Hours dedicated to writing

-JK Rowling

Some of you guys are seriously prolific. I was wondering how many hours a day you dedicate to writing, and how do you pull it off? Do people give you time or do you have to fight for your time, as JK Rowling says. I always try to carve out at least one hour, even if it means I do crappy work at the end of an exhausting day. The days that I don't do anything, I hate myself and the world. I mean, not literally but I definitely feel bummed!

I maintain a google docs spreadsheet that lets me track how many words I need to write per hour to meet my deadline. I punch in the hour & the minute, and it calculates the target # I need to hit for the current hour, the overall percentage of completion and all that jazz. My general target is a minimum of 4k words by 10pm on the deadline day, with 1-2 hours spent proofreading. Chapter goes live at midnight. 2 chapters a week with a third if donation goals are met (and I'm meeting them - I've got bonus chapters lined up all through February).

Through this, I know generally how many words per hour I write (~250/hour in the early morning, ~400/hour by midday and increasing steadily as the day gets on). Though my target minimum is 4k, I'm a night person and I generally hit maximum speed right after dinner and cruise past that self-imposed minimum (800-1200 words an hour, but only if I've already gotten up to speed and haven't had any major obstacles). My last few chapters were 7921, 7313, 8812, 4678, 5816 and 5726 words. On average, I'd say I spend anywhere from 10 to 18 hours per chapter, and maybe a quarter of that gets done in advance of the 'deadline day' (the day leading up to a chapter's release, whereupon I put everything possible on the backburner for the sake of getting the chapter out).

I'll often lose sleep to get the necessary hours in. Wake up a few hours early to make sure I have time in the day, or stay up the night before a deadline day to hit 1k words so I know I'm off to an ok start. I'm mostly okay with that. I'm probably shortening my lifespan in the process, but my ultimate goal is to make a living writing, and I know I won't get there unless I write.

I was talking to Gavin about this via. email, but I think the major thing is that I write because I put myself in a situation where I have to write. I always meet my deadlines and I meet my minimum wordcounts, and I can't/won't let myself fail in that respect. As such, I find I can make the time to get words on a page. Oftentimes that means having a notebook in my lap while I'm elbow to elbow with people on the bus. Or going to the keyboard to write in between chopping vegetables and checking on the meat for dinner. Once it meant I had to literally run to the library to use their internet because the guy installing the wiring for the ceiling lights saw the wires leading to the (old, defunct) security system and cut them, only to simultaneously, accidentally kill my (attached) phone line and internet.

There's always stuff like that. I'd say the people around me are pretty darn cool with the writing, but they don't always understand it (I've pondered starting a forum topic on this, but seemed whiny on second thought - Rowling touches on it). I wouldn't say I have to fight for the time to write, that's not really a consideration with where I'm at, but I'll often have to defend the writing against lines like 'why don't you just not release a chapter tonight?' or 'make it half the usual length?' when I'm getting pressured to go out and socialize or spend time with family or get work done.

And, that aside, it's rarely quiet or uninterrupted writing time. Life intrudes, as a rule, and when your writing is almost a full time job on top of everything else you need to do to get by, those intrusions will inevitably cut into writing time.

I deal. I accept that I'm pretty lucky to be able to do what I'm doing and when it comes to the rougher days, I just dream of a time when I can subsist (to a basic degree) off this stuff and essentially become a hermit.

In my case it was old training. When I first started writing (back when traditional publishing was it and there was no World Wide Web), the advice was "1000 words a day," which at the time was roughly equivalent to four pages. So I would diligently sit down every day and produce at least a thousand words a day. Usually I got more than that, but "at least four pages" was my mantra.

After years of that, I no longer really think about page count, but rather about projects finished. I do that because I know about how long it takes me to do something when I sit down and really go at it: a novel is usually 3 months or so. A short story should only take a few days. I plan out what I want to do for the year and then I do it until it's done; anything over the year's projects is gravy.

But I don't think in terms of "hours to write." I think in terms of "minutes." If I have at least ten, I'll add a paragraph. Having an hour at a time is a serious happy-making luxury. If I have an hour, I'm like a racehorse that's been waiting too long at a gate: I just streak off, howling. Lol. :) I also trained myself to ignore just about everything. I'll write at a noisy coffee shop, while my kid is running around, in quiet places, in empty places, in busy places. I'll write while my email is pinging me and my scheduler is going off. Will it be the best writing I've ever done? Maybe not, but it'll get done, and as long as it's down it can be fixed.

