A Day in the Life of Tim Folger

Tim Folger
Tim Folger Courtesy of Tim Folger

What I’m working on:

I’m almost finished with the first draft of a piece about random numbers for Discover magazine. It’s a story with multiple themes: fundamental physics, the global economy, Russian spies. Will it all fit together? I’ll let you know in a few weeks. Tomorrow is a crucial test: My wife will read it before I send it to Discover.

I also have a story about the Arctic’s disappearing sea ice scheduled for the September issue of National Geographic. I spent a week on the northernmost tip of Baffin Island doing the reporting for that assignment. The day before I arrived at the campsite on Baffin, a polar bear had knocked down the expedition leader’s tent in the middle of the night, while the expedition leader was sleeping inside. No one was hurt—the bear was just curious, and apparently not hungry.

Where I work:

I live in a small town—Gallup—in northwestern New Mexico, population 20,000. The town’s kind of rough around the edges. Not many entertainment options, but the scenery is spectacular: high desert, red-rock cliffs. When I look out my window I see a steep rocky slope covered with juniper, piñon, and sage. I work at home in an office cluttered with the usual stuff—books, magazines, and notebooks piled on the floor.

Room with a view.
Room with a view. Tim Folger

My daily routine:

I’m usually up at the crack of 8:30, have breakfast, respond to emails. By late morning I’m out in my garage lifting weights or on a rowing machine. Back at my desk early in the afternoon, where I remain until evening, waiting for words to appear on my monitor. Peak productivity: late afternoon. Sometimes late at night as well, particularly as deadlines loom.

Tim Folger at desk
Courtesy of Tim Folger

Most essential ritual or habit:

Breaks from thinking—while I’m out in the garage.

Mobile device:

A Lenovo ThinkPad and a three-year-old Motorola smartphone.


A Lenovo Tiny desktop—it’s about the size of a hardcover book and attaches to the back of any monitor. It’s great—really fast and quiet, thanks to the solid-state drive.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

I’ve been using Linux for almost 20 years now, and by necessity have become way too familiar with arcane aspects of installing and maintaining software. I highly recommend Linux, and open-source software in general, for any freelancer—much more secure than Windows or Mac OS, and it’s free!

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

News feeds.

My reading habits:

I’m always looking for good stories for the anthology I help edit, The Best American Science and Nature Writing. So I read a lot of magazines while I have breakfast. At night I mostly read fiction, at least lately. I’ve enjoyed all four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. When someone asks me for a recommendation, I often mention The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, a moving and harrowing story about a first encounter between humans and aliens. It was recommended to me by scientists on the SETI project.

Sleep schedule:

I’m usually up until midnight, sometimes a bit later. My town is very quiet, and our high elevation (6,500 feet) makes for cool nights and good sleep even in the summer.

Now I’d better get back to that random-number story….

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