my true deadline is more like April), I have absolutely no time to write. I’m in the recording studio, writing songs, rehearsing, playing live, promoting, and doing all of the things that go into releasing an album. It’s overwhelming, and my brain has zero interest in attempting more than that.

When I’m writing or revising novels, I do have more of a routine, but it depends entirely on whether I’m writing or revising. If I’m writing a first draft, I spend about three hours in the morning simply writing. The afternoon is for fiddling around with the draft, querying agents or editors, promo, and everything else I do, including music. And my “afternoon” usually goes well into the evening. If I’m revising, it’s much more intense, and I spend most of my day on that. Last year, while putting out the three novels in my Pendulum series, I spent a dozen or more hours a day on revisions, copyedits, etc., six or seven days a week.

And that simply isn’t sustainable. You need more. I REALLY need more. I need massive amounts of exercise to feel both happy and good. (So my scooter accident did great harm to me emotionally as well as physically.) I need music, and not just my own: I love live music. And if it’s nice weather, I’d rather watch and listen to it outdoors. Luckily, Minneapolis is great for that. And, perhaps like all novelists and songwriters, I need ART from as many sources as possible. It’s what we call refilling the well.

You have only so many fresh ideas inside of you at any given time, and you need to keep replenishing them. For a novelist, reading lots and lots of other people’s books is an absolute. I also love movies, which do the same thing for me, but with all the visuals. Ooh, and museums.

As a songwriter, I listen to a lot of music. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a cycle class, where they’re playing all this fun music, and I climbed off my bike and walked outside for a minute to record a voice memo of lyric ideas that the songs gave me. I also love to get book and song ideas while out for a long walk. I’ve long since realized that I’ll never remember them when I get home, so again I chatter into my voice memo app. Voice memo might well be the most useful app I have!

My life is frantic, and I fill it to the brim with events and activities. (I’m currently studying four languages on Duolingo, working on most of them every day.) Although I think of my crazy life as providing inspiration for my art, the truth is that it simply sustains me. It also exhausts me, but that’s a topic for another day.

Let me sleep on it.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.


Post a Comment