How to write a lot every day – myths and facts

clock - how to write a lot every dayMany years ago, when I began to put pen to paper, I wrote using whatever I had at my disposal.

Given that I was a happy owner of a Commodore Amiga, and I also was a sort of a geek, the program I chose to write my first stories was a Seka Assembler, an editor developed for programmers, not writers.

Seka Assembler was rudimentary, but it was fast and had all the basic functions I needed. I used it to write several short stories and one long SF novel I’m sure I still have tucked away somewhere.

It took me a couple of years to finally decide this writing thing really intrigued me, and consequently buy a proper word processor. Besides, during those first years I wrote without any kind of a routine.

Some weeks I wrote for hours seven days out of seven, some others I didn’t write a single word. Also, I didn’t pay much attention to how many words I wrote every day, or whether what I had just written was at least intelligible.

If I had the opportunity to do so, I just wrote whenever I felt like.

Can a well devised schedule help you to write a lot every day?

It was only later that I began to strive to put some kind of order in my random writing sprees–that’s to say, to create a schedule. This decision spurred the further consideration that, given I was creating a schedule, it would have been smart of me to devise one that granted me a steady output in terms of words.

So, to make a long story short, over the subsequent years I changed, refined, and modified a large number of different schedules, only to discover that, in general, the number of words I wrote every day was influenced essentially by two simple factors.

The first was the time I devoted to writing. The second was instead how close I felt to the story I was writing. Really, provided I was well and rested, nothing else mattered much. To write a lot every day I just had to take care of those two aspects.

Essentially, time management is what a schedule is for, so it was quite straightforward to come up with one in which I squeezed in between my daily activities a good amount of time devoted to writing.

Unfortunately, the second factor was way more difficult to manage with a schedule. In fact, I could write three hours every day and focus all my attention on a single story, but if for some reasons the story didn’t click into my mind in the right way, then those three hours were bound to be as productive as a malnourished old cow.

This is why for authors it is essential to be able to recognize when a story isn’t flying as expected, and kill it off.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you should discard a story after just a couple of weeks of hard going. But after a month or more it’s probably better to take stock of the reality and consider the possibility that something essential is lacking.

If you’re still striving to find the best method to write a lot of words every day, you might want to take into consideration these findings.

However, I’m not trying to convince you that these are the only factors that matter. Not at all. After all, as we’ll see in a moment, we are all different.

What famous artists did to write a lot every day

Jonathan Edwards, the author of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, used to study and write for thirteen hours a day.

But he interrupted such incredibly long sessions with shorter periods of physical activity. Among many other activities, he used to walk a lot.

So, to make sure he could recall all the ideas he had while walking, he would pin a slip of paper to different parts of his clothes. In that way, once back in his studio, he could diligently write them all down.

Jane Austen

The world wide renown author of Pride and Prejudice, and a bunch more of masterpieces, wrote in the family sitting room. As a result, she had to endure all kind of unplanned interruptions.

Luckily, Cassandra, her sister, did most of the typical chores a house requires. This was of immense help to Jane. In fact, in this way she was free to focus on her creations.

Francis Bacon

I know, I know. This is a painter, so maybe the rules that apply to writers don’t apply to him. However, he seemed to thrive on disorder.

His studio was a chaos beyond belief. Besides, he also loved carousing, eating, and drinking a lot. But no matter how late he went to bed, when dawn broke he was always ready to start the new day painting for several hours.

Tom Wolfe

The author of Look Homeward, Angel devised a damn strange method to write a lot every day.

While writing, he simply fondled his genitals. In a letter to his editor he explained that even though he didn’t know why, that operation stoked his creative energies.

This is for sure a strange “technique”, but it’s really nothing compared to the many different substances some artists recourse to in order to keep their creative edge–and I’m not referring to coffee.

Stephen King

The author of such masterpieces as The Green Mile and Misery follows an almost draconian schedule. He writes every day of the year. Every day. Period. In addition, he doesn’t stop writing until he has reached his daily quota.

Isaac Asimov

Asimov wrote a staggering amount of books. So it might be interesting to know how he achieved such a goal.

Again, the answer is quite simple and draconian. He woke at five in the morning and got to work almost at once.

Unlike King, he hadn’t a daily quota. But he worked for as long as he was able to, and repeated this schedule every day. He seemed not to know the meaning of such words as “holidays”, or “vacations”. He worked always, even in hospital, if possible.

Gertrude Stein

The author of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas admitted on more than one occasion she had never been able to write much more than half an hour a day. But she believed that even such an apparently short period of time, if well exploited, can bear interesting fruits.

What mattered to her was being able to exploit that half an hour.

Three people, four opinions…

The list could go on forever.  And we would discover that the number of writers with a method equals the number of different methods…

This is normal–of course it’s normal. Because, you know, there’s not a method–or the method. There’s only your method. And it’s up to you to find it, to put it together.

But just reading about someone else’s routines and methods, and then trying to replicate them, isn’t going to help much.

Know thyself. So it goes that ancient Delphic maxim. And if it’s still cited after all this time it’s for a reason. It’s because it’s true.

So, even if books like Daily Rituals are rich of interesting nuggets about geniuses coming from all walks of life, stop reading too much about others’ lives and tricks.

Instead, spit in your hands and start working to build your method. A method, I bet, others will want to know about.

Pictures: khfalk – WenPhotos – skeeze

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