Welcome to another edition of A Day in the Life. Here, creators share some insight into their daily routine, informing how they create and what structure they need (if any) to make a little magic happen. It’s sort of like the comic book version of MTV Cribs, only no one says, “This is where the magic happens.”
Today, writer Daniel M. Bensen shares the in’s and out’s of his daily routine. Bensen’s latest project sees him serving as co-writer for the excellent Protector from Image Comics. Outside the industry, Bensen is best known as a sci-fi writer, having published the novel Junction as well as the Sideways Award-winning short story “Treasure Fleet.”
You can find him on Twitter @evil0dan.
What’s the first thing you do as part of your daily routine/workday?
After I lock myself in the attic, sit in my chair, and open my laptop, I turn on the Headspace app and do a meditation. Then I put on my playlist and write.
Do you keep to a set schedule or just wing it during any given week?
I’ve found I work best within a fairly strict schedule. Over the weekend, I don’t work, but I talk about my plans with my friends and my wife, and I figure out what I’m going to write that week. During the work week, I free-write in the morning and do research/emails/other in the afternoon. Friday’s writing time is reserved for something new and experimental.
Is there one particular place you work, or a specific set up to be most productive?
Before the coronavirus, I wrote in my office and in various cafes around Sofia. Now I lock myself in the attic. 🙂
But my setup is still built to be portable. It’s just a laptop, noise-cancelling headphones, my phone, WiFi, and a comfortable chair.
You can find out more about my pre-coronavirus writing habits in this interview.
What’s the absolute highlight of any given workday?
Often my highlight turns out to be that free writing time in the morning — a scene will turn out well, and I’ll feel good about it all day. Other times the highlight will turn out to be some juicy research or something I do even though it scares me, like answering an important email.
What’s your least favorite part of any workday?
It’s a terrible feeling when I dive into writing but don’t emerge with a scene that I like. I’m trying hard to re-frame those times from “failures” to “learning experiences,” because they are usually a sign my writing is headed in the wrong direction. It’s better to know that something’s wrong, right?
Are you listening to music or podcasts throughout the day?
I make Spotify playlists for each of my projects. Fiddling with the playlist gives me a chance to zoom out and rest when the writing gets hard. Here’s my playlist for Protector!
I can’t listen to words while writing, but during the rest of the day I listen to audio books and podcasts. I recommend “A Deepness in the Sky” and “Lexicon Valley.”
When you work, do you have a daily “quota” to reach (number of pages, word count, etc.)? Are these “metrics” important or not?
Metrics have been very unhealthy for me in the past. I feel the need to be “productive” and justify my existence every day, so if I don’t meet a quota, it depresses the hell out of me.
I’m actually more productive when I just have fun for 90 minutes every morning.
Do you have any habits or special routines that are essential for a truly productive day?
Meditation is helpful before I start writing. Then I listen to music and write. Then I spend a few minutes writing notes about that day’s scene and my plans for the next day. I eat some chocolate and give myself a pat on the back. Then it’s off to take care of the kids and the house.
How important is diet during the day? Do you drink 10 gallons of coffee or a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal at 11 a.m.?
One cup of rather strong coffee in the morning, another after lunch, and that’s it, or else I’ll have trouble sleeping. I try to eat a satisfying meal before each cup of coffee because someone told me that smoothies out the caffeine rush. I don’t know if that’s true 🙂
Do you read/consume comics or other media during the day? Or do you need to keep a distance from that while working?
I write every weekday, so I’d go nuts if I avoided media while writing 🙂 During the month or two it takes for me to complete a draft, I try to choose media that will feed into the project. So for example for Protector 2, I’m reading/listening to action fantasies like The Burning White and Ghostwater and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. John LeCarre spy novels are next.
Are you working steadily with breaks or do you tend to work in spurts?
I write every weekday morning, trying to focus on a given project for a month or two until I’ve completed that draft. Then I set that project aside and let it rest while I work on another project for the next two months.
How do you usually wind down the work day — emails, more reading, etc.?
I only do focused writing work for 90-120 minutes at a time, so I don’t need much wind-down. But, during the lockdown it’s been hard to keep work, writing, parenting, and relaxation separate. I try not to work or write after six so I can focus on the kids until 8 or so, then decompress by watching a TV show, reading, or talking with my wife. What I’d like to do more is take walks.