Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Myth of Writing Everyday

by Dina Sleiman

For those of you who aren’t authors, November is in known in the writing community as “Nanowrimo,” or National Novel Writing Month. Writers traditionally use this time to focus purely on writing and try to finish a book in a month. This is my first year to participate. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, but it’s working great with my writing style.

You see, there’s another tradition in the writer’s world. Writers must write everyday. No matter what. Many instructors will tell you this is the only way to be successful. I say—hogwash!

While I do spend time everyday working on something writing related: editing, critiques, reviews, blogs, marketing, promotion, networking, (don’t worry, there’s plenty to keep me busy) I never just sit around staring at an empty, white computer screen. It would be a complete waste of time for me to write 200 or even 500 words a day as many insist that you should, because it usually takes me an hour or two to get in the right frame of mind to write.

In my definition, writer’s block is what happens when you try to write without inspiration, which I won’t even attempt. I love it when a story is boiling inside of me until it erupts like a volcano and comes flowing out. When I write in that magical flow, I can easily pound out 10,000 in a day given no distractions. And speaking of distractions, I don’t even notice them in that marvelous zone. Hours later I’ll realize it’s dark outside and check to see if all my kids are alive and the house still standing.

Probably the best thing about writing in big, inspired spurts is that the book comes out with a tight sense of unity. You’re less likely to mess up characterization or motivation if you stay in the flow of the story. The voice, rhythms, and details will remain consistent.

When I wrote my first novel, I was still homeschooling my kids. I wrote in big spurts on weekends or getaways until it was done a year later. For my second novel my kids were in public school. I wrote about 30,000 words in the fall, then the other 60,000 in a big spurt in the spring. Since then, I’ve found I have about three sprees a year. Fall, early winter, and late spring. I've utilized these spurts for major rewrites and the beginning of sequels during the last year.

Between the spurts I relax, catch up, spend time with the family, and refill. During those spaces I do the normal living required to find new inspiration. I’m sure I at least write an email everyday. Maybe a blog post, but I don’t worry about new novels.

In fact, I haven’t worked on entirely new project in a while. And I hadn’t written a book in 2011. So with NaNoWriMo approaching, I decided to pray for a new idea. God sent one in the form of a title in late October. That was all the inspiration it took to spark my creative juices. This will be my first time writing an entire novel in one spurt, but I’m enjoying the ride for sure.

In addition to the unity I expected, I’ve also found this method saves a lot of time. I don’t have to go back and check things that I’ve forgotten. And while I’ve started plotting ahead of time with most of my books, for this experience I’ve been able to let the characters tell me the story and just write it down as it unfolds in my mind without worrying if the plot will come back to me at a later date.

I’m sure there must be some merit to writing everyday (although I can’t say I really understand what it is). Maybe it works better for more methodical left brain type thinkers. But for me it would be like Chinese water torture. And I submit for the record that I think writing in big spurts with breaks in between to refresh and relax is much more productive.

At least for some of us.

How do you write? If you're not a writer, have you ever stopped to wonder how authors create?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion with Whitefire Publishing has just released. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/
 


33 comments:

  1. Yes, Dina, I suspect I am your polar opposite. LOL.

    Writing every day works for me. Inspiration comes usually only after I begin. But, like you said, I suspect it is a bit of the left-brain,right-brain type of thing. Probably also why I'm attracted to the more analytic genre of mystery--which (for me at least) requires extensive plotting and architecture.

    My first experience writing fiction was a fan fiction serial. I grew a following of people who knew I would post a scene each week day. But I've discovered that a scene a day is about right for me. It also taught me to think in terms of scenes, ending each scene in a way the reader will want to come back.

    But since all writers are different--I guess the mantra should be "whatever works."

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  2. Cool. Mystery writing is kind of like constructing an elaborate puzzle I think. Sounds fun.

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  3. I write everyday, less out of the feeling of obligation and more because I just really love it. If I'm not working on a novel, I enjoy crafting short stories. Besides, for me, the everyday thing makes me better.

    Writing just makes me feel happy and fully alive. That's why I write everyday.

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  4. Well, that is a most excellent reason, Susie!

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  5. Dina,

    I just quoted what you told me in your class about writer's block on my blog today before I saw this post. :) I, like you, write better in big spurts. I've found that when I try to make myself write everyday, it just leads to frustration. I'm better off doing something related to writing each day and utilize large bursts of inspiration for writing chunks of a novel than making myself write a certain amount of words a day. Great post.

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  6. Thanks, Allison. I actually saw someone on facebook recently asking writers to reply to whether they write methodically or in big spurts. There are a number of spurt writers out there.

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  7. Ah, thank you for releasing me from one more area of guilt! I, too, have those strange seasonal spurts, I just never noticed the pattern until now. Cool... that means I can plan ahead for them and "go with the flow"!

