Daily Writing Routines (and what works for Nathaniel Philbrick)

nathaniel-philbric-Bunker-Hill-Cover-198x300If you’re a full-time freelance writer like I am, discipline can be a daily struggle. “It’s a sunny day. I’ll just go run some errands,” you might rationalize. Or maybe it’s, “My fridge is so disgusting. I can’t write with it looking that way!” Even if you’re not a freelancer, maybe you’re at your office and think, “I can’t write another word until I see if someone’s retweeted by post.” Oh, the writing hours we waste.

To be a successful writer, it’s important to stick to a daily routine so that we can meet our deadlines and be efficient. (I tell myself this every day!) Yesterday I interviewed Nathaniel Philbrick, the acclaimed author of several bestsellers including “Bunker Hill,” “In the Heart of the Sea” and “Mayflower,” a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History. I’m always curious about the daily writing routines of other writers, so I asked Philbrick about his. Philbrick, who began his professional writing career at “Sailing World” magazine where he worked for four years, generously gave me the rundown of a typical writing day in the basement of his Nantucket home.

“My daily routine is, I get my coffee in the morning and I’m at my desk by 9 a.m. I work until about 2 in the afternoon. Get lunch…our house is in town and it’s a short walk to Main Street. I’ll get lunch at the counter at the local pharmacy,” Philbrick said. “Then work for another couple of hours until I walk my dog Stella…she’s a golden retriever. That walk takes about 45 minutes. Then I go back to work until my wife gets home which is usually about 6 or 7 p.m. And that’s pretty much my day.”

“Wow, I love it. That sounds very disciplined,” I said.

“Actually, I’m disciplined because so much of what I do is without discipline, if you know what I mean. Without structure, at least,” he said. “I have to have some kind of routine or I don’t know if anything would happen.”

A daily writing routine can be as simple and unfussy as Philbrick’s. He works at least eight hours a day and manages to exercise, too. I love that his day is balanced and seemingly stress free. (He sounds like such an easy-going guy on the phone!) And it works. Philbrick has numerous bestsellers to show for it.

Jennifer Nicole Sullivan is a freelance writer who covers fashion, entertainment and the arts in New York City. She’s the Vintage Clothing Guide (writer/editor) at About.com and a contributing writer at Newport Mercury. Previously, she was a copywriter at Real Simple Magazine and a features reporter at Corpus Christi Caller-Times. And she’s still a Dallas girl! Contact her on Twitter @trendyjenny or learn more at jennifernicolesullivan.com.

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  • Robyn Davis Sekula

    Thank you for this post. I agree with your actions and support you and SPJ. We are not a breaking news organization, and we don’t need to act with haste. We can consider issues, discuss those issues and make decisions together, as happened here.

  • Danielle McLean

    Thanks so much Dana for speaking out!

    I think laws that allow discrimination do harm the journalism community and is definitely
    something we should condemn. Here’s why:

    -Lets say a gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer or transgender journalist wants to write a story about a private company. Could that journalist be discriminated against by that company and not have the ability to cover
    – What if that journalist is covering a political rally being held at a privately-owned function hall or small business? Could that journalist be stopped from covering that rally on the basis on religious freedom?
    – What if that journalist was working for a religious newspaper or a newspaper that has religious owners. Could that journalist be fired for being who they are?

    Part of our mission is perpetuating a free press. We should condemn laws that possibly limit members of our organization’s ability from carrying out that mission.

  • Hootyman

    SPJ should look into the “journalists” who’s “reporting” incited an online mob to shut down Memories pizza shop. Seems they specifically sought out a Christian owner to get their “gotcha” quote – but didn’t bother asking vendors of other religions – also they did not answer queries as to how many businesses they went to before getting what they were seeking (the pizza shop is over 40 miles from the news station reporting it).

    Then, to make matters worse, another journalist jumped in to mock the pizza shop (retweeting obscene posts that were put on the businesses Yelp reviews) THEN falsely and publicly made an accusation of fraud at the people who setup a GoFundMe page to help the business which had been shut down due to threats.


    Also, various journalists failed to report that the pizza shop proudly serves LGBTQ customers, but would refuse to participate in a same sex wedding if asked. Note that the pizza shop has never been asked by a customer to cater a wedding either same sex or traditional – they were only responding to a hypothetical question from a reporter who had been seeking such an answer for days from various businesses (and finally found one).

    In summary, we have a story of “journalists” working hard to create a story, not report it – THEN reporting it in the most sensational way to cause harm to the business (either leaving out or misquoting the fact that the pizza shop serves LGBTQ customers and has never been asked by them to cater a wedding) – THEN another journalist mocking the business for being shut down – THEN that same journalist publicly saying they filed a fraud complaint with no evidence against the people who started a GoFundMe page for the business(she falsely said she attempted to contact the fund originators before she claimed fraud – she didn’t) – THEN attempted to say she was only concerned for the business (after posting comments of outrage that they were raising so much money and re-posting obscene Yelp content that was being used to attack the business).

    Certainly not journalism’s finest moments….

  • Hootyman

    Oh – did I mention the “journalist” mocking the business, then complaining their GoFundMe site was raising money, then filing a false fraud complaint and publicly stating the fraud charge, then saying they were only concerned for the business; not only works as a journalist but TEACHES journalism at Virgniia Common Wealth University.




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