How much time do you spend writing?

I have a friend who used to travel the world playing the piano. He practiced every day, even after he turned professional. He is also the only person I know who has a baby grand piano in his lounge room, although I am sure many other piano players do.

He always played for me when I visited, and his wife sang beautifully. When he settled down and took up teaching music, he continued to practice every day, and his wife practiced singing every day. Every day including weekends.

In my career as a software engineer, I wrote code eight or more hours, five days a week, testing as I went, and if the code achieved the outcome I was looking for, it stayed and I moved onto the next section of code. Than I went home and either wrote more code, spent time researching how to fix any problems with that day’s code, or just read more books, learning other ways of achieving same outcomes of that day.

What have these examples to do with writing? I should follow those examples and practice to improve until consistently producing good stories.

One of the graduated How To Think Sideways students set up a blog, Write A Book With Me,  where writers can comment on how many words they wrote each day. It is available for both those who took HTTS and any other writers who just want to talk to other writers. It is a good blog, so check it out if you want to chat to other writers, and they are a friendly lot.

It is good to get into the habit of writing every day, even if for half an hour. It is also good to get into the habit of blogging or (blog commenting) as training to “build your platform” when you get published. So all good.

The only problems I see are the writers do not discuss the amount of time it took to get the words they wrote each day so some may compare their word count with other writers who took longer to get the same amount of words, and they also do not discuss whether the words are good enough to keep in the finished product or if they will be cut during editing. Sort of comparing apples with oranges.

So, I got to wondering how many hours I should work each day? How many words should I get written?

I read Dean Wesley Smith’s latest blog on accounting for writers, and previous blogs on Speed and Time .

He types about 1000 words an hour, then takes a break and walks around before he returns to write for another hour. Another 1000 words. For 10 hours each day. Seven days a week. These words are all keepers, not cut during editing.

Do you know the amount of time you write each day? Or do you just write when you feel like it for as long as you feel like it?

I am in the last category. I plan on writing every day for at least four hours but end up writing 1 to 3 hours a day, 1 to 3 days a week, on one project at a time.

Any other free time I have each day (after my real work which includes housework, gardening and accounting for my business) I learn about publishing, marketing, book cover design, or just wasting time reading other writer’s blogs.

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing, or my muse will not play. To fix that problem I question conflicts, consequences of previous conflicts, plan new scenes to replace the scenes I don’t want to write, or, read through from start to where I got stuck, just to get the story straight in my head again, before I can continue.

If I want this hobby (which is what it is until I consistently produce stories that sell) to become a full time job earning income, I have to increase my output of words each day.

How? Step up my practice time.

Continue to write 2 to 3 novels a year? Hopefully. Plan a second project such as write lots of short stories in a series until I can consistently produce good short stories that do not need much editing? Why not? Plan a third project I can work on when I am stuck on the other projects? Yes. All good ideas, but it is not enough to produce a high word count if the stories are not good enough to sell. That is working harder, not smarter.

Working smarter means I need to become more efficient while writing. In other words, consistently write better prose so there will be less time editing. The time saved from editing I can use to produce more stories for readers to find.

Hopefully, while I consciously try to write better prose (keeper words) I will train my muse to work at any time of the day or night, not at a set time or when my muse feels like it.

And to do that I have to practice more every day. Not necessarily writing faster, but writing better.

What do you think? Only write at the same time every night to create a habit, or write whenever you find free time, any time of the day or night?

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19 comments so far

  1. Texanne on

    DWS has a good plan, and I can only figure that he lives alone and plans to continue doing so. In a way, I’m jealous, and a tad suspicious that all his words are keepers.

    Most of your working day, if you have that luxury, should go to writing and writing-related activities. But if you don’t make room in your life for people, nature, a hobby, then your writing will suffer. You will suffer.

    I have to work my writing in around the needs of my mother, husband, and offspring–not easy, specially when it comes to Mom and DH–so I vote for writing whenever you find free time. Just try not to wake anybody up, because as soon as they’re awake, they want something from you. :)TX

    • Shayne on

      “In a way, I’m jealous, and a tad suspicious that all his words are keepers.”

      I second that. Not that I don’t think a person can write a clean first draft, but at the speed he’s writing that doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for consideration of the words that he’s putting down.

