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.)
I write around my day job and ministries. I tried various schedules, but I couldn’t find one that worked consistently. There are times when my brain overflows with phrases on my commute, and I eagerly sit and write as soon as I get home. And there are days when I come home too tired to string words together–a quick after-supper nap works wonders, and a short writing spell is very productive.
*Fortunately, I have a husband willing to eat carryout and forgo a neat house when I say, “I really feel the need to write.” But these writing frenzies must be followed by a couple non-writing days filled with cleaning, gardening, shopping and cooking.
Microwave is writer’s best friend.
A writer’s real best friend is a retired husband who cooks well and likes to do it.
All I had to do was find cases of date-expired MRE’s on Ebay. They were still edible so I figured Barb was good to go.
MRE- isn’t that short for Meals Rejected by Ethiopians?
That’s right. So we won’t invite any over on MRE night. But you’re invited!
I only have three hours a day while the kids are sleeping. One day is for admin, another for writing blog posts, one for editing podcast episodes, and the last two for working on the book. I take the weekend days off unless I’ve got a deadline coming. I find I can’t focus for more than three hours at a time, so it works well for now.
Before my day job changed, I’d get up early and write before work. Thursdays were my late day and I’d get up early and write two to three hours. I used to love Thursdays.
Today I have a day off. It’s my only day off in the middle of seven days. So I told my husband I was only going to write today and walk the dog. I’m probably not even going to waste time with make up and it seems like a good day for a ponytail.
I can’t wait to hear how everybody else schedules their writing time.
Have a great day of traveling, Wendy!
Used to be 600-1000 words/hour, 2-4 hrs/day (between 2200-0200). Life is today by necessity constant Zen practice, which may include writing.
Oh, what a dream. To be able to be a full time writer and have a writing day!
Since I am not, my writing/editing time is vastly restricted. I only really manage it during my lunch breaks. I hop down to a coffee shop and work on my book for about 45 minutes.
When I started 5 years ago I did that about once or twice a week and managed about 2 pages in my notebook (about 400 words).
It gradually took more and more of my lunchtimes. Now I take just about every lunch hour (unless I have errands to run, but I try to restrict those to no more than one a week). The last years have all been about editing and re-writes.
My most recent re-write and edit took about 9 months and added another 10k words.
I wish I could get more time on the computer at home evening and weekends, but their are four of us fighting for time on our one pc. Our weekends seen mostly taken up with family, friends and chores time.
When walking places or driving to/from work I will be plotting my WIP or ideas new stories.
I also plot when I drive the 2- or 3-lane interstate in the country, but I try not to when driving I40 where it’s 6 lanes wide inside Albuquerque.
*There may be an easy and inexpensive hardware solution for you, Chris. I use a 10.1″ Gateway LT notebook (Windows 10) that is so small and light I can haul it everywhere. It holds 4-5 hours of charge when new (<$300K).
Dell has a new Inspiron 11" non-touchscreen that runs Windows 10 and is <$200 at the Dell site.
*These little guys have real keyboards (unlike the keyboard-like attachments for tablets) and are perfect for writing, although you do have to do a lot of scrolling at some websites. The small screens mean the others probably won't want to use it much.
Carol. 6 lanes! yeesh! And I avoid the 4 lanes of the m25 here in the UK! My roads are rural and the occasional dual stretch, lots of spare mental capacity
I do actually have an old laptop which I use, but sometimes that gets nabbed for Facebook-ing and homework!
I write around my day job. So evenings, weekends and holidays are a godsend to me. I also edit over lunch breaks at the office and long-hand during my subway commute. It is busy but it means you don’t have the luxury of procrastinating or “writer’s block.” I sit at my computer until I get my word count. If I am stuck, I work on something else in the manuscript for a bit and then loop back 🙂
I’m a little crazy in the process, mid-stream. I love this: “When she is mid-book, her characters are as real to her as her friends. She longs to spend time with them.” Yes! Writing the end of the story, actually the black moment and recovery, is the best … and I look so forward to getting to that point. I’ll work really hard to get there. Crazy hard. I’ll sometimes exhaust myself getting there, but it’s like something you just need to spill out, and you can’t wait to empty it all out on the page. We love and miss you. Hope your working vacation has been the best.