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  8. Yes, I'm very anti-guilt and always happy to free someone from that bondage. God convicts us sometimes and we need to respond when he does, but there's joy in that. I believe guilt is usually a trick the devil to bring us down and make us lose sight of our identity in Christ.

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  9. Absolutely, and then we get discouraged and turn into couch potatoes.

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  10. I'm all for the "what works for you" method of writing. We're all different, and no way is wrong as long as we're doing what we're called to do.

    I'm a "MAKE myself write every day" writer. Unless I have something fresh burning to get out, I have to force myself to sit down and write. (Usually, this is after I've written all the "fun" stuff and have to make it all make sense and be an actual book (ie: work).) But once I stop checking e-mail and playing Spider Solitaire, then I usually get into it and get something done.

    I can be quite a challenge some days, but if I don't force myself to work daily (or at least most days), I find I let large chunks of time pass me by with nothing to show for it.

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  11. Somehow, loosing chunks of time doesn't bother me. Although I do get antsy if I don't do anything creative. But I'm also involved in dance and drama and I love to paint, so I get in some time with one of those other outlets.

    I'm sure once I start dealing with deadlines some things will have to change, though.

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  12. I write or work on writing related things every minute I can because those minutes are treasures! Sometimes it's much harder (like walking in soft sand...uphill?) to get anything productive out of that free hour but I enjoy the attempt.

    When I feel burned out, I take a break. But that's pretty rare. I know that last January when I was able to write non stop for a month (outside of the requirements for survival--which does not include vacuuming) I never felt more incredibly driven/relaxed. My writing was much better when I was in that zone! I envy the option of spurts of writing because on a normal day, by the time I get to my desk at night, I'm starting to feel really wound down.

    Whatever works. Just keep moving forward by leaps or crawling, right?

    I'd love to do NaNoWriMo after I submit this MS but I, like Barb, have to have a bit more plotting done before I can jump in. We'll see!

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  13. Yep, gotta love that zone.

    I have to confess that I have snuck some plotting, editing, and researching time in during the last few weeks. I've been trying to keep most of that to the weekends. But I'm not able to just toss down a sloppy wreck. I don't want to deal with the aftermath later, as seen in the photo.

    But I've still managed to write about 35,000 words in the past two weeks.

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  14. I love it when a spurt of creativity happens! I also force myself to write a little bit most days. Sometimes the writing itself inspires spurts. Not often, but sometimes.

    I can't imagine writing 35K in 2 weeks. That's awesome, Dina.

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  15. Congratulations on joining NANOWRIMO. After taking your writing class last summer (check it out on Dina's blog at http://dinasleiman.com/) I decided that I needed something like NANO to get me going. I finished my 50K word novel with less than 24 hours before the deadline, and it was a life-changing experience for me. Check out my 11-1-11 post at http://www.viewfromtheroadsofar.blogspot.com/. My post on 11-6-11 came out of NANO experience.
    I personally like making myself do some kind of writing each day, though right now I am committed to posting 30 days in November. I love it when the bursts happen, though!
    Thanks for all the encouragement, Dina!

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  16. Susie, you're right, sometimes the writing does inspire the spurt. I try to balance giving it a little nudge vs. just sitting there and getting frustrated.

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  17. That's right, Sandy. I remember that. Thanks for stopping by. I'll check out your article too!

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  18. I love Nanowrimo.

    I love BIAM (Book in a Month).

    I love BIAW (Book in a Week).

    I love BIAWeekend. (Labour Day wknd)

    I love #1k1hr (1,000 words per hour).


    Each of the above are similar except for the length of time you're given. I started at the top of the list in 2007 and wrote a book that November. Not on the official Nanowrimo website, but with my friends over on the eHarlequin community. It wasn't my first book, but it was the fastest I'd written one.

    And I couldn't wait until the next year when Nano rolled around again.

    I was thrilled to learn my local writing group (Sask Romance Writers) held BIAW the 3rd week of January. And after Nano, I was rarin' to go!

    Others didn't have that luxury - or should I say incentive. After months of listening to us talk about it, Dee - one of the forum hosts set up BIAWeekend over the Labour Day weekend. I didn't get a book completed, but after writing 8000 words in one day, I was hooked on this type of speed-writing.

    #1k1hr is a recent discovery. It's on Twitter and it's not hard to find teammates. I know that Donna Alward, a fellow Cdn on the east coast, usually starts the challenge at 8am my time. That's early for me, but it's getting so that I'm up and dressed and already in my office before that time. Rarin' to go. Donna will give a start time like :00 which means on the hour or :15 for 15 mins after and at that time, she'll tweet GO!

    And we start. I keep my iphone beside my laptop and when the hour is up, someone will say TIME or something similar and then we all say how many words we did.

