Observing a Writer at Work Day: BYOB

Last Thursday was Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, celebrated by parents in the USA who believe their jobs are interesting and meaningful, and by kids who are stoked about skipping a school day. I’ll bet none of those parents is a writer at work, and kids with a parent who is a writer make up stories about what that parent does for a living.

What is TODASWD?

TODASWD originated as a girls-only program in 1993 with the Ms. Foundation for Women to help girls explore careers. I’m uncertain what the Ms. Foundation had in mind for boys on that 4th Thursday of April. Practice household budgeting using a 79% wage gap? A decade later the annual event was changed to include boys, though there’s no evidence that busloads of those boys chose observing a writer at work as an option to kick off their participation.observing a writer at work

If I were a kid I’d wish at least one of my parents was a spy, or a member of a bomb squad, or at the very least a professional wrestler. That TODASWD would be the bomb.

I have no kids of my own to take to work. At the time of TODASWD’s inaugural event, I was busy faking my way to a career as a yacht chef, which included drinking rum to an alarming measure. I probably wouldn’t have been the best role model. These days, I’m a work-from-home writer. Observing a writer at work for a day would be like watching an unending film reel of grass growing, if grass procrastinated, wondered whether Olivia will ever get back with Fitz, and routinely told itself, “You call yourself grass? You’re a damn fraud. Just stop trying to grow already and let the weeds take over.”

First Annual “Send Your Kid to a Writer While You Go to a Spa and Movie Day”

Because I’m a giver who loves spending time with children that aren’t mine (if only because when they go home it reinforces my life choices), I decided to create my own version of TODASWD. (Any child observing a writer at work would quickly grasp that writers decide to do stuff like this as yet another way to procrastinate rather than actually write.) I searched online and found some excellent advice about planning the DAY, most of which I ignored.

  • “4 to 6 weeks ahead, notify the school to get permission for students to participate.” Permission? Writers don’t need permission slips, they beg forgiveness after the fact.
  • “Create name tags.” I wrote my name on the back of my hand in marker. Done.
  • “Expose kids to new things and make it realistic.” Right on. Gritty realism would open the kids’ eyes to the world of a writer.
  • “Plan the Day.” This, I could sink my writer’s choppers into. I created an agenda of activities for SYK2WWYGSMD (Send Your Kid to a Writer While You Go to a Spa and Movie Day).

    observing a writer at work


The SYK2WWYGSMD AGENDA for Observing a Writer at Work

Note: schedule is in military time to reinforce the concept that being a writer is a real job.

0530: Begin the work day by taking a brisk walk with the dogs. This clears the writer’s mind of  lingering nightmares about abject failure. The pre-dawn time slot allows the writer to remain in the pajamas she’s been wearing for 4 days straight, without causing the neighbors concern.

0600: Feed dogs while explaining to them a writer’s need for uninterrupted work time. Also the writer’s need for them to stay off the writer’s bed.

0615: Make a pot of espresso and froth some fat-free milk to a silken consistency perfected with years of experience and a Nespresso frother. Drink the first cappuccino of the day while sitting on the patio talking to the dogs about politics. Notice the coffee aroma, hear birdsong as the sun rises, make notes on blog post about sunrises around the world.

0630: Check writer’s website for new comments to moderate. Find none. Check email, delete spam.

0645: Prepare second cappuccino of the day and marvel that this cup’s frothed milk is even more perfectly silken than before. Mentally plan your writing day. Expectations high.

0705: Check Facebook for 5 MINUTES ONLY.

0730: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, kids. Creative brains need protein, whole grains, and a lovely bowl of mixed fruit, but yogurt is easier and you don’t even have to cut up a banana, just peel it and eat. Don’t ever forget a steady supply of caffeine.

0805: Wash face and moisturize using a sunscreen.

0815: Check twitter for 5 MINUTES ONLY.

0845: Open writing project on computer. Spot the unpaid gas bill out of the corner of your eye and decide to pay it so you’ll be free of household obligations to focus solely on writing.

0900: Try out a dozen different opening lines for the chapter you’re writing, all of which are stupid. Say aloud, “You are a writer. Just write, don’t edit. Bird by Bird.”

0945: Introduction to cursing: Mild epithets.

1000: Procrastination 1: How can anyone write with this much dog fur floating around?