      • djmills on

        Tell his agent, and publisher. 🙂 I believe what he said and see it with my own eyes, as I read each short story he produces.
        Your main mistake is thinking he is writing fast (your use of the word speed). He is a slow typer. He just writes for 10 hours a day, not for 15 minutes before falling asleep at night. I understand that you still believe the myth that publishers put out many years ago, to slow down the writers, but it is just a myth.

    • djmills on

      What I have learnt from reading DWS blog is he is married, has lots of cats, works all night, sleeps from around 5:00am to 12:00. Do not know about kids, relatives, etc, and it is none of my business to know that stuff. 🙂

      I also follow his wife’s blog, http://kriswrites.com/. She has wonderful information on the whole publishing industry, and how fast things are changing. You should look at it, because the last three or four blogs were for beginner authors, and how to survive the publishing industry with the changing rules.

      Also, I was blown away reading one short story DWS wrote the two nights before, with no changes, no editing, no adding more, no tweeking sentences. Just plain writing. Yes, I found two typos, but they didn’t matter. He puts the short stories up on his site for a free read, then packets them with a cover and puts on Amazon, Smashwords, etc. All his words are keepers. Even his publisher does not need to edit when he sends in completed stories. No changing plots, sentence structure, etc. I can only dream of getting that good at creating stories.

      Also note, I can not stand reading short stories because they usually have no story and I do not care about the characters. This one (actually longer than his normal short stories) did have a story, and if he extended it to 90K words I would have read every word. Could have been because it was Scifi or because I cared for the main character, or because it was longer than his usual short stories. I don’t know. But I was impressed with his ability to write “clean copy” first go.

  2. Shayne on

    I just read something Holly wrote – but can’t for the life of me remember where it was – about not setting word count goals that are too high, because it’s so easy to fall behind, and also because if you’ve got an insane word count each day, you don’t leave yourself time for editing or anything else. She also goes on to say that she regularly writes between 250 and 500 words a day, every day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s doable every day. It also works out to between 91,250 and 182,500 words a year.

    I started doing something similar back in January. I got an email from the Writer’s Store at the start of the new year, with a neat bit of writing advice – get a year-at-a-glance calender for your wall, and every day that you write, you get to put a big red X through the box for that day. I do my word count instead, and as long as I do a minimum of 200 words, I get to put it on the calendar. So far I’ve only missed two days, both of which were before I got the calender. It is hugely motivating, not wanting to see an empty box amid all the red, and 200 words is something I can manage even if it’s just quickly before bed. But somehow that minimum 200 words has turned into 16,293 words for January, and 9,793 words so far for February. I’d like to step that up a bit, really, and I think that will happen once I get my plot nailed down, but even if I can only manage 15,000 a month, that still works out to be 180,000 per year – which is a whole lot better than anything I’ve managed in previous years, when I gave myself a higher word count per day, but missed several days every month.

    • djmills on

      I created a YearAtAGlance calendar in Excel and use it to note writing timeframes, but I like the idea of putting the word count on it.
      Holly does not do editing as she writes, she showed us that during the course, HTTS. She also explained that, why edit as you write when you may have to remove the whole scene when doing OnePassEdit.
      500 words a day is 2 pages (manuscript layout) and a good pace for one or two novels per year. I am aiming for more than that and need practice, as I said in the blog, to write smarter, not faster so I need practice to train my muse to produce the correct words first time. I still haven’t figured out how to do that, except by writing short stories, novelette, novella, etc.

      • Shayne on

        Just out of curiosity, do you have a number in mind for your goal, or are you just going to try to do as much as you can manage?

      • djmills on

        Well, I only have about 4 hours in a block each day, so I would expect, based on 1000 words an hour, to get at the least 4000 done, and a lot more if I have the scene movie already in my mind. Mostly I only write a scene at a time and that averages 1500 to 3000 words, then I stop and think about the next scene, while I do other things. The chunk of time is between 1 and 2 hours. I have to get better at laying out the scene, getting the extras like foreshadowing, etc in place first.

  3. Shayne on

    “He types about 1000 words an hour, then takes a break and walks around before he returns to write for another hour. Another 1000 words.”

    “Your main mistake is thinking he is writing fast (your use of the word speed).”

    My use of the word ‘speed’ was due to your comment that he writes 1,000 words an hour. That seems fast to me – and I’d just be guessing, of course, but I think that would seem fast to most other people as well.