    This morning I got 900 even between 8:15 and 9:15. Donna said we'll go again at :30 and we did. By the time that was over, I'd got 932 words in - and that included popping over to log into one of the special writing chats Harlequin is have each day this week.

    That's almost 2000 words before mid-morning. And then I had the rest of the day for research, editing, etc.

    If you want to join us, follow me on Twitter. @anitamaedraper :)

    But I also do BIAW with the Faith, Hope and Love online writing group.

    And there are also 2 BIAM's:
    - NovelTrack through the American Christian Fiction Writers; and
    - Nano/BIAM with Dee at Harlequin.

    So there's lots of incentive out there if you're like me and need the motivation and challenge of working with others. As @michellewillingham said today on Twitter:
    Writing is such a solitary occupation, it's more fun with friends. Like exercise. :) @DebraEMarvin @AnitaMaeDraper

    :)

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  19. In the past, I've been a total 'large spurts of time' writer, doing most of the actual writing in the summer months since I also teach public school. However, this is my third year participating in NaNo and I find that writing creatively everyday is also a very productive way to go. I guess there are pros and cons to each method.

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  20. Go Anita! Sounds fun.

    So, I just found at from Sandy that I only need to finish 50,000 words. I'll definitely meet that, although I'm not sure if I'll get my whole 90-100k book done.

    And I found out this week that when I'm really in a flow, I can do 1,200 words in an hour.

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  21. I write in spurts and also regularly. Starting a new story is really tough for me, but once I get going I'm sucked in and it's a mad dash to the finish. Then I love revisions and editing. Things slow down again when I move to the next project.

    I don't write every day in between projects. But I do other things like research and brainstorming. Oh, and I do find that if I haven't been writing regularly it is difficult to get going again.

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  22. I usually have my biggest spurt at the beginning. Interesting that you have yours at the end, Lisa.

    Once I write a synopsis, things get a little more methodical for me. I tend to lose excitement as I go along because there aren't as many surprises.

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  23. Dina, I can't imagine writing 35,000 in two weeks. That is so very awesome. Before I even read that in your comment, I could totally picture you fitting right into the nanowrimo. However you spell it. Yikes! Is there something wrong with me that I don't know the correct spelling?

    Seriously, though, I've had BIAWs and BIAMs that have worked really well for me. But I find that trying to force a word count paralyzes my creative brain. I do so much better in spurts as well, though I must confess I've never had a spurt quite like yours, Dina. I think the biggest spurt I've ever had was a 70,000 word ms in three months, then another month of editing. I know. That's a regular schedule for a lot of people. But for me, it was a good feeling since I was working full time at the time.

    I really, really can't wait until I finish school because I have so many things just burning to be written.

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  24. Hi Dina,
    Good to know about your spurts of writing. I will take note of the dates.
    I hope they are still strong and flowing.
    Paris says hi.
    Love you.
    Dani

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  25. There was another author once who compared writing to Chinese water torture, and being on 'The Rack' if I recall.
    He wrote detective novels, but said he hated writing.

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  26. Suzie, this is actually the first time I've committed to it because its the first time I was already in that flow before it started. In fact, I didn't commit until a few days before.

    I was really inspired over the past two years by my crit partner, Roseanna White. I watched her write the 150,000 word first draft of Jewel of Persia (which was better in first draft than many finished novels) in about three months. The about two months on her shorter Love Finds You in Annapolis, and about two months again on her Ring of Secrets.

    It made me want to just pound through a novel. And I even write well in first draft at this point, which I definitely couldn't have said a few years ago.

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  27. Thanks Dani. Tell Paris I miss it. Wave at the Eiffel Tower for me.

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  28. Roseanna is pretty amazing. I can't even imagine. If I wrote that many words in that amount of time, they would be gibberish.

    One thing I did realize - just like you said happens for you... when I write in spurts, everything flows together. And when I write in bits and pieces, I'm forever trying to make sure everything flows, or that I haven't a thread somewhere.

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  29. I only ever write non fiction essays, but I would love to be able to write fiction. I have tried it my time. Maybe one day.

    My technique is generally, write 1000 words, realise it isnt going the way I wanted then rewrite the whole thing.

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  30. Writing is rewriting as they say :)

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  31. I used to have to be in the right frame of mind to write, which could take a while. Then I got back-to-back and sometimes overlapping deadlines and that stopped. Now I write when I have time--at the kitchen table while making dinner, when my DH is in the shower in the morning on weekends so he doesn't interrupt me, while I'm waiting for a ride somewhere. I wrote 80k words in August doing that while packing to move.

    I do this so I don't have to write intensely every day. I need that day off upon occasion to recharge.

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  32. That's really cool, Laurie. I'm sure the more experience you get the more it must help.

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