1003: Vacuum. Mentally write lyrics for a new Hulu show’s theme song, “Writers at Work.”

1045: Social Media for Writers 1: Create a clever meme about procrastinating for your official Writer’s Facebook page.

observing a writer at work11:45: Lunch, kids! Who’s up for trying that new taco truck on South Congress?

1300: Back to the writing table filled with optimism and a great opening line for that first chapter.

1305: Remember what Anne Lamott said about shitty first drafts. Mentally tell Anne to mind her own damn business.

1315: Social Media for Writers 2: Check your official Writer’s Facebook page for comments on new meme. Find none. Stalk the pages of writers you know only through social media. Find spirited conversation and 1200 shares of their latest post. Bitterly complain to the dogs.

1400: Take the dogs on another walk. Come up with a fantastic idea for a blog post about how your best ideas come when you’re out with the dogs. Stop to check for mail. Find a rejection letter.

1430: Back to the writing table filled with a vague sense of doom. Think about changing the gender of a minor character.

1445: It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, kids! Carson McCullers had her thermos of hot tea and sherry. What’ll it be? Wine, whiskey, or invent a cocktail? Choosing the writer’s signature drink.observing a writer at work

1515: Intermediate cursing: Timing and intonation.

1535: Yoga. Roll out those yoga mats, kids. We’re going to practice breath control. Lie there and wonder how long it takes a human body to die when deprived of oxygen. Get up to google it. As a result, have a brainstorming session about killing off your favorite character by erotic asphyxiation.

1615: Lesson: How to do research for your book-length project. Start by going through your entire Amazon Wish List, pressing Add to Cart on two writing craft books, a back-up hard drive, foldable travel hat and every season of Castle.

1645: Reward yourself by searching Facebook for everyone who lived on your block in 3rd grade.

1705: Decide that death by erotic asphyxiation has been overdone. Opt to kill off your character with a knife made of ice so the murder weapon melts, leaving no clues.

1710: Back to the writing table filled with a renewed sense of your creative genius.

1715: Realize you stole that frozen knife plot from a fucking episode of Castle.

1716: Advanced cursing: Because creativity matters, kids.

1730: Moan loudly, “You’re not a real writer.” Rest forehead on closed computer.

1745: Scan list of tips to being a good mentor. Be positive. Don’t have a bad attitude.

1750: Pour another drink. Start rereading Bird by Bird.

1815: Check your twitter feed for what’s trending. Start a twitter battle about Irish vs Scotch.

Observing a writer at work

Meet Scout. Scout likes to be fed regularly.

1845: Notice the dogs are staring at you from your bed. Feed them dinner.

1900: Also, notice the kids are staring at you. Call their parents to come get them.

1915: Tidy the writing table so you can get a fresh start tomorrow.

1945: Finally, notice yourself staring back in the mirror. Stretch out on the sofa, eat leftovers from the taco truck. Watch reruns of Castle, taking notes on the snappy dialogue.

Winning Hearts and Minds

Because I knew my friends weren’t likely to consider writing a real profession when planning their child’s career exploration. As a result, I emailed them the inaugural Send Your Kid to a Writer While You Go to a Spa and Movie Day agenda of activities, hoping to win over hearts and minds. To my surprise, not a single one of them selected me or any other writer at work as a role model for their kid. It may have been because I procrastinated so well that I didn’t write the agenda until after Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day was already over. I prefer to believe they found a professional wrestler to entertain their kids for the day. I don’t blame them.

Next year I’ll work on perfecting a Full Nelson and add it to my agenda for observing a writer at work. Hmm, a Full Nelson sounds like a fitting way to kill off my next character.

Barbara Gabriel

Writer. Day Stealer. Chronic Traveler. Raised along Highway 61 in Minnesota, I ran away to sea & messed about in boats. I curse like a sailor and love travel, food, most people, and a well-fitting pair of boots. I try to combine those any chance I can.


  1. I’d drop my kids off with you (if I had any) as they’re bound to increase their vocabulary (hey, swear word count). And they’d also realize their mother isn’t the only one who doubts their skills every damn day.

  2. I love that Google search:

    Why are writers so weird?
    Why are writers alcoholics?
    Why are writers depressed?

    Sign the kids up!

  3. Pingback: Photography Class: Failure is an Option | Steal Just One Day

Any thoughts? Share them. Let's chat.