Will it sound unbearably smug if I say that lockdown hasn’t really affected me? Apart from getting a new computer. Otherwise normal service has continued pretty well without interruption.
I don’t want it to sound smug, because I know people who are horribly ill, whose companies are going down the pan, who are struggling financially, whose children with special needs are climbing the walls, or any combination of the above plus any other side effects you can think of. But the effects on me personally, and hence on my writing, are indirect.
There have been changes, of course. I’m normally the only one at home during the day. Suddenly there are other people around claiming to be my family. They certainly resemble the people I usually only see first thing and in the evenings, so I take them at their word.
I have been banished from the workroom, as my wife’s admin job really requires the main computer with its big screen. I now have a space of my own in the living room – I’m still deciding whether to refer to it as the auxiliary console room or the battle bridge – which for the first week or so I spent hunched over the laptop, since all I do all day is tap-tap-tap at the keyboard, and how hard can that be? Fortunately my stepson decided to bust the boredom of furlough by building a brand new machine from scratch, and having no further use for it, gave it to me. So I now have the most modern and fastest computer in the house and can get on with the business of the new normal – or, as I like to call it, normal.
Normal for me is being a full time ghostwriter: how that came about accidentally is a story for another day. It’s the habits I’ve learnt while writing full time for the last five years that have helped me survive.
A few years ago I learnt from another Milforder, I think Dave Gullen, the handy tip of walking to work, even if you live at home: in other words, a quick walk around the block before the working day begins. It’s excellent advice. It not only guarantees you a minimum amount of exercise and fresh air but helps reset the mind into writing mode. This also fitted well with the peak lockdown rule of only leaving the house once a day for exercise.
Next, regular hours. I keep office hours during weekdays. I’m working by 9, I take a lunch break, I down tools at 5pm without a sense of guilt and I rarely work weekends.
I can do this because I keep track of the words. If you have a word count, and a deadline, then it becomes a simple matter of maths to work out how many words you need to average per day between now and then to turn the job in on time. So simple in fact that you can put it in a spreadsheet. Which I do. With graphs, but that’s just me and is optional. Of course, they may not always be the right words (or in the right order): you need to factor in time to let yourself edit, rewrite, check and so on. But that can be added to the mix and the fundamental maths is unchanged.
I have a wall planner, except that it’s not a planner on the wall, it’s a spreadsheet. The principle is the same. At a glance I can look at any day of the year and see what I am supposed to be working on. What I am supposed to have worked on. What I will shortly be working on. When I can and can’t take on new work. What promises I can viably make about delivery times. And so on.
Time was I would have recoiled in horror at letting such blatant practical common sense interfere with the precious flower of my creativity. But I’ve grown up since then. I’m running a business of one. Other people (publishers and clients) are running businesses that depend on my output (words) arriving dependably and in good order. It’s the least I can do.
Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be quite easy (it isn’t) and save him from having to get a real job (it didn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of several novels and short stories, he is also an experienced ghostwriter, journal editor, book publisher and technical writer. His most recent book is a biography of the amazing Ada Lovelace for children, published by David Fickling Books. His novels to date are: His Majesty’s Starship; The Xenocide Mission; Time’s Chariot; The New World Order; Phoenicia’s Worlds; The Teen, the Witch & the Thief; The Comeback of the King; and H.M.S. Barabbas. His short story collection Jeapes Japes is available from Wizard’s Tower Press (https://wizardstowerpress.com/). He is now a full time ghostwriter, writing stuff for other people which annoyingly makes more money than his own does. His website is at www.benjeapes.com.