    • djmills on

      Sorry, but I am a touch typist. I used to do well over 100 words a minute on an old manual typewriter, and am faster on a computer. If I remember correctly, beginner touch typists do about 60 wpm. What slows me down is thinking of which sentence to put first, second, etc. I picture the movie of the scene in my mind in black and white and type. When I get to action or speech, I can merrily zoom along. It is the description (or lack of) that really slows me down. 🙂 I have to picture the scene a second time in colour, to add detailed description.

      • Shayne on

        It’s not so much the words/minute speed that sounds fast – if that were taking dictation or transcribing something already written, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at it. It’s the fact that he’s actually composing the words as he’s typing that makes 1000 words/hour sound fast to me.

      • djmills on

        Yes, that is what impressed me too. 🙂

  4. ekcarmel on

    Yes, I would like to be more productive. But 1000 words/hr? Wow! That’s way out of my league.

    I’ve gotten better at working whenever I have the chance, in between all the family responsibilities (like Tex). But it’s getting easier to get back into it – remembering where I was when I stopped last and sinking back into it.

    My words right now are mostly in my writing and personal journals and on blogs (mine and others’). And that’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. Why do we only count words written on WIPs as worth-while?

    Yes, we need an accounting on the WIPs, and I’m obviously not going to sit and count out handwritten words, but I definitely consider it “writing time” and well-spent. As for blogs, yes, sometimes I just waste time, but mostly, particularly on writing blogs, I’m learning and networking. Time well-spent, I think, as your time on DWS’s and his wife’s websites can attest.

    There’s probably no clear answer on any of this. We all work at our own pace. When we feel we need to push ourselves harder, we do it. It’s difficult to compare ourselves to other people. Though it can be inspiring.

    • djmills on

      We only count the words that will eventually create an income for us. Blogs and personal journals don’t Unless you are lucky enough to make your personal journal into a book and sell that. 🙂 As for learning from reading other blogs, it is amazing the snippets of information that are available if we only take the time to look.

      I think the clear answer is keep writing, learn to type a clear, clean, copy with no editing needed, and finally learn to write faster and longer. If you can sustain writing for 3-4 hours you are a part time writer, and know you will have to keep the writing flowing if you decide to work 8 or more hours at it daily.

  5. Shayne on

    In the interests of honesty, I have to take back what I said earlier about 1,000 words an hour being really fast. Because I sat down last night, and without making any particular effort to be fast, I wrote 813 words in an hour. I’ll have to go back and fill in a bit later, because I write really tight on the first draft, but the words that are down on the page are good, usable words.

    What’s neat is, the only thing I did different than usual was that I knew where the scene was going, and had a plan for all the points I wanted to hit when I sat down. I’m definitely going to keep that in mind from now on.

    • djmills on

      Yes, I am learning that as well. Now, think about two hours, or even three hours of writing like that.

      For me, I would have to go back over it and rearrange sentences, add description, etc, but getting the basic flow of the story down quickly is a good feeling. Over time, I hope to build the description in as I write, so no going back over it. At lease DWS showed me it can be done, so I have something to aim for. 🙂

  6. Angela/Curiocat on

    My thought about DWS and his speed is that he (as he points out often) has a mountain of experience in the business both as an editor and a writer. He writes seven days a week, he writes eight or more hours a day, he hosts workshops, I understand he has experience as a graphic artist, he is married to a very talented editor and writer,Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who thinks the same way he does about the “business” of writing and I could go on. His life, their life as couple is focused almost exclusively to writing. If he didn’t write pretty fast and well, I’d wonder about him and her for that matter. That’s why I decided to challenge myself with the holiday themed short stories. I don’t ever expect to reach their expertise cause hel-lo, too old, but I can certainly get a lot more experience than I’ve got right now by writing as much as possible.

    And Shayne? I love that idea about putting word count on a calendar; I’m going to start doing it, too.

    • djmills on

      I love watching the line on the widget on the right hand column of my blog creep across each time I update it. 🙂

    • Shayne on

      “And Shayne? I love that idea about putting word count on a calendar; I’m going to start doing it, too.”

      It’s extremely motivating. I got a big, laminated year-at-a-glance calendar and pinned it to the wall beneath my white board, so I can see it any time I walk into my room. So far this year I’ve only missed two writing days – both of which happened before I started using the calender – and I can’t tell you how much those two empty spaces bug me. There have been a couple of days since that I was tired when I got home from work and just felt like being lazy, but the thought of not being able to put my word count on the calendar for that day was enough to motivate me to do at least a little bit.


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