Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Need to Write Every Day

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 dialog as Don Coldsmith did on the backs of prescription pads during his daily medical practice.

Mystery novelist Marlys Millhiser echoed Bond’s work ethic. She began writing at 10:00 a.m. and continued 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. until back problems caused him to cut his hours.

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. Writing is a way of life and a regular schedule is necessary.

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?


Bill Kirton said...

Fascinating insights as usual, Jean. It sounds strange but I sometimes feel as if 'writer' doesn't just define my profession, it defines me. I write almost every morning and afternoon and, when I'm well into a new novel, evenings too. I'm fortunate enough to have no other calls on my time (apart from the occasional Facetime call with grandchildren). Having said that, I've recently taken on the organisation of a scheme for putting writers in schools
to give workshops to pupils planning to go on to university. I also do some workshops myself in several schools and, even though they're about writing and I know they're useful for the pupils, I still feel as if they're eating into what I really should be doping all the time, i.e. writing.

Having said all that, you'd think my output would be prolific but it's not, so maybe I'm fooling myself. If that's the case, I'm having a very good time doing so.

Jean Henry (Mead) said...

I agree, Bill. Writers wear many hats and we work for much less than our talents and creativity deserve, but we're fortunate that we enjoy what we do. I've shared your sideline of giving workshops and find it very rewarding, as I'm sure you do as well.

Jackie King said...

This article is filled with wonderful advice and encouragement. I enjoyed reading it very much. I try to write for three hours each morning. Sometimes this doesn't happen, but one thing I know, I'm happier on the days I write than on the days I procrastinate.