The Lifestyle of Writing: Part Two – How often do we write?
Early on in my writing career, when I first started taking the idea of publishing seriously, I started going to conventions and talking to folks about how they write. I heard “write every day” a lot. It was probably the thing I heard most from people in terms of good habits.
Here’s the thing, though. A lot of people can’t write every day.
If you can, and it works for you, great! Some people have schedules that allow them to put aside an hour or more a day 5-7 days of the week.
Other folks, not so much. Because I’m a professor, my schedule is consistent in 4 month chunks. I have class time, office hours, and set meetings—those inform when I have to be on campus. The rest of the time is up to me. Time for lesson planning, grading, scholarship, and my fiction writing.
In the Fall of 2017 I will have 5 classes, all on MWF, starting at 8:00 in the morning and ending at 8:00 in the evening. I will leave the house between 6 and 6:15am. In between those classes, I’ll have office hours. During those office hours, I’ll meet with students, chat with colleagues, do lesson plans, and grade.
On MWF, then, from mid-August to mid-December 2017, I will not be doing much, if any, fiction writing..
My University asks that we be on campus at least 4 days a week, so Tuesdays I’ll come in for the morning, at least. I will come in on Thursdays at least twice a month. This means that my writing and editing time is Tuesday afternoon and Thursday. I write in all-day chunks, if possible.
My schedule means that I do a lot of planning. While I often don’t plan out details of a scene, I will try to know what scene(s) I am writing when I sit down. Then I write until I’m done with the scenes, drained of energy, or time has run out.
This fits both my writing style and my productivity style.
In terms of writing style, I like to write in long chunks of time. I want to have enough time to get involved in whatever I’m writing, and see it to its end. I don’t like starting or ending in the middle of a chapter or scene (let alone a paragraph or sentence!). I do envy those people who can write 100 words here, 250 there, in small bursts of open time. I can force myself to do that, but it isn’t the way I’m most comfortable.
In terms of productivity style: I learned in graduate school that when I compose a piece of scholarship (short or long), that I like to read a lot, make notes, and then let the information hang out in my brain for a while. Often, when I can, a month or so. I mull it over until I’ve figured out what I think I want to say. Then I’ll write an outline. Then I’ll write the body of the paper. If possible, I’d like to complete a draft in one sitting. My fiction process is similar. I do a lot of mulling over, some outlining, and then I’d like to write the whole thing. Obviously with book-length projects and this isn’t possible. (Oh to be able to sit down and write 100,000 words in one go!) So I’ve learned how to stop and start again. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve found a rhythm.
Last time I talked about priorities. So, how do we connect priorities to writing style? First, find out what works best for you. Try out a bunch of different things. Try writing every day. Try taking notes for a few days and then writing. Try writing in short bursts. Try writing in long chunks. Try everything that you think might work for you, and even try a few things that you think won’t work. Then, once you’ve found what works for you, think about how to fit it in to your priorities.
Other writers will have all sorts of suggestions—and I suggest considering them all.
However, if someone tells you there is one, and only one, way to write, or one part of process that you MUST do, be wary. Writing, and learning to write, is difficult in part because there is so much diversity in process. Everyone has their own way of organizing their time and space, and so what works for someone—even someone very much like you—might not work for you.
Finally, if you find yourself with a system that isn’t working, STOP IT. Believing there is one right way to things can lead to serious feelings of failure. I learned early that if I made it a goal to write every day, I was going to fail miserably. And nothing smacks the creative drive away like constant failure at the process level. For a while, I figured it was me—that I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Turns out, I was not cut out to be a “1000 words a day every day” writer.
Writing, like so much art, is very self-driven. Those who are lucky enough to live off writing have the “I have bills to pay” motivation. Those who do not have to find the drive inside—the work is the reward.
Find your process that makes creation easiest for you.
Next Time I will be talking about where we write—how the atmosphere affects the production.
Here are some other great writing blogs to check out:
Sit, Write, Bleed by Jay Requard
And, of course, my go-to site: Magical Words.
Finally, here’s Falstaff Books.