The only thing I haven't figured out how to write around is serious allergies. Those make it so hard to concentrate I don't even like driving, though, so I guess not being able to write is a minor thing in comparison. -_-

Honestly, I write to my deadline.

I post updates on Monday and Thursday. This means that I start writing on Sunday and Wednesday evening. After four to five hours, I have 1000 words. Then I post.

At one point I had an hour a day writing schedule. I think that would be a good thing to have, but I haven't managed it lately.

Last fall, I wrote a blog on stealing time (basically taking stuff a writing coach spouted at us slacking dissertation/thesis writers) and it comes down to actively using everything outside formal time at the computer to get prepared to write. (http://online-novel-blog.blogspot.com/2012/10/stealing-time-to-write-some-tricks-and.html) .

At work, my teammates have different styles of project management, but I found that for many people we will find efficiencies in process when we have a deadline hanging over our heads. (This is why I put myself on a deadline with a schedule for the serial. I knew I'd find a way to post. )

One thing the coach talked us out of was the mindset of finding huge chunks of time. A lot of the people in that workshop were parents or had jobs. When you start with the mindset of needing "an hour a day" when you are full time on other things it's intimidating and discouraging when you can't meet that goal. We were backed down to smaller increments of time. I'd honestly back down the hour and start with 15-20 minutes every day. Then you'll start feeling you can use other 15 minute blocks to accomplish certain tasks, particularly prep tasks. And eventually you'll be able to find that magic hour you want, but not necessarily in one block of time.

But I'll try to get into the weeds of a schedule of a typical week.

That said, my schedule works because I have a master outline that came out of several brainstorming sessions over the course of two years. Ideally for a shorter serial, you have it before you start and maybe do a review/revision at appropriate timepoints. You can make it a lot of fun or involve others if you hate/can't sit at your computer or desk.

For example, at first I was using post-its (totally for real: http://plumgirl.tumblr.com/post/5594707234/the-post-it-pile-of-plotting-grows-alright-the) because I LOVE POST-ITs and colors, and visual diagrams. But you can't travel around with a stack of post-its, so this stuff eventually got distilled into a small notebook/Word document/Livejournal and then eventually moved to Google Docs because I figured out how to access it at work (on break), phone, tablet, computer, whatever...

I have a general idea of word output, but my approach has evolved from words to "What do I want to accomplish" this week. So while the first few months were more about meeting the word goal for the week, later my goal was to finish a scene or key interaction or plot point. (And my word count started getting really all over the place. I had a minimum, but I had no maximum other than what I could handle.)

I'm actually one of the most inefficient drafters you can have out there. You'll see my process below could be tighter if I learned to not rely on so many opportunities to revise. That said, I'm too trained to take a painter's approach to things (vs. a sequential artist who commits the entire linework and concept first before coloring) and therefore I have to build in time to hack at the text.

Tuesday - Usually do not do much because I'm recovering from the Monday update. If I find 30 minutes, I will go to my list of notes , outline, kick around ideas. This can happen on a document or on my Google Drive, or notes on my phone, or whatever I can later come back to. I'll make decisions on the direction of the next installment and I might literally narrate /talk myself through some dialogue blurbs. I remember though mid-way through using this day to help me with continuity checking.

Wednesday - Still muddling through ideas. Brainstorming and maybe I'll start fleshing out part of a scene. This is a script essentially and very barebones. It's lacking in description and has a lot more dialogue or key actions. I think this is, with all the interruptions, like an hour but not necessarily all at the screen.

Thursday - Decision is usually implemented. Whatever time I have (1-2 hours) is just about working at the text. At times I toss things out if it doesn't work. While I usually have one element I'm addressing off my list, there's a lot of stuff I play with. Character interaction, for example, is not something I always plan for and so I try different things out. I try hard to make sure that I have a page or so done.

Friday - This is crunch night of revision. It's one I can stay up if I drink coffee after work. No one bothers me usually because my friends are too old now and sleep instead of play. That said, this is stream of consciousness work sometimes.

