WHAT WOULD YOU do if you didn't have to go to an office for work every morning? If you only answered to your creative muse? Believe me, it's not what you think. It's not even what I think—and I do it every day. 8 A.M. WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN Wake up by internal body alarm, no clock necessary. Linger over breakfast and, as member of the literati, read The New York Times cover to cover, along with The New Yorker. Relish idea of working on second draft of my (unsigned) novel. Also relish idea of working on my contracted nonfiction book, a sassy, humorous etiquette guide for bridesmaids. With Zenlike calm, accept that I write nonfiction for money and fiction for free. WHAT DOES HAPPEN Awaken at 10 a.m. to jarring beep of alarm, slightly unsettled at prospect of dull, sleep-deprived self attempting to write creatively. Claim my New York Times from stoop but don't read it, since seeing Dick Cheney's name in print brings on apoplexy and jinxes my ability to accomplish carefree and humorous tone essential to bridesmaid project and other contracted "humor" writing. Scarf down two bowls of cold cereal. Toss newspaper on towering pile of unread New Yorkers to peruse at later date. Postpone working on fiction, since nonfiction pays the bills—and without paid bills, The Writer's Life resembles an Internet startup without venture capital. 9 A.M. WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN Sit ergonomically at keyboard, feeling at once creative, humorous, balanced, and inspired, producing great pages for overdue articles and nonfiction book with impending contractual deadline. Work for five hours, at least. Make progress on my novel (and remain cheerful and undeterred by noncontractual and nonpaid nature of fiction writing). Edit material drafted for nonfiction projects into more supple and compelling shape. WHAT DOES HAPPEN Sit down to write at 11 a.m. Stare blankly at screen and drink coffee, listening to NDR (National Depressing Radio) and contemplating news that "overly hot" beverages may cause esophageal cancer. No definition given for "overly hot." Begin downward spiral where death seems imminent and nothing seems funny. (This is good example of how the news can impair my carefree, cheerful tone.) Choose not to work on novel, as no writing has been accomplished yet, and nonfiction deadlines are pressing. Experience onset of carpal tunnel from hunching over keyboard, clutching at mouse. Edit yesterday's bridesmaid work out of existence. LUNCHTIME WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN Eat lunch. Take pleasant, leisurely stroll in springtime sun, or, if raining, sip delicious cappuccino in cozy cafe, all while delighting in the freedom of my freelance life. WHAT DOES HAPPEN As part of complicated reward-punishment cycle, in which lunch only seems deserved if something has been accomplished since breakfast, put off eating until blood sugar bottoms out just above coma-inducing level. Lay on floor and hallucinate, wondering why newspaper and book editors don't take their writers out for pastrami sandwiches like they did in the '50s. Crawl to Fred Meyer for snacks. 2 P.M. WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN Continue inspired work at computer. WHAT DOES HAPPEN Begin comparisons of self to other, more successful writers. For example, David Sedaris writes every day only until 2 p.m., and then goes to the movies. Torture self by imagining the pleasures of an afternoon matinee—and ultimately decide that seeing one is an excellent idea, especially if the script is bad, thereby making own writing skills look stunning in comparison. Attend matinee. 4 P.M. WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN Stop writing early, pleased with day's hard work, and feel delighted by efficiency and freedom that comes with being my own boss. Head for happy-hour cocktails with witty, Dorothy Parker-type friends. WHAT DOES HAPPEN Leave matinee dazed, guilty, and shocked that it's nearing 6 p.m. Panic about having no evening plans, after realizing that another entire day has passed without real human contact. Call writer friend, who claims to be too poor and behind deadline to meet for drinks, and reminds me that I'm too poor and behind deadline to meet for drinks. Experience end of pleasant denial phase. Start writing desperately, a process that makes that essential carefree, humorous tone more elusive than ever. Make progress on "humor" nonfiction piece by imagining that article will be made more useful by performing double duty as hamster cage lining, moving box packing, or papier-m⣨頰roject. Stay up so late working that exhaustion and delusion take over, and start to think, If I just go to bed and wake up early, tomorrow will go exactly as it should! Seduced by my own diabolical logic, turn off computer and stumble to bed. Just in case internal body alarm is sluggish and doesn't fire at 8 a.m., set actual alarm clock for 10 a.m.