Writing Habits

I feel a mixture of admiration and disdain for writers who say, ‘I write for two hours everyday,’ or something of the like. I believe if you are a writer then you will make time to write, period. Proof is ultimately in the published pudding but for most people, I believe, if you can say you make a dedicated practice of writing, be it once a day or once a week, then you are still making some progress in the craft rather than none at all.

When Stephen King states he writes everyday without fail, I believe it. The man has the impossible, yet somehow possible, publishing rate to back it up. But as someone who identifies as a writer, the thought of sitting down to my desk and forcing myself to write, even when I don’t want to, makes me miserable. I could only imagine churning out garbage and for what? the sake of it? Not worth it, says this humble blogger (and published author of the short-story “Snowbound“). Sorry for that cheeky plug but if not me then who?

When I started working on my novel, Ruth Rises, it was easy to sit down for hours on end and all that lovely, dedicated desk discipline was a no-brainer. The first time I edited my novel, the same; it was equal parts thrilling and embarrassing to reread my raw material. And by the second read through, it became a drudge. I knew editing would be my weakness in terms of keeping my interest fresh (still is in all honesty).

After sending out nearly 40 agent queries (receiving equal parts rejection and no-replies) I decided to back-off the book for awhile. I concluded I needed a new approach to the query process and Ruth needed more editing. On this last point, I received some outside perspective regarding Ruth’s word length; no debut novel should be presented as 120,000 words even if it’s not total crap. Present the gutted version of your novel first and if it needs fattening, let the agent tell you so. Great advice and yet I let the book sit. Stephen King also advised taking six months between your finished novel and its editing. I see now why that breathing room is necessary. You’re close to that recently completed novel and cannot clearly see where it needs gutting. You think all your material is relevant – it’s not.

Having taken a break from Ruth Rises, I see it not only with fresh eyes but with critical eyes too. I’ve cut my novel like it owes me money, plus interest.

Editing is still a drudge although I’ve learned to counter it – edit in public. I discovered this little trick by accident. When I’m alone in my home office, I have all the quiet and self-containment I could possibly want, ideal for writing original content without disruption. But this kind of uninterrupted quiet is counterproductive (at least for me) when I edit. I overthink every sentence, paragraph, and chapter. I will get hung up on the most inconsequential dialogue between characters for hours.

Thinking I needed a change of scenery, I took my work to my local Starbucks (always packed) and bam! the editing monster in me took over. I made decisions in seconds that would have taken hours were I at home. I cut whole paragraphs and even pages. Material I suspected may be useful later, but was not terribly helpful to the current scene, was extracted onto a new document and saved for potential use elsewhere.

I am wonderfully introverted and all that energy-sapping noise and commotion actually moved my thought process along as I was focusing harder on the bigger picture and not the minute details. That was a nice surprise.

Having given myself that much needed space between my last round of queries to my now current efforts has really reinvigorated my writing efforts, and not just in editing. I say, if you’re a writer and if you feel that almost crippling guilt for not writing every moment you’ve scheduled it, forgive yourself. There is something in writing because you WANT TO and not just because you’ve planned it. Sometimes your work just needs to be organic and schedules aren’t exactly conducive to creativity.

If it has been too long since you’ve written, check in with yourself. Ask yourself what’s going on.

As for me, I know I need to plan editing because while it doesn’t require much originality, it is rather tedious. In this regard, I find keeping to a planned schedule helpful.

What are your writing habits? What writing habits have evolved or surprised you over time?