An interesting article in the Guardian recently made me think about that advice you hear all the time – to be a successful writer, you should write every day. I’ve never found that works for me.
I’ve done Nanowrimo a few times; this is where you try to write a novel (50,000 words) in the month of November, (which incidentally isn’t the length of your average novel, but never mind). For me it is a great device for getting words on the page and having something to work with over the next few months, but two things:
- I never actually manage to write 1,667 words every day. There are always a few days which go astray. In the years I have managed to do 50,000 in the month, I’ve done it by writing more than 1,667 on the other days.
- At the end of November I am mentally exhausted and December is a write-off.
I think the advice to write every day is about forming a habit or routine, and that is definitely a good thing. I have a writing routine for sure – every weekday morning (that’s about finding the right time of day for your process as well, for me it’s the morning.) But I believe it’s better to try to use your writing time efficiently, rather than just turning up to your desk and hoping that the simple act of being there will make things happen.
As Dr Cal Newport says – it’s not the frequency of work which leads to productivity, but the depth and level of concentration we are able to achieve.
So I would also advocate having space that works for you and where you can immediately immerse yourself. My study is a tiny room – it would have been a dressing room for the Georgians who built our flat, and it overlooks a busy roundabout, but the space is perfect for me – away from the rest of the flat, and the sounds of traffic and pedestrians is like a white noise cutting me off from the world. (Although on Fridays and Saturdays we have the worst bagpiper in the world playing in weddings at the venue opposite – then it’s time for the noise cancelling headphones.) Find your space and cultivate it so you can drop into the zone as soon as you get there.
But even if you don’t write every day, you do need to write frequently, I think, in order to stay immersed in your story world. For instance if I’m in the middle of a novel and I go away for a week, I find that when I return, I’ve lost that immersion and I have to find my way back into the story. So writing for a day or two a week and then having a long break would be really inefficient and I just wouldn’t ever progress. I’ve spoken to wannabe writers who seem to spend all their time reading and re-reading their stuff and not really moving forward. That’s the problem with trying to tackle a big project with no consistent chunks of time. People who really can’t spare enough regular time to write, are probably better off writing short stories or poems.
We do go away quite a bit and my writing life is geared around those times. I have big chunks where I am immersed in the writing, and then when we go away, I take work with me that doesn’t require that immersion. Line editing, research, brainstorming – those tasks are all good for sitting in the sunshine. Other people go away to write of course, using holidays for that – my suggestion would be get all the preparation out of the way before you go, the reading through and making notes, the research and brainstorming, so that when you arrive in your holiday/writing time, you are ready to hit the road running.