Friday, April 16, 2010

Steady Writing

by Jean Henry Mead

When I sat down to write, I thought of a long ago interview with bestselling romance novelist Parris Afton Bonds for my book, Maverick Writers. Bonds emphasized the need for writers to write every day. The mother of five lively sons, she wrote between diaper changes as well as on the job, which cost her several secretarial positions before she decided to write full time.

“I write when I’m sick,” she said, “and even as I shove that turkey into the oven on Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are no legal holidays for [professional] writers.”

A steady writing schedule is one of the most important aspects of publishing one’s work. Whether you rise two hours early to write before leaving for your day job, or at night before you go to bed, it needs to be done at least five days a week. Women with small children can schedule their writing time when the young ones are down for a nap, if only for an hour, but the same hour each day until it becomes a habit. But if you only have a few minutes now and then, use that time to jot down notes or bits of dialogue as Doctor Don Coldsmsmith did on the backs of prescription pads.

Mystery novelist Marlys Millhiser echoed Bond’s work ethic. She begins writing at 10:00 a.m. and continues until 4:00 in the afternoons. Both writers stressed the fact that you must stay at the computer (or note pad) no matter how difficult the writing is going that day.

“My first draft is pretty bad,” Millhiser said. “But no matter how difficult it is, I hang in there. Sometimes you have to backtrack and begin again, but don’t stop to polish a chapter until the first draft is finished. When I’m on a run and the plot floats along, the characters take over and it’s wonderful. But most of the time, I’m just sitting there and sweating it out. And I’ve found, I’m sorry to say, that the stuff I sweated out and got three pages by working my pants off, was about the same quality as when the story just flowed along and I’ve gotten ten pages.”

Brian Garfield, author of “Death Wish” and countless other novels and screenplays, said, “I took up writing partly because some of the stuff that was published seemed so awful and so easy to do, and of course it isn’t easy to do, as you find out when you sit down to try to do it. And it took a long time—a lot of apprenticeship practice before I could write anything that was worth publishing. But you don’t know that until you try. At the time of the interview, he wrote five hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. No longer because of back problems.

Set your pace, as steady as walking on a treadmill. Before long you’ll feel that you must write during those hours. It becomes as important to those who want to succeed as breathing.

I'm at my computer by eight in the morning, with few exceptions, and write until three or later in the afternoon. A half hour treadmill break gives me a chance to loosen up and recharge my brain cells.

When do you write and how often?

(Pictured above: The treadmill desk)


Mark W. Danielson said...

I write whenever a thought pops in my head. If I'm driving, flying, or otherwise physically unable to type the thought, I try to jot a note so I'll remember it later. Most of us don't spend the time like Dean Koontz (up to 90 hours a week), but writing several hours a day is not uncommon.

Jean Henry Mead said...


I learned to write fiction by reading and rereading Dean Koontz. I can't imagine writing that many hours a week. (Married women writers often say they wish they had a "wife" to do the housework while they write) I hope Dean's taking some time out for exercise.

Bill Kirton said...

Every day.

When it's going well, I take very few breaks and work maybe 12-14 hours a day - and the beauty then is that the time flies by and I'm surprised at how late it is. When it isn't, I take lots of breaks and my creativity focuses on inventing displacement activities.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Such as gardening, wood carving, bike riding and "cross country sking"? I know you stay active, Bill, which is great for any writer, regardless of age.

Chester Campbell said...

In the old days (ten to twenty years ago) I wrote for long spans at a time. With more responsibilities now (they should be getting less, but aren't), I find that hard to do. I know I should write something everyday, but I don't. And when I do, it's usually only for an hour or so. I need to become more disciplined, but at my age that ain't easy.

Sheila Deeth said...

I tend to write in dribs and drabs throughout the day. I guess that makes me hideously disorganized and may have something to do with why I'm not having much success trying to get published. I read in dribs and drabs all day too.

Anonymous said...

I write every day--sometimes productively, sometimes not so much. But except when I'm traveling (and I always take my laptop) or sick unto death, I hammer at my well-worn keyboard.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Chester, it ain't easy at any age. I'm constantly amazed at all you do.

Jean Henry Mead said...


The amount of time you spend writing isn't nearly as important as the persistence and determination you exhibit when it comes to your work. Regularly planting the seat of your pants to your computer chair seems to propel your muses into orbit and helps you write in your head at other times when you're nowhere near your computer. Many of the well known novelists I've interviewed have said they carry a notepad with them wherever they go to jot down bits of dialogue or narrative so they won't forget.

Serious writing is a way of life.

Jean Henry Mead said...

CK, isn't it amazing how much quicker you get well if you get out of bed to write? It works for me. :)