Living the Dream: A Working Writer’s Survival Guide – Guest Post by Brandon Draga

Today I have the great pleasure of hosting a guest post by Brandon Draga, a fellow Torontonian who has fled to the ‘burbs. He’s the author of three books, the most recent of which, The Council of Tymenthia: The Four Kingdoms Saga Book 3, is to be released shortly! Links to those books can be found below.

And now…without further things and stuff…

Living the Dream: A Working Writer’s Survival Guide

*Looks at watch*

Hmm, looks like I have a book coming out soon

So a while back I told the internet that, in anticipation/promotion of said book, I would do a series of guest blog posts, and my lawyer tells me that everything you tweet is legally binding.

He also tells me that lobster is actually a sentient fruit.

I should find a new lawyer.

Anyway, I had actually planned to write this post on my own site months ago, except for the fact that, inevitably, I arrived home on the night I planned to post it and promptly deflated, not unlike Beymax in Big Hero Six once he learns that he has been a successful helper. This is more or less a nightly ritual with me, and in a way it’s largely what helped spur this blog idea.

I’ve made it clear before, in various media, that I have a full-time job that is begrudgingly not writing. Many writers will attest that hocking yarn for a living doesn’t guarantee financial security, and so I subsidize my frivolous literary career aspirations by working as a retail pharmacy technician. This means that I have staggered days off, work one day during the weekend, and frequently finish work between 7 and 10pm every day. Further, the interesting combination of having to be “on” both mentally (dealing with prescription meds = kind of a big deal) and socially (customer service) means that by the time I cross the threshold of my home each night, I usually only have the creative energy to watch the Game Grumps fruitlessly try to complete a level of Mario Maker on YouTube.

All that said, I still manage to write. Heck, in the last year I wrote one novel and four short stories, all on top of attending a bunch of events to promote the two novels and picture book I wrote the year before. I won’t lie to you, Marge, writing is tough. The brain is fickle, and there is not nearly enough time in the day to reconcile what we want to do and what we are required to do, and once you have people paying you to do what you want, but still have to do what is required, some days you can feel not unlike you’re being chased by a dire lava bear while wearing cursed pantaloons of encumbrance.

Other days, however, work like magic. You hit your word count, you wrap a chapter, everything comes up peaches and wildebeest. The trick is to try and mitigate the lava bear days in favour of the wildebeest days, and that can be tough.

I have no doubt that some of you are in a similar position as I, whether you’re writing books, poetry, songs, or maybe you’re a freelance artist. So, I decided I wanted to bestow unto you, faithful readers, my entirely finite wisdom in the world of blue-collar professional creativity. Some of these bits of advice may be completely irrelevant to your situation, of course, or only moderately so, so please be sure to add salt to taste.

  1. Know when you are most creatively energetic

    For me, this is mid-late morning, before I’ve spent hours counting blood pressure pills and explaining people’s own insurance policies to them. I make a point of doing everything I can to get an hour or two of writing time in before I head off to work. If I’m lucky this can usually net me around 500 words or so, and if I’m really lucky it can net me my target 1000. Which leads me to my next point…

  2. Have a target

    I try my hardest to write 1000 words every day. If I’m on-point that day, I’ll usually write around 500 words before work, and another 500 on my lunch break. I can’t speak enough about how great the word count box in Kingsoft Office is for this. Some people swear by Scrivner, total masochists adore Write or Die, but for me little is quite as satisfying as looking down at the bottom of my screen and seeing the steady increase of what is essentially my high score meter.

  3. Wherever you are, be ready to write

    This was a habit I formed early on during my writing The Summerlark Elf. Summerlark was a NaNoWriMo project, and that meant 1,667 words per day or bust. Because I was young and hungry way back in the heady days of November 2013, I was able to sit down and tap out a few hundred words at a moment’s notice. As a means of augmenting this, I got an old Android tablet from my older brother, later purchasing a bluetooth keyboard for it. This eventually got upgraded to a hand-me-down iPad, and finally to the new laptop my family all pitched in to get me this past Christmas. During NaNo ’13, having a portable means of getting my ideas down was a huge help in getting me to hit, and often surpass the magic 1,667. Once I started working on The Missing Thane’s War, there were days where my tablet was the only way I was getting any writing done at all. Speaking of…

