A Day in the Life of Florence Williams

Florence Williams is a freelance journalist. Her book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, won the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science and technology and a 2013 Audie Award, and was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012. A contributing writer at Outside magazine, she is also a visiting scholar at George Washington University and the Center for Humans and Nature. Follow her on Twitter @flowill.

Florence WilliamsCorrynn Cochran

Florence Williams

What I’m working on:

I just finished the draft of my second book, which is about nature and the brain. Now I’m trying to remind magazine editors that I still exist. I recently turned in a feature for Outside, and one for National Geographic. I also just started work on a new science-based podcast. It’s a new medium for me, and so far it’s fun.

Where I work:

My kids, husband, and I moved not long ago from Boulder, Colorado, to a smaller house in Washington, D.C. I mostly work in a new backyard modular shed that came shipped on a truck from Colorado. As I told my husband, it was cheaper than buying a bigger house. It’s roomy enough (10 by 12 feet), with cork floors and French doors, and it’s insulated. I love the separation from the chaos of the house, but I also like the proximity to the kitchen. Unfortunately, I ran over budget before installing a ductless HVAC system, so in the winter I use a space heater and in the summer I wear tank tops and crank a fan. I hate air conditioning, so this works out, but sometimes I have to lug my computer to the house before it fries or freezes.

Florence WilliamsCourtesy of Florence Williams

Williams on the threshold of her writing shed.

Daily routine:

I get up at 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. and make breakfast for everyone, then I drop a kid at school and take our dog on a big walk by the Potomac River. I need the walk to wake up and to mentally survive living in a big city. Then it’s a pretty nutty combination of work, errands, work, kid, dog and dinner duty, sometimes work again. The kids, 12 and 14, have a lot of homework, so after dinner we all sit around with our laptops and drink tea. It’s pretty cozy.

Most productive part of my day:

I wish I were productive in the morning, but I’m just not. My best writing time is late afternoon and into evening, which is terrible timing for a parent. Thankfully, most days I have a great babysitter who picks up the kids from schools and battles D.C. traffic to take them to activities. I realize this is a huge gift and I’m grateful for it. If it were me in the car, I would be cursing and stressing out.

Writing studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Courtesy of Florence Williams

Another retreat: Writing studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

My other essential productivity revelation is that sometimes I just need to go on a writing retreat for a few days where I can pound out a chapter draft, solve structural problems, and have some space to think and plan. Last spring I went on a two-week retreat at Point Reyes, California, and my eyeballs practically fell out from wide-eyed joy.

Most essential ritual or habit:

The morning river walk is my most essential habit, but I also love to end the day with a long hot bath during which I read as long as I can stay awake.

Mobile device:

iPhone 5. My son has the 6 and lords it over me.

Computer:

I toggle between two laptops (big and small) and an iMac retina. That’s what I bought instead of the HVAC, and I think it was a good choice. I love having a large, high-quality screen. But I like the flexibility of the laptops, and sometimes I perch one on a standing desk (an old kitchen cart along a wall in the shed) to shake things up. The older I get, the more I hate sitting. I wish someone would invent an app that plays an irresistible dance song every 30 minutes. People: Get on that. The whole point of working alone is that you can bust out some Donna Summer.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

I write in Scrivener but put book notes in Pages for Mac, saved on iCloud, so they can move seamlessly between all the computers. I store web pages in DEVONThink, and I love Sente for managing PDFs and taking notes on them. My Bose noise-cancelling headphones are a critical piece of technology for me, because I live under the flight path to Reagan National, and the shed is not very noise-proof.

HaileyCourtesy of Florence Williams

Hailey, a convenient excuse for a walk.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

I spend too much time checking email and social media (bad habits) and I also like to cook (better habit). Sometimes I’ll start stews and soups in the middle of the day. I also take the dog out for frequent round-the-block jaunts. She’s an energetic lab-husky, and it’s good for me to get out and move around. If I didn’t take her, she’d eat all my shoes.

My reading habits:

See bath time, above. I read mostly nonfiction books and longreads, but I’m in a fun book club that keeps me partly up to date on contemporary fiction. Most recently we read Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, which has some really spectacular writing. I am also diving into podcasts in a big way, and I listen to them while cooking, cleaning, and sometimes while walking the dog.

Sleep schedule:

Usually pretty zonked by 10:30 or 11:00, but I’m not a great sleeper, so sometimes I catch up on The New York Times or more podcasts in the wee hours.

 

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