Interesting that you write to get to the ending. I am assuming you know what that ending is? When I came up with my resolution, I decided I just had to write it there and then, when it was fresh and exhilarating. I did not want to forget it or lose that feeling. Maybe it slowed my progress overall?
My guess is it speeds up your progress, Nicholas. I usually have the ending conceived, outlined in some detail, and sometimes even written in semi-final form before I’ve been working on a story for a week. Knowing the target is usually much more efficient. I don’t write many rabbit trails that I have to abandon later because they don’t fit the flow of the plot.
I agree with Carol. Knowing the end gives a fiction writer a destination. When I started writing my current WIP, I knew the ending very early on, within days, of starting the story. I knew what my protagonist’s goals (and flaws) were, who her antagonist was and what he wanted, and I knew that her ultimate conflict was an internal struggle rather than her external battle with him. Although I vacillated a little along the way of the first draft in terms of the details of the resolution, the ultimate conflict and the basic resolution stayed the same. Since I knew where my character was headed and why, I just needed to figure out how to get her there. Now that I’m on the second draft, I have the joy of being able to know what details are vital to plant along the way and I’m able to have fun foreshadowing.
Yes, Christine! Part of the great fun in editing for me is planting all the little details that will be important later. It’s like leaving a trail of puzzle pieces so the reader can regularly say, “Aha! So this is where that led.” I’m writing a series. Since they aren’t published yet, I can even go back into the other 4 novels and add self-consistency details so someone whose read more than one will get the same “Aha, I knew he’d do that!” satisfaction.
Shelli, I also love writing the emotional climaxes where I need Kleenex myself. (Dripping tears are NOT good on electronics.) Our characters truly are as real to us as living people, and I feel kind of bad when I make them suffer so much. (But not bad enough to refrain from doing it to them. I even enjoy writing the villain getting his just deserts. Then I reward myself with my own just desserts-usually something chocolate.)
*I also love editing and refining parts I’ve already written in view of later events to get everything self-consistent.
I’m not a morning person, so in the mornings I do my social media, emails, publicity, articles – the non-creative work. After lunch when my energy arrives, I start writing, usually 3-4 hours a day. I do a lot of pre-writing (I’m in that phase right now), so no actual words on the page in those weeks. When I’m writing the rough draft, I take 2-3 days to write a 7-10 page chapter (I set my goals by chapters rather than word count). That’s a great pace for me and allows for research and fact-checking. However, near the end of the book the adrenaline kicks in and I often write a chapter a day.
Before I retired, I’d write from about 6:30 p.m. until about 12:30 on workdays and Saturday. Late Sunday afternoon was writing time, too. Since I’ve retired I can write full time. That’s usually somewhere between 8 and 14 hours. If I’m in the flow, I might still be writing past 4 in the morning. (Energizer bunny genetics sure help!)
*Other than being old enough to retire, being old enough to retire is great for an author. I have a new full-time job as a writer. It just doesn’t come with a paycheck yet.
*Right now I’m splitting my writing time between researching and writing short articles for my Roman Empire historical site that will be my author website w/blog and writing on my WIPs.
Janet Ann Collins
I got lots more writing done when I had a day job than I do now that my schedule is – well, not a schedule at all. I run from one meeting or appointment to another, do some house and yard work, etc. And, while I’m at my computer there are always e-mail messages waiting to be read. I plan schedules, but don’t follow them. But having real deadlines helps a lot.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Because we have a house that is busy all the time, I write when I can.
In the last few weeks, I had ample time to write, so I pounded out quite a few days of insane word counts.