Saturday - Oh errands and life. Wake up and try to squeeze in an hour to look at what happened on Friday. (Fresh pair of eyes theory here.) Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I hate it and strike out what looks bad. I'll go away, put on a CD and think about what I read. Or if I think there's a problem with continuity sometimes this day is where I go back and read again. Usually by evening I'm back with an attack plan. This is where it's do or not do. I try to feel good about my direction. I like to think this is the "80% there" draft.

Sunday - I leave the hours of writing until after dinner so I have social time or recreation time. Usually this is 3rd/4th look at my text and is cosmetic. I can set up the posting formats if I feel good about it such that Monday is left for just reading for errors and posting.

Monday - come home from work, read the update a few times (on the blog preview copy) for mistakes. I usually don't rewrite unless things weren't good during the weekend. POst on site. Post on Wattpad. Try to remember to add text to long-form version I have been formatting for ebook. Tweet/tumblr/whatever else I usually do to promote.

This is not an efficient process. I work in an OCD environment where we do a lot of checking/re-checking so I've applied some of the editing process from that to my writing. I think a person who gets really good first drafts out or isn't obsessed with continuity could probably insert another update with no problem as long as they have a clear plan for their next series of updates.

I will say this: I used to write to serial deadlines, and discovered that turned me into a very leisurely writer. If I was posting 2 or 3 times a week, I'd write just enough to make those 2 or 3 times a week and then I'd think of myself as "done."

I don't do that anymore. :,

I write when I can, and when I can't, I don't. I'd love to be at a point in my life where I can schedule it regularly, but I'm not. Life sucks like that occasionally.

What ubersoft said.

Obviously my job comes first although when things are slow, I'll jump at the chance to write even at work. I try to carve out time at home, but there are errands to run, dinner to cook, loved ones to spend time with.

For a long time, I was rather secret about my writing. As in, nobody knew I was doing it. My friends are a lot more forgiving when I don't go out with them now that they know that I'm writing rather than just being a hermit :P

I write when I can. Draw, too. I constructed deadlines I can work within. I get ahead when I can. It takes priority over all of my other hobbies, but until I'm making a living at it, it's still second to a lot of things.

Although I do try to write every day, I don't really count how many hours I spend doing it. What I do instead is to set goals for myself for the month (since that's my current posting schedule) - write one new chapter (roughly 10-11 8 1/2" x11" pages of text), complete my edit for one chapter, type in my corrections for a chapter (not very green of me, but I find I can't get a good sense of the flow of the whole chapter without printing it and scribbling on it in red pen), get one chapter back from my editor and update it, and send a chapter I've edited off to my editor for revisions. It hadn't really occurred to me to count anything other than time typing in front of the computer as writing time, but now I'm thinking I spend more time writing than I realized...

At any rate, I'm usually pretty good about hitting those goals, although studying for a work-related certification test over the past couple of months has cut into my edit time. Fortunately, I have a fairly large writing buffer, so I think I'll be OK regardless. In reality, though, I suppose the most important thing is to get the writing down, which I don't usually seem to have trouble doing.

I've enjoyed emailing Wildbow about the writing process. On reflection I think his story writing routine is sort of similar to mine when I was in university: I HAD to write essays and I applied the same momentum to stories.

However, I have a LOT of stories in my head that all exist, and what happens is X stories gets divided by Y amount of writing time UNLESS I have a way to prioritize one story over others.

So I use polls to let readers pick Diggory over other stories, and I gave myself a 3 day a week writing schedule. I gained energy from reader interaction because it helped prioritize the written story over all the stories in my head. Because I built momentum for a long time I wrote daily, way ahead of schedule.

I started to lose ground after 5 years online because we had twins, I got promoted and my aunt died, so all the momentum dried up. Now I have to get back to a "HAD to write" routine and get back good habits instead of relying on momentum.

Hopefully then I can get the stories in my head out in the world again.

I write mainly during my commute to work. That's an hour each way, and I can usually get between 500 and 2,000 words done in that time, depending on how tired I am and how much the piece is fighting me or flowing free.

My commute is also my editing time, and I spend almost as much time editing as I do writing for the web serial.

Like MCA, I found myself tending towards the 'bare minimum' to keep my web serial running. The best way for me to keep the momentum up was to have something else to work on once the week's post was done. It might be a short, next week's post, notes or plans for a different project, or something for my writing blog; as long as I'm putting words down, I'm happy.