What I’m working on:
This year’s been a rather different sort of work year than most with a lot less writing and a lot more editing and consulting work. As deputy web editor for Pitch, Publish, Prosper, the companion blog to The Science Writers’ Handbook, I help get those posts and events onto the site. On the writing side of things, I have been working on stories that came out of a reporting trip to Guyana, where I camped out in the rainforest with some wildlife biologists, a profile of a young scientist who risked her Ph.D. for something she believed in, and some stories on brain research. But I’m currently enjoying a lull where I have a few days to assess what I’ve done this year, make plans for next year, catch up on my reading, and work on some pitches.
Where I work:
Most of the work gets done from my home office on the third floor of our house in Toronto. Its big window overlooks the neighborhood backyards, and gives me a great view of any storms rolling in from the north. From up here, I listen to the wind blowing the trees and the jays scolding, and defend our roof-top pepper plants from squirrel attacks.
I have a four-year-old daughter, so the morning tends to focus on getting her out the door to kindergarten. After that I walk the dog and get myself a coffee. I usually spend the first bit of the morning organizing: going through emails and figuring out the day’s priorities. On advice from Helen Fields, I ditched my endless lists and am testing out a Planner Pad. Everything (interviews, writing, emails, research, editing, etc.) just falls into place after that. I break for lunch at my stomach’s command, and try to exercise some days of the week, usually a run through the nearby park or along the lake, although that often doesn’t come until the end of the day. Then it’s off to pick up my daughter from daycare.
Most productive part of my day:
I’m fast and efficient right after breakfast and coffee when I’m motivated to accomplish the quick, easy, and often mundane tasks that come with running your own business: bills, invoicing, emails, etc. The morning is a good time for research: scanning journals, reading papers, and making phone calls. I often get a second wind at around 3:30, when I probably do the bulk of my writing.
Most essential ritual or habit:
Coffee. I usually make my own in a stove-top moka pot, but roughly once a week (more if I’ve got a lot of deadlines), I’ll make a quick trip with my dog to my favourite coffee shop, The Belljar, which serves nice strong coffee. The walk helps clear my head for the day to come and the coffee is a treat.
iPhone. I bought my first one three years ago. It changed my work habits, untied me from my desk, and made me a much more relaxed freelancer.
iMac when I’m in the office. MacBook Pro when I’m on the road or changing up the scenery.
Essential software/apps/productivity tools:
I’m slowly shifting away from the MS Office suite of software. I still edit in Word, since it seems to remain the industry standard, but for my own writing, especially for more elaborate or longer stories, I use Scrivener. Interviews via Skype and recorded to my hard drive with Audio Highjack Pro. All the writing, research, interview audio for a story goes into a single folder and gets saved in my Dropbox. That way it’s always backed-up and accessible wherever I am. Some research gets clipped to Evernote, though I know I could use it better than I do. Google Drive is key to collaborating on bigger projects.
Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:
I recently realized that my brain and body need to be involved in some sort of creative output that doesn’t involve a keyboard. Woodworking seems to fill that need, and over the winter I took a class, where I got to use giant power tools that could slice off a writer’s fingers in a second. I emerged unscathed. But I sometimes troll modern design websites looking for wooden things I can make on my own and sketch up plans when I should probably be working.
My reading habits:
My fondest memories of grad school (biology, not journalism) involve sitting on the windowsill of my apartment in Montreal with a pot of coffee and reading the Saturday newspaper from end to end. These days, I read parts of the newspaper in the morning over coffee between other business-y tasks. I subscribe to far too many magazines and still prefer to read most of them in paper form, and will catch up on them in the evenings, mostly The New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Wired, and The Walrus. I also read Dwell, which is probably the muse for my procrastination (see above). I tend to read non-fiction books, but I’m slow, partly because I read at night before bed when I’m tired, so I often have to re-read chapters. On the advice of several members of SciLance, I borrowed and loved Where’d you go, Bernadette: A Novel, by Maria Sempel. Also on my nightstand are David Quammen’s Spillover and Carolyn Abraham’s The Juggler’s Children. I am picking up Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed, from the library this afternoon.
This is a work in progress. I’ve been experimenting with some sleep apps (Fitbit, Sleep Cycle) to understand more about how much sleep I’m actually getting. If they’re analyzing my sleep patterns correctly, I wake up a lot and don’t sleep enough. So, I’m working towards going to bed earlier, cutting back on my screen time before bed, and getting more exercise. I aim for 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., but it’s a lot messier than that in reality.