As I often do, I’m going to point to the title of this post and then give you a bit of a rundown on what I mean. There’s a bit of a back story to this, so be prepared to have a bit of a listen. I was hanging out on the Absolute Write forums the other afternoon and came across another poster asking something along the lines of, “Could you imagine yourself writing from 9-5?” This sparked quite the thread of people either saying “No, I can only write for a couple hours a day or I start to lose it/ I have a day job and writing comes second,” or “Yes, I do it all the time or even longer if the situation calls for it.”
Now, I tend to fall into this later category, sort of. I learned early on that if I just sit around all day and try to write, I’ll probably either not get all that much done, or sink into a depressed bundle of nerves and feel like I can’t leave my keyboard for more than five minutes. I start to feel like I’m cheating if I don’t work every minute of every day. This, as you can probably guess, is bad; my writing suffers and so do I. I finally stopped this practice when I had the revelation that there was more work to be done than I could ever accomplish in a sprint. It didn’t matter if I worked for five or fifteen hours in a day, because the longer I went past my point of comfort, the slower I worked, and there was no way I was going to get a book done if I was killing myself doing it. I’d hit the point where I was knocking out maybe 100 words an hour, and if you’re aiming at a 100,000 word novel, that’s a lot of hours.
What I did to fix this is I set up word count minimums that I could feel confident about hitting in a day. At first, I started with about 1000 words, and worked my way up to 2000, which is where I work at now. On a good day, I can knock this all out in a few hours (especially if I have it outlined from the night before) and can focus on publicity and managing websites/whatever else I do. If I’m on a roll, I can of course punch out a couple hundred extra words, but I try not to go overboard (it can be a bit addicting to watch the pages fill up).
I mention this because I saw a lot of people in that thread talking about exactly what I was saying above. Where they would work 14 hours a day on their manuscripts and would be at their offices hammering away until 3am and would never sleep and it was a brutal and terrible life. This seems a bit extreme to me, to work yourself to the point where you hate what you’re doing. I understand crunch deadlines, but there’s no way that running full blast everyday can be good for you. Even Stephen King in On Writing makes a point of saying he has a 2000 word a day (every day) word count that he hits—he doesn’t burn himself into the ground.
Anyways, the point that I’m really trying to make is to set reasonable goals for yourself, meet them, and be happy with what you’ve accomplished. If you’re new to writing and the size of your manuscript seems daunting, this will help. The same goes for people who have been writing for some time but have started to hate how all consuming their work is—maybe it’s time for a reshuffle of your schedule.
On a similar note, if anyone out there (who doesn’t have the above issues) ever wants to experience a moment where they feel like they need to write 24/7 for a short period of time, the 3 Day Novel Contest (link in the my likes section) offers you the opportunity to do so. You have 72 hours to write a novel with nothing but an outline prepared beforehand. I’ve talked about last year's contest a bit before, but I’ll do so again. I managed to finish a 26,000 word novella and was probably awake for 60 of those 72 hours, and was writing for 55 of them. For the few hours that I managed to sleep, I’d dream about my work—it was mind-numbingly brutal. I wasn’t able to write anything for about a week afterwards—and I have no idea how people who claim to do this all the time keep going. My brain was just frayed ends and static for days, and all I wanted to do was eat cookies and drink tea. It was an experience though; the equivalent of running an ultra-marathon, except for writers who don’t like running that far. I did a half marathon once, but that’s a different story.
This post has rambled on a bit longer than I expected it to, but that’s fine. Just remember, set goals, meet them, be content, and don’t burn yourselves out. There’s no race to the finish here, unless you have someone else’s deadlines to meet (even then, if they want a decent novel, they can wait a few extra weeks).