  4. Never, ever assume you have, or will later have, free time to write

    This is part “don’t procrastinate” and part “learn how to multitask”. On the one hand, in the rare instance during a workday when you find that you have an hour or two unburdened by the basic responsibilities necessary to function as a mature human, you are squandering that time if you aren’t writing, because there is a good chance that time will not be there later in the day, or even later in the week.
    Quasi parum et ad momentum quo discurrentes arripere non abscidit caput pulli, as they used to say in 2nd century BCE Rome.
    Or maybe it was just
    Carpe Diem. Rolls of the tongue a whole lot better, that.
    On the other hand, multitasking. In order to operate as a functional human, as mentioned above, you probably need to do banal chores like sweeping the floors and washing the dishes. Further, you probably have to feed yourself as a means of ensuring your survival and general well-being. Where the latter is concerned, you have in those moments between bites prime writing time. Writing on my lunch break at work has been the only way I’ve managed to meet any of my deadlines, especially now that most of them aren’t self-imposed. You’ll find that your ability to write one-handed will improve vastly, and in turn your typing speed when working with both hands will improve as well.

  5. Try your hardest to structure your schedule around your creative high points

    This one can be a little trickier, but it’s something that’s much easier the longer you commit to it, not unlike the act of writing itself. Remember way back in Point One when I mentioned that we all have our time when we’re most creatively efficient? Well as a means of maximizing that time, it helps to ensure that anything that might get in your way be otherwise taken care of beforehand, the more well in advance the better.

    As I mentioned before, I tend to work best in the mid-late morning period, so this means showers are taken the night before, as are dishes cleaned, emails sent, and food made for the next day. It also means an average wake-up time of between 7 and 8am. If you’re the type of person who writes best at night, then by all means feel free to flip all of this as best it suits you. Remember: the key to all of this is to do whatever you can to wrench those precious few extra moments from the clutches of day-to-day life, so planning is totally key.

Now of course, as with any good list, there needs to be some point that seems to completely contradict the ones I already made (my lawyer told me that, too). So here it is, as follows:

  1. Manage your expectations on a daily basis.

    Life is unpredictable. Stuff happens, and as hard as you try to avoid it, there will be days where your best efforts will be for naught. Maybe the battery on your laptop went earlier than expected, or maybe you got tied up with an unexpected chore at home during your golden writing hours. Maybe, against your will, you simply cannot make the words happen that day.

    This is perfectly okay.

    Lots of burgeoning writers I’ve seen will take a bad day or two as a sign that they maybe aren’t cut out for this writing thing, or that maybe the time isn’t right. This kind of self-doubt (and believe me when I say that every author struggles with self-doubt) is especially poisonous, and so the best thing you can do in this situation is to step back, take a deep breath, and remember that this is just one day.

I mean, at the end of the day, writing is a tough gig – no one ever really said that it would be easy, though. Except of course for the countless people who pledge daily the age-old mantra “I should write a book.” and then proceed to never do so. Hopefully these tips will help you not be one of those people, because when all is said and done, the most important thing is that the writing gets done, regardless of what odd hour you need to bathe to do so.

Brandon Draga – The Bio

Brandon Draga was born in 1986, just outside Toronto, Ontario. His love of all things fantasy began at an early age with games like The Legend of Zelda, Heroquest, and Dungeons and Dragons. This affinity for the arcane and archaic led to his studying history at York University from 2005 to 2011. In late 2012, he began writing a D&D campaign setting that would lay the groundwork for the world of Olhean, the setting for his “Four Kingdoms Saga” novel series, compared by critics to the works of Terry Brooks, Michael J. Sullivan, and R.A. Salvatore. Brandon has also proven that SF/F can be made accessible at any age, writing the lauded picture book “Dragon in the Doghouse”. Brandon still lives just outside Toronto, and when he is not writing enjoys skateboarding, playing guitar, and playing tabletop games.

Brandon’s Books

The Summerlark Elf:
The Missing Thane’s War:
The Council of Tymenthia (pre-order):

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