Ask a dozen writers for advice on pretty much any subject and you’re going to get a dozen different responses. This is because writing is a very personal process. No one knows where the urge (or the talent) to write comes from, and everyone sort of picked up the whole thing on the fly. There’s nothing more chaotic-seeming than something that developed organically.
But there’s always one exception that proves the rule, and there is one topic on which every writer worth his or her salt agrees: write every day. Write something. Write a page. Write a paragraph. Write whatever you can wring out of your brain in a minute or an hour or whatever, but whatever you do, write.
I consistently fail to follow this advice.
Two months ago a friend of mine offered to read my work in progress — Grand Champ, in case you forgot — and I told him I’d be done in six weeks. I knew it was going to be a challenge to write anything of substance while my son was off from school, but I had pledged to myself that I would write regardless. I didn’t. And when my son went back to school for the month of July, I didn’t pick up where I left off. Instead I spent my days playing internet games and reading the news and interacting with people via Twitter and Facebook. I wasted good, valuable writing time on nonsense.
I suspect that the reason successful writers insist upon the “write every day” recommendation is that flow is very important. I’ve actually written about this before, noting that the more I write, the more I write the next day and the next. Writing begets writing. Conversely, if I have to skip a day or two because of appointments or what have you, I completely lose my creative train of thought and everything goes to hell. That’s what happened to me in June and July.
It’s way, way too easy to say you’ll write tomorrow. Not today, because I have stuff to do or I’m tired or I’m not feeling it, but tomorrow. But tomorrow comes around and you’re making the same excuses all over again. A day turns into a week, weeks turn into months and before you know it you’ve blown your opportunity to turn out a new manuscript.
It isn’t all that difficult to produce the volume necessary for a novel. Quality is another matter entirely, as bad writers can write all the pages per day they want and the writing will still be awful, but if you turn in even 1,000 words a day (very simple) you’ll be done in four months. That’s for a novel of reasonable length, anyway. If you aspire to be the next Stephen King or George RR Martin, obviously your monster manuscript will take more time to write. Even so, at 1,000 words/day you can crank out 100,000 words in five months, assuming you skip weekends.
Of course you’re not obligated to churn out a couple or three manuscripts a year. Even if you’re selling steadily, your release schedule will likely not exceed a book every 12 months. Viewed from that perspective, writing so much is counterproductive. Speaking personally, I’d rather have a lot of material circulating than just one or two manuscripts. The more books, the more chances to sell. That seems to be a reasonable equation, anyway.
Which brings us back to the writing thing. I’ve written precisely one complete manuscript this year. My goal is three per year, with a nice sale to cap things off. For the past few years that’s worked out just fine. More on that in another post hopefully in the near future. But I still need to take that core advice to heart: write every day. If I just wrote every day, the process would not be so painful.