When I wrote my first Fantasy novel, Dance of the Goblins, I was still going out to a day job every day and had little free time for writing. I got up at 5 a.m. every day to give myself an hour of writing time before I had to start getting ready for work at 6:00.
Writers hear a lot of advice about pushing themselves to write a certain word count every day. A common one is 1000 words. That’s not always possible in just an hour. Sometimes I just sit and contemplate what needs to happen next or get diverted into research for some reference in the text, even in fiction. Sometimes the words flow, sometimes they don’t.
What I found with my writing pattern as it was forced to be then was that although I might write 200 – 500 words in a morning session, these often served to connect one scene to another or set myself up for something that would start flowing uncontrollably the minute I got back in from work. It gave me time to ruminate and let the creative juices flow rather than forcing the sequence of a prescribed plot.
Most importantly, it gave me a time of day that I developed a habit to sit down and write, regardless of how many words I produced.
I’ve compared this experience with some members of a writer’s group and found their alternative perspectives interesting. For example, Charlton Daines, who writes historical fiction, has admitted to assigning himself 1500 words a day when he was working on his first book, Jack Dawkins (a sequel to Oliver Twist). He managed to keep it up while he was technically on holiday, though now some days he writes many fewer words or not at all. He works full time plus extra and just doesn’t have the time, but every progression in a story is progress.
Austin Crawley, a Horror writer, has said that he writes in segments and doesn’t usually worry about word count at all. Sometimes he writes a few paragraphs each within different chapters in a day, because something in one chapter affects another or he just feels inspired to write a particular scene. He recently challenged himself to finish a book for Halloween and had to push himself, sometimes writing as little as 500 words and other days as much as 2500, but he got the book finished, edited and released in mid-October.
This is not very different from my own pattern, though I tend to be more linear. Because I balance writing with film editing at present, there are days I don’t write at all or just write a blog post, then move on to do some film work for the day. Sometimes I alternate, film one day and whatever book I’m working on the next. Other times I focus on one or the other to meet a self-imposed deadline. But the books all get written in the end.
Making an attempt to keep up a specific schedule is good practice, but the writer must be able to forgive him or herself if some days they don’t meet quota. After all, 300 words well written are more important than 2000 meandering words.
One of the things I find useful when the words aren’t flowing is to get up and do something like a household task or a shower. Things involving water seem to work best for me. Pondering on what needs to happen next in the narrative often leads to bolting to the computer for an outflow of words that need to get written down before they escape!
On the other hand, sometimes a little research will send me down a search engine rabbit hole and nothing actually gets written, though the details noted will get worked into the story during the next writing session. By the way, these days I’m using ecosia.org instead of Google as it finances planting trees and works the way Google used to before paid advertising made things more difficult to find.
The important thing is to develop a habit of sitting down to write every day that you can. Many people have day jobs, sometimes with inconsistent hours, and working out how to fit the writing habit into your own schedule is just one of the challenges of becoming a writer.
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