Mark Terry

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Should You Write Every Day?

August 2, 2007
Joe Konrath had a recent post on his blog concerning 9 writing myths. His first one was Writers Write Every day. Here's what he had to say:

Myth #1 - Writers Write Every Day
I'm sure there are some writers who actually write every day, who force themselves to sit at their computers until they get their three hours, or four pages, or 1500 words. I'm not one of them. I do prioritize my writing, as all writers should. It's important to submit stories, finish books, meet deadlines. Hence the label writer. But in today's hectic world, I simply can't find the time to write every day. If you can't find the time either, don't sweat it. Write when you can. You can prioritize something without being a slave to it.

I don't actually disagree with Joe here and I think his last line: "You can prioritize something without being a slave to it" is absolutely true for a balanced, enjoyable life.

But, should you write every day?

I'm a fulltime writer, which means I make a living doing it, but I don't write every day. I try to. Although actually I now try to take weekends off unless my deadlines get crazy. But a significant chunk of my workdays are spent on research, interviews, transcribing interviews, promotion and just generally dithering around.

At the same time, I think there's a point in your life if you're trying to break into this business, if you're trying to develop your craft to a professional level, that you should probably try to write every day.

I also think that if you're honestly in love with writing and have fantasies about doing it for a living, you're kidding yourself if you're not compulsive about sitting down at the keyboard and writing just about every day. (But that's okay. If you can't lie to yourself, who can you lie to?)

As a fulltime freelancer, I pretty much treat it like a 9-5 job (more or less). In the summer I'm actually to my desk earlier than during the kids' school year, but I typically am to my desk by 9:00, work until 10:30 or so, go to the gym, then catch lunch, then work from 12:30 or 1:00 until 5:30 or 6:00. I'll work in the evenings and weekends if necessary or if I'm caught behind a deadline (it happens from time to time).

Other freelancers, like, say, Eric Mayer and Mary Reed, I believe tend to work more like noon to eight or nine (or ten or eleven or twelve). I heard freelancer and novelist Lev Raphael say once that he couldn't stand a regular schedule, it was soul deadening or something like that, so he works more irregularly. I think that's fine if it works for you.

Ultimately, one thing I've noticed about writers who actually make a living at is we get a lot done. If that means we sit our asses in the chair at 8:00 in the morning and work until 5:00 like a real job, then so be it. If we're night owls and prefer to work at night, hey, if it works for you. My friend Tobias S. Buckell seems to be much more of a crash-through-the-night kind of writer.

I like to point out a couple things to people who say, "I don't have time to write."

One is, we all have 24 hours a day. What we do with it is pretty much up to us. If you can't find time to write in that period, it's probably not that important to you. That's okay. Life is full of other things to do that you might find more rewarding.

Two, when I worked 9:30 to 6:00 at the lab in Detroit, had a 1 to 1.5 hour commute both ways, with young children, I still found time to write. Not much time. Thirty minutes, maybe an hour. Typically after the kids went to bed at 9:00 or so in the evening. A lot of times I would be so tired or fried that I didn't want to go down to the office and write. But most of the time I would say: Come on, write one page. You can do that in five or ten minutes, then you'll be done. Then I'd go to my office, write a page and it would often turn into two or three or five pages. Because writing energized me. But if it was a struggle, I wrote the one page and called it good.

One page a day for a year is a novel.

THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK was mostly written during my lunch hour in longhand at the hospital where I used to work. I had other writing projects going on that paid me some extra money and those were my writing priorities in the evening, but I wanted to keep writing novels, so that's when I found time for it.

So, do you HAVE to write every day? No, of course not.

SHOULD you write every day? Well, that's up to you. Priorities and all. But if you have hopes of getting published and maybe even making money doing it, chances are you're going to need to write every day for at least a while. It's like any other skill, whether playing the guitar, painting, cooking or baseball. You might have talent, but it's going to take practice--regular practice--to get good at it.

I do want to confess something, though. Over the years, as I was able to write a novel a year (at least) while still managing to hold down a day job, I was puzzled as to what fulltime novelists did with their time. Like a lot of aspiring novelists, I dreamed of writing novels fulltime (still do) but on my more honest days couldn't quite figure out what they did with their time. Unless you're one really slow-ass writer, it just doesn't take 8 hours a day, five days a week, 50 or so weeks a year to produce a good, clean, publishable 400 page manuscript.

Now I understand that a lot of time and energy goes into promotion, etc., but even then, I have to wonder. I'm a fairly fast writer, but even if I slowed way down, I can't imagine a fulltime writer (except maybe William Styron) only writing a paragraph a day or a page a day when they have all day to do it. Anyway, I'll let you know if I ever get to that point.

Mark Terry

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Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Yes, our schedule when we write (or mine at least) is pretty much as you say. As I've probably said before, my problem is that my imagination doesn't seem to get into gear until I've been writing for an hour or so. I can take an outline or some notes and flesh out what is already there, but I never seem to have any new ideas until I've been working for a while and I think those new ideas -- the ones you didn't have when you sat down to write -- are important to add life and depth. It is definitely a failing on my part that I can't write some -- even an hour -- every day because my production would probably rise dramatically. I keep resolving to force myself to try but, alas, I haven't had much success bossing myself around.

Of course I write something every day except under exceptional circumstances. Mostly I'm doing legal writing -- and I find that like the fiction I do better if I spend the whole day on it and that has something to do with my not writing fiction every day also. In the very rare instances I'm not writing fiction or legal articles I'll surely write a blog entry, or a letter (does the latter count?)

I recall I started college as an art major. I thought I wanted to do art at the time but was mistaken. One professor told us, if you don't want to draw every day you don't really want to be an artist. Well, I didn't and thought he was full of it, but now I tend to agree with the sentiment, although I think he expressed it awkwardly. I mean, I have known lots of people who wanted to be writers but who didn't particularly want to write.

By the way, Mary and I figure, that even slow as we are, we could easily write two books a year if we were full time. In fact I suspect we could collaborate on one and each produce one by ourselves.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I basically think everybody's unique and need to be receptive to their own internal rhythms. That said, writing is like any other craft in that you really do need to practice, practice, practice at least when you're learning (And I know there are people who think because they got A's in high school English that they already know how to write, but rarely do they really know how to write well enough to do so professionally). So in that respect, I think it's a good idea to write every day, if possible.

9:50 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I agree with you, with the exception of John Irving, who I've heard spends a whole day to write a page. But I believe he said it's because he has severe dyslexia.

For me, taking a day off means forgetting the jist and flow of things, so I have to re-read everything. (Hate that.) And taking a day off means my next day's writing is pretty messy, klunky, and unflowing.

I have a day job where I can squeeze in the busywork of my pseudonym, but I'd guess it's about one - three hours a day, depending (including blogging). I can still squeeze in around three hours a day to write, and it'd be tough for me not to write at least 1,000 words a day, six days a week with a day job. Without a day job?

Even at the pace of writing 1,000 words a day, I'm honestly lolligagging a bit, mentally. If I'm at my best, I usually write 1,000 words an hour.

I think my pseudonym will live on, even if I get a NY novel published some day. It's not hard to be too prolific for NY, I hear. I don't blame writers for spending their time in other ways. I mean, if they're NY-publishing, and they can only sell one - two books a year, why should they write more?

10:19 AM  
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