Today? #3 has exams, #2 is sick today, I slept through a hair appointment but she fit me in anyway, the house is a mess and MAYBE I can look at stuff tonight.
I write best in silence, and the school days are good for that.
Summer? Not so much.
Ahhh! I’m so with you. Summer’s are tough! I work part time and during the school year I will write for a half hour between school bus drop and leaving for work and an hour between work and the bus returning and then maybe another hour or two after they go to bed. Summer?! They’re here all the time, or I’m running them around, and they go to sleep when I do!!! I haven’t figured out the new routine!
During this season of life, my best writing time is my children’s afternoon naptime/quiet time. A good day will get me two hours. In a plotting/outlining phase, I can get several scenes mapped out. When I’m in the midst of a story, I can do anywhere from 1,000 to over 2,500 words in that time frame. I don’t have non-writing days, but a few times each year I’ll schedule writing days. We’ll take a day off homeschool, and I’ll put the older children in charge of the younger children. They’ll play games and watch a movie as well as prepare and clean up lunch, so I can just write.
Thank you for this blog post, Wendy. It’s always interesting to read about other writers’ schedules and goals and glean ideas to increase productivity.
Wendy L Macdonald
Wendy, thank you for sharing about your own writing work days and those of other writers. It’s gold to glean these tidbits of information. I recently read about the “Chunky Method” that Allie Pleiter shared in the book “Writing Success”. It was just what I needed to encourage me to keep working on a recent project. She shows us how to determine our “writing chunk” and then explains how to schedule our writing to take advantage of this knowledge. It comes in handy for helping authors meet deadlines. Now that I understand my own chunk size, I enjoy writing more as I know that when I reach the end of my creative spurt, I can rest and return for a second one if need be. I set aside several hours five or six mornings a week to write in my quiet place. No phones, no emails, and no interruptions allowed.
Blessings on your journey ~ Wendy Mac
Here’s a link to info about the Chunky Method:
For quite some time now my writing “workday” has been non-existent, or limited to snatches of haiku while driving. Today, however, I had some unexpected time to “write” when my truck wouldn’t start after putting gas in it on the way to work. I had an hour wait for the AAA jump start (which didn’t work so it had to be towed). During that time I “wrote” a verse of song that I’d been wanting to write for some time. I say “wrote” because I had no pen and no recording device. Once I had the words worked out I sang it over and over, letting them sink in. When I got to work an hour late I quickly typed it out. Hopefully Dottie Rambo would have approved of my adding a verse to one of her songs.
Thus do my writing days go this side of retirement.
I get a lot of new ideas overnight and when I first wake up, so the best time for me to write is in the morning. I start right after devotions and always before I check e-mail and social media. The latter will destroy my productivity.
*I usually don’t write in the evening unless my husband is out of town, in which case I may stay up quite late. I rarely schedule non-writing days, they just naturally fall on the weekend.
*I’m in an editing phase right now and my goal is a chapter per day. This doesn’t always happen because I work within blocks of scheduled time rather than an entire day, but it’s still a realistic goal for me.
Darlene L. Turner
I write mostly on weeknights and weekends because of my day job. I get up at 4:00 a.m. to try and sneak some my word count in. There have been days that I’ve been able to get 4,500 words in and other days only 1,500! For me, it really depends on the day and if I’ve had chocolate. 😉 In the end, it balances itself out. I need to keep focused, though. Having a goal really helps me.
Dear Wendy: Your characters need to come out every day. You cannot let them sit there locked up for a week,or heaven help, longer. They need an airing. They need to be finessed. They need to be visited. And they need to grow. Get those characters out and don’t ignore them. If you created them, take good care of them… Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild–Author: Estate of Mind
Wendy, thanks for this piece. I wrote almost everyday and usually in 90 minute bursts. A retired husband is my biggest challenge, although he is very supportive. So maybe it’s me that is my biggest challenge. I’m an in the moment person and can lose myself in writing time – husband jokingly asks if I stopped to brush my teeth today?