When I write… now there’s a writing prompt I’ve put to use multiple times as a writer and as a teacher. On the one hand, understanding one’s writing process can be a boon to maintaining one’s sanity when the going gets rough. In another sense, we all have peak hours of productivity when it just seems like the words start to flow. Maybe word or page counts motivate you, or perhaps you are driven by butt in chair time. So it would seem there are two ways to tackle today’s topic.
When I Write
When I write… (as five-minute writing prompt)
When I write, I write badly. After all, that is what revision is for. I actually hate the process of sitting down to write. I always have. The image of the writer feverishly at work, alive with the ideas pouring through their mind into their fingertips and onto the page is not an image I relate to. Maybe on the best of days, I feel like I’m on fire with writing. But most days the words come painfully slow. Writing has always been the way I prefer to communicate with the world because a person can be so in control over the final product. With speech, once something is uttered you really can’t take it back. Even though sitting down to write has always felt a bit like torture, it is just something I have always been compelled to do. I prefer to type and feel that handwriting is so laborious and slow. I do keep a notebook for lists and making cluster diagrams, but when I need to freewrite I will definitely type.
In many ways, I am out of writing shape and this blog has been the way I’ve fully gotten back into writing. When I write I feel I am doing what I was brought into this world to do. It can be lonely at times. While I started my blog, I also found it hard to simply dive into the novel idea that I’ve had for years. Sitting alone in a room became so painful after years of being in a classroom surrounded by students everyday. I could not focus for long spells. So I took five of Edgar Allan Poe’s most popular stories and re-wrote them in modern English and turned them into an eBook (at least it gave me practice doing so, because it’s not like it will ever be a huge seller. Doing so gave my mind something to focus on. Then as my blog started to find a niche, I finally dove into drafting my novel at the start of the new year. When I start to write I feel hopeless, but when I am done writing, I feel so much better.
When I write… (as reference to a point in time)
Six hours of sleep has been my constant for over two decades. I like to go to bed at midnight and get up at 6 am. Yet, my most productive hours for any type of work are between 1 pm and 5 pm. In those four hours, I’ve found I can reasonably add 1,000 words to my novel. On some days, I can add 1,500 words. I think if I had a better handle on how the plot would play out, I could write 2,000 words in that time. At other times, I’m able to spend an hour or two writing in the evening when I devote the afternoon to other projects.
Now that years have gone by since this post first appeared, I no longer aim for daily or weekly word counts. Doing so always discouraged rather than motivated me. I now aim to write creatively five hours a week. Ideally, I prefer to do this on weeknights in 1.25 hour increments. In reality, I tend to fit it on the weekends. I often find myself putting the writing off, but I’m getting better at not distracting myself with household chores, etc. I have to get up early in the morning to teach, and better writing tends to transpire in the morning hours when the mind is fresh, so I’m embracing weekends. What matters is that I’ve learned to hold myself accountable. I no longer drag my feet and make excuses or let myself cop out to feeling overwhelmed.
On a related note, check out this post on Goins, Writer on the 3-Bucket System on getting the writing done.
That’s my take on when I write. What happens when you write? Do you aim for a certain daily or weekly word count?
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like reading How to Self-Edit a Manuscript for Content and How to Self-Edit a Manuscript for Language.
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2012. Updated February 2019.
1000-1,500 was my average daily output, too. And no- I couldn’t spend all day writing either. Social media, reading, physically creative things like photography and baking, etc., kept me from burning out. Sounds like it’s working for you too!
That’s comforting to hear. I don’t see how some people can attest to writing 3 to even 5 thousand words a day. Look for the “Ways of Seeing” photography and writing exercise that I’ll be posting in April when I participate in NaBloPoMo. As always looking forward to your next post. I really wish I was reading more these days…
The only times I’ve been able to write all day (and even into the night) have been when I was writing screenplays for a paycheck. It’s funny how money motivates you as a writer. But on the other hand, writing for money spoils you because when you’re writing something without a paycheck waiting for you at the end it feels as though you’re wasting your valuable time. Writing simply for the joy of it or for connection with other people, however, is much more rewarding. I know that when I write a blog post, for example, there won’t be a director, star, or production team changing my words simply for the sake of their egos. Making money is nice, though. 😉
Funny how money motivates. Even with the small editing projects I’ve been taking on recently, I’ve found that’s enough to make me stick with the writing with a little less complaining. As for blogging, I don’t think I could ever really grow tired to that.
I really like the idea of rewriting Poe’s stories in Modern English as a way to get back into the habit of writing again.
I’m surprised to hear that you feel hopeless when you first start to write, because (I can say this with authority now) you have nothing to feel hopeless about. But I’m glad to hear that you write through the hopelessness. I think that’s where a lot of people normally quit.
And three cheers for supportive husbands! It feels like my husband has to give me a pep talk about once a week. The poor man didn’t know what he was getting himself into in marrying a writer. 😉
Thanks for the encouragement. If there’s one thing I am, stubborn is it! I will get that book written. The longer I keep at it, the closer I get to feeling like I can really do it. And yes, supportive husbands are definitely the best 🙂
But yet you write! Great that you continue and you have a pattern to follow – knowing oneself is important in creative endeavors.
My most productive hours seem to be in the morning. By now, 4:30 pm, I’m mostly thinking about how to help my daughter with her homework or what to make for dinner. Still don’t know about dinner.
I have spent quite a few years outside the realm of actively writing. Even my blog was something that was done when I had a chance to work on it. It wasn’t until this year that we took a good look at where things were going and decided now was the time to change things up. You would think that the biggest challenge was coming up with material to write and all that, but that is really the minor thing compared with completely changing not only how you live your life but how you define yourself through work.
Until now my life has revolved around working with my hands, my abilities to do physical labor. Now I spend most of my time in front of a keyboard looking at a computer screen. It has been a major culture shock.
Changes are made a little at a time. I look at now writing about 1000 to 2000 words a day in various projects as steps moving me forward. It may not seem like much but when you consider juggling this in with also trying to maintain my sanity (I have to have physical projects in there as well so I spend time cooking and developing recipes and then brewing).
Even on days when something I am writing doesn’t pertain to one of the projects I have in the works, that bit of writing is still important. It may lead to something down the road or may have just been the breather my mind needed at that time. We can’t be so caught up deadlines (real or imagined) that we lose track of why it is we do what we do.
The saying is probably trite now, but I always think of “writers never really want to write, they want to have written.” The concept is so very true in most of life. We don’t really want to do the work, but we want the rewards the work gives us. (and here comes another trite phrase) beginning is half done. The hardest part of any endevour is starting, we will always have to overcome our own inertia.
(I am hoping I didn’t ramble on endlessly here)
Jon, your ramble is music to my ears 😉 I love how your put it: “You would think that the biggest challenge was coming up with material to write and all that, but that is really the minor thing compared with completely changing not only how you live your life but how you define yourself through work.” That definitely fits everything I’ve been going through in the last year.
I write when I write.
Even when I’m not physically writing, I’m writing.
I remember a story about a famous writer sitting quietly
at a dinner party.
His wife told the host, “O, don’t worry; he’s not being rude, he’s just writing.
I’m sort of like that.
xxxx As always, great insight, Jeri.
Kim, isn’t it truly wonderful how writing can absorb us so utterly at times?