Blogger: Wendy Lawton
What does the writer’s day look like? How many pages (or words) should a writer create a day?
When much of my life was spent writing, those were the questions I longed to ask. I’ve always thrived on competition. I consistently kept track of my productivity and tried to better my numbers. With writing, I wanted a yardstick. I wanted to know if I was “keeping up.” But I found it was the hardest thing to quantify. Ask any writer, and he’ll give you a high and a low. Or tell you her best day and then blush to admit that many days she doesn’t get out of the email cycle.
A few years ago at the writing conference at Mount Hermon, Liz Curtis Higgs shared her technique with the Career Track. She takes her calendar and blocks out one day a week for appointments; one day for interviews, publicity and business; and then carefully guards the rest for writing. She has a different place for writing than for the business pertaining to writing. When she sits down to write, she falls into that world and only comes out when the day is over. When I saw her a couple of weeks ago I mentioned how impressed I was by her planning. She gave one of those famous Liz laughs and confessed that it doesn’t always work the way it’s planned. Drat! And she was my productivity hero.
Another productivity hero is friend and client, Debbie Macomber. Debbie is one of the most disciplined writers I know. On her writing days her output is twenty manuscript pages. That’s right–twenty pages. Once, when I spent a weekend with her, she confessed that she hadn’t yet met her weekly writing goal. The next day I went antiquing with other friends while Debbie finished the fourteen pages she hadn’t finished that week. But Debbie is quick to admit there’s nothing she’d rather do than write. When she is mid-book, her characters are as real to her as her friends. She longs to spend time with them.
When I wrote I’d find that I could sit down for an hour and a half, dip into the story and do about 1,200 words. If I was getting close to deadline and the story was zipping along, I’ve been known to do 5,000 words at a sitting with gusts up to 7,500. Would I be able to sustain that? Absolutely not.
PostScripts magazine tells about writers and their habits in The Work Habits of Highly Successful Writers. One story was about direct mail copywriter, Denison Hatch, who completed three successful novels by rising at five each morning and writing 500 words before leaving for his regular job. According to the article, his first novel, Cedarhurst Alley, written 500 words at a time, is still in print.
A friend of a friend is a successful picture book writer. One time he told my friend that he spent the whole morning working on a phrase. He was exhausted. One phrase.
I love what Joyce Carol Oates said about it: “When writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they’re actually trying to find out ‘Is he as crazy as I am?'”
So, the real question is: How crazy are you? What does your writing day look like? Is it different at the beginning of a book than at the end? Do you schedule non-writing days? Let us see how you do it. (I’ll be flying today, so I’ll not be replying but I look forward to reading your comments later.)