What to Expect When You’re Writing

The Glamorous Life of a Foodie Writer on Deadline
by Stacey Ballis


One of the things I get asked all the time is what my days are like as a writer. This is always a tough question to answer, since I am not one of those writers with a lot of discipline, so I don’t necessarily have a structured schedule. Most weeks I write only two or three days, and it is pretty basic, get up, eat breakfast, write till lunch, eat lunch, write a few hours after lunch, stop for the day.

Unless, of course, I’m on deadline. Because as the great Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Getting the words on the page is the last thing I want to do when I get up, but once they are there, I’m awfully pleased with myself. On deadline, the last two months before a new book is due is always a little bit panicked. Because I have naturally procrastinated writing about half of the book that is due, and so I have to spend 3-4 days a week abandoning my poor hubby to head for my family’s weekend place, to eliminate as many distractions as possible, and to give myself permission to stay up till all hours knocking it out.

Adding in being a writer of “foodie fiction” with my novels filled with descriptions of great food and recipes in the back, most of the people who don’t know me very well seem to imagine that my days are full of amazing Pinterest-worthy meals that I “throw together” like I’m a combo chef/food stylist breaking up the stretches of meaningful writing hours. And I wish that were true, since all I really want to do is to reimagine myself as a heroine in a Nancy Meyer movie. But sadly, it is not reality. So I thought I would share with you a peek behind the curtain of a foodie writer on deadline, as compared to the perception:

Here is what people imagine the days are like:

7am- Awaken rested to the sounds of chirping birds outside the window, energized and ready to tackle a hard day at the computer
7:15- 15-minute meditation and deep breathing to center and focus
7:30- Take a bath with essential oils in grapefruit and mint
8:00- Get into a set of cashmere lounging pajamas and a warm pair of slippers
8:15- Make a large pot of organic decaffeinated tea to last the morning, and create a lovely parfait of vanilla Greek yogurt, homemade granola, and fresh berries
8:30- Turn on classical music or jazz to provide soft background music, and settle into your office, which contains an antique library table used as a desk, wraparound bookshelves, and a fainting couch.
9:00- Having skimmed over the outline of what is to be written today, turn on the computer and get to work
11:00- Feeling good about progress, break for tea and homemade biscotti
11:15- Return to writing
12:30- Break for lunch: Seared Tuna Nicoise Salad made with baby greens, tomatoes, and green beans from the garden, baby new potatoes from the Farmer’s Market, and a homemade shallot Dijon vinaigrette using a technique picked up last visit to Provence. Quickly post picture of lunch to Facebook.
1:30- Skim over morning writing and pronounce it lovely, continue writing
3:30- Break for tea and a snack of homemade hummus and flax crackers with crudités
3:45- Continue writing
6:30- Break for dinner: Grilled baby lamb chops with black garlic miso butter, mint and parsley carrot couscous, steamed asparagus. Peaches with honeyed mascarpone and candied sage for dessert. Plate everything on vintage china and eat with grandmother’s wedding silver and a half carafe of perfectly chilled Cote de Provence rosé. Take pictures of everything for files.
7:30- Quickly jot down recipe notes on dinner for use in blog post tomorrow
8:00- Return to office with small glass of Madeira and settle on fainting couch to read over today’s writing and make notes on outline for tomorrow
9:30- Indulge – watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi while editing
11:00- Take hot bath with essential oils in lavender and thyme, eating a single square of artisanal 85% dark chocolate while reading MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating for the eleventh time
11:45- Put on crisp white cotton nightdress
12:00- Sleep



