With seven-billion-plus people on the planet, each with a slightly different brain wiring, it’s no wonder nobody can agree on how to write a novel.
Even if you limit yourself to the set of authors with a web presence who write in English, you can still find advice and opinions that cover the whole spectrum: Write every day. Write when you feel like it. Schedule your writing. Write a small amount regularly. Write a large amount less frequently. And on and on and on…
Often these sorts of articles/blog posts come with the disclaimer that people differ and you should do what works for you. (Sometimes they don’t, and that usually means they’re trying to sell you something). But then the question becomes how do you know what works for you? You try it out.
Writing When I Feel Like It
So this is the strategy I first tried, when I was just starting to play with the idea that I could write the kinds of things I liked to read. And it worked for that purpose. I wasn’t sure that this was something I really wanted to pursue, and by writing “when the mood struck” I always enjoyed the process, and I didn’t get frustrated by my ability to keep up with self-imposed deadlines and targets.
The downside, of course, is that writing only occasionally keeps output very low.
It took me a year to write Spiderwebs, and most of that time was just…waiting. The actual writing happened in the space of about a month, and the rest was just me ‘not feeling like it’.
And if I were planning on just writing as an occasional hobby, that would be fine. But I want to write at a slightly more rigorous level, and even setting aside any kind of publishing aspirations, I want my output to be higher than 10k a year.
Writing Every Day
Writing advice as a whole is “take it or leave it”, and anything one person advocates is something someone else is vehemently against. But “Write every day” is one of the nuggets that gets thrown around most often.
The logic here is that writing every day makes writing into a habit, teaching you to break through ‘resistance’ and increasing productivity. Like regular exercise for the creative muscles.
The problem with this approach – at least for me – is that I’m going to mess up. There are going to be days when I can’t write or don’t, for whatever reason. And then suddenly what was a productive little habit is a source of stress, because I’ve failed to meet my goals, and the resulting lack of motivation infects the whole project so that I don’t want to work on it at all anymore. Why bother writing today, when I already broke my streak yesterday? One more day won’t hurt.
The problem, of course, is when one day turns into three turns into a month and a half and I still haven’t written a damn word.
Writing In Bursts
Kameron Hurley wrote a very interesting blog post in which she describes why she doesn’t like the “write every day” method, for a lot of the same reasons that I didn’t like it. Her solution is to spend the week on other tasks, and carve out a large block of time on the weekends for writing.
It’s an interesting strategy, but not one I think will work for me. It feels too much like the way I procrastinate. I’ve done enough last-minute term papers to know that while my natural inclination is to save up and do big projects in one burst, it’s NOT FUN for me. I spend the whole time feeling stressed and frustrated, and only the fact that I’m getting graded keeps me moving.
So aside from the fact that I might just not do it, I wouldn’t enjoy it at all. And for me, writing is still mostly about enjoyment. I’m going to have a different full time job, and I don’t intend to ever write full time (except maybe after I retire). So if writing isn’t fun for me anymore, I won’t do it.
Writing By Average
The last time I was seriously trying the ‘write every day’ strategy, I set up a writing log for myself. This was a GoogleDocs spreadsheet where I would input each day my starting and ending wordcounts, and the sheet would calculate words written per day and show me a visual representation of the time I was spending on writing and the way I distributed that between projects.
But the other thing I did on that sheet was calculate a running average of my words written daily, weekly, and monthly.
And I started mostly ignoring the daily wordcounts in favor of the averages. Suddenly it didn’t matter if I missed a day, or wrote only 79 words on Tuesday. Because I had been on a roll on Thursday, and wrote 1200 words, and my daily average was still above 500.
So far, this method is hitting a good balance. It encourages me to write more often (I want to keep that average up) but it offers flexibility for the inevitable day that I miss. And because I can set my target average to be whatever I want, I can tailor it for the level of productive output I want now, and the level of commitment I can feasibly attain. (So my target might be 250 words/day during the school year and 750 during the summer, or whatever).
Follow Through, and Sharing Time
it remains to be seen if the averages strategy is sustainable for me, but I feel pretty good about it. What about you? What’s your writing strategy, and does it work for you?