6am- Awaken briefly to pee. Return to sleep. Have bizarre dreams.
9- Awaken for real. Debate going back to sleep. Lose debate due to need to take a dump.
9:10- Slip bra on underneath holey old t-shirt you have slept in, and put on leggings and a pair of ratty socks with a hole in the heel
9:15- Drink a diet ginger ale, and eat a Think Thin peanut butter chocolate bar, marveling that chocolate and peanut butter can actually taste like chalk and old socks. Attach Fitbit to bra.
9:30- Settle o nto the living room couch with laptop on the ottoman and turn on HGTV to provide background noise
9:45: Check email and Feedly blogs
10:30- Grab iPad and use up all of your available lives in Candy Crush, Diamond Dig, Pet Rescue Saga, Bubble Witch 1 & 2, and Juice Cubes
11:30- Feeling good about progress, break for tea and chocolate chip toffee cookies from the freezer that you were saving to bring to a friend next week. Vow to make fresh cookies instead. Nearly pull out a filling on frozen cookies.
11:45- Get sucked into the end of a particularly compelling Love it or List it. They love it. Despite still being one bedroom and two bathrooms short for their family of 11, and the other house being three times the size and in their beloved neighborhood for under their budget and never having had black mold in the kitchen. Wonder about the general intelligence of Canadians.
12:00- Realize it is nearly lunchtime and therefore there is no reason to begin writing quite yet
12:30- Survey lunch options. There are makings for sandwiches, quick pastas, or salads in your overstuffed fridge. Eat the tuna salad you picked up at the deli yesterday right out of the tub with a plastic fork to eliminate washing.
12:45- Eat a fistful of cornichons and three Kraft singles
12:55- Eat three more frozen cookies since you’ve been really good about your lunch being carb-free
1:15- Skim over yesterday’s writing and cringe at your use of the word ‘frankly’ no less than six times in 1500 words
1:30- iPad tells you all your lives are back
2:30- Hildy has discovered that the foundation of the house she is working on is completely unsafe and that the house could collapse into a hellmouth any second. She gets Fergus right on fixing it up to make the family safe. They are enormously pissed at her, as it is clearly her fault they bought this house with no inspection off an ad on the internet, and now they won’t be able to afford their open-concept main floor with gourmet kitchen and dining room.
2:59- They love it. Where do they find these people? I’ve met many lovely and insanely smart Canadians in my life. None of them ever seem to appear on Love it or List it.
3:00- Feeling sleepy. Maybe blood sugar is low. Look in fridge. There is fresh fruit, hummus, crudités, yogurt. Put electric kettle on for tea.
3:10- Decide against tea and use boiling water for Cup O Noodles instead
3:12- Scald the ever-loving crap out of your hand on overflowing Cup O Noodles
3:15- Burn tongue on lava-like Cup O Noodles
3:30- Still sleepy, decide on Power Nap
5:30- Awaken groggy and barely able to open eyes
5:45- Get off couch due to need to pee
6:00- Drink diet ginger ale and eat last two frozen cookies
6:15- All your lives are back
6:59- They love it. Yell at television and switch to Bravo
7:15- Almost dinnertime, better not start writing yet
7:30- Survey fridge for dinner options. There is a rotisserie chicken, pork chops, six grain salad, plus all of the options you ignored at lunchtime.
7:35- Make large bowl of popcorn for dinner. Eat three more Kraft singles while waiting for it to pop. And for protein. Source online picture of summer pasta with burrata and heirloom tomatoes for tomorrow’s blog post.
7:59- Feel awfully good about yourself since you are a much better person than any of these housewives
8:00- Switch to Law and Order marathon
8:15- Start writing
10:15- Break to pee. Eat fistful of mini gummi bears that you bought because they are a third the size of regular gummi bears and therefore impossible to resist, as is all adorable food. Plus they come in 12 flavors. Which all taste identical unless you are really paying close attention to the color before you eat them. Decide to test your palate and pick out one of every flavor and close eyes and try to identify blind.
10:30- Realize that once you have eaten the gummi bear blind you have no idea if you were right. Pick out two of every flavor so that you can start over and use process of elimination to determine if you were correct.
10:45- 10 out of 12. You are clearly a superior palate.
11:00- All your lives are back.
11:45- Go back to writing
2:50- Realize that you have actually done some good work and wonder why you waited all day to get to it.
3:00- Check FitBit, you have walked 1213 steps, all of them between couch, kitchen and bathroom.
3:15- Go to sleep and vow to do better tomorrow.

The opposite of glamorous, and more than a wee bit embarrassing, but I hope if nothing else it gives an honest perspective of what the days look like!

And for whatever reason, as dysfunctional as it is, it works for me. I hope you will pick up a copy of Recipe for Disaster and see if you agree!

Big love,

Stacey Ballis is a Chicago-based novelist and blogger, whose books include Inappropriate Men, The Spinster Sisters and Out to Lunch. She is also a compulsive home projecter and passionate cook. Her latest novel, Recipe for Disaster, is out now.


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