Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Writing Every Day

Today is our last initial discussion of Ellen Sussman's article, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, which was published in the Nov./Dec. 2011 issue of Poets & Writers.

The fourth step toward productivity for Sussman is daily writing. Breaks in writing, she says, make it difficult to "reenter a writing project." It also sounds as if she's an organic writer. "I don't outline my novels ahead of time. I let myself discover story and character as I write. And so I have to stay very focused to contain that fictional world." Her work goes easier if she is able to stay in the story and that means writing regularly, in her case, five or six days a week.

I totally agree with everything she says on the subject of writing daily. Perhaps I'm particularly sensitive to the problems related to writing breaks because I'm an organic writer, too. It is difficult to maintain flow, for instance, or stay in any kind of writing state, if you're always having to stop. Recently I was working three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and found that day on/day off schedule difficult because every day on came after a break of one or (on Mondays) two days. A chunk of my work mornings was spent fiddling around on-line, putting off attacking work. On the other hand, I can recall what a difference it made for Monday morning to be able to work for even a half hour or so over a weekend on a project I was deeply into. My computer guy has talked about writing code and how much easier it is to do if you've been doing it for a while. That, presumably, is why we used to hear stories about computer people staying up all night working, hopped up on caffeine. They didn't want to leave what they were doing and have to go through getting started again.

What's the connection with daily writing to time management, however? I think it's connected in two ways.

1. In terms of actually managing your writing time, if you can write nearly every day, you can get more done and not just because you're writing every day. You can get more done because the more you write, the easier it is to do. Plus, as Sussman says, "If I'm writing every day, four pages a day, then the novel stays in my mind during all the hours I'm not writing." So long as you can stay with the project, your mind keeps working even during those times you're not technically "writing." It's easier to experience breakouts. So writing every day has a connection to time management in that it helps you use your writing time more effectively.

2. To write every day, you have to make time to do it every day. This gets back to the issue of work and personal time. How can we possibly write every day and deal with personal time or day jobs? Sussman talks about habit. "Over time daily writing does get easier; it becomes a habit." You cannot exaggerate the power of habit. But it takes time to create one. How do we find the time to get started and do that?

I'm experimenting with squeezing in writing time on weekends and will write about how that's going next week. (And probably other weeks, too.) In the meantime, how many of you are able to write nearly every day? If so, how did you get started? If not, do you think it's worthwhile, and how might you try doing it?

ADDITION: Speaking of writing every day, in the essay Norman and Me, Amy Rowland says that Norman Mailer wrote every day. His biographer gave a tour of a house he lived in in Provincetown and told them "...Mailer believed writing had to be done every day, otherwise 'it was like leaving soldiers out in the rain.' He said you couldn’t tell yourself you were going to do it and then not do it, that it was a 'disservice to the subconscious.'" She also says he wrote in an attic room. "Toward the end of his life, Mailer would drag himself up the narrow stairs with a cane in each hand."

I was never able to get through the one book by Mailer that I tried to read and think the "disservice to the subconscious" bit is a little over the top. Still, I admire his dedication. Or perhaps perseverance.


Becky Levine said...

I don't manage to write every day, but I try to, and my understanding of my stories and characters is directly related to how consistently I make the time. I would say I'm NOT an organic writer--I've tried, and I'm back to character analysis and plotting before I get going on actual writing again. But just in terms of THINKING about this WIP, being with it, the more often I sit down with it, the more clear my vision. Even if it's for less hours total than I might be able to put in on a great, single writing day.

Jeannine Atkins said...

I'm also a big believer in writing every day, even if just for 15 minutes, for the reasons you state. You're in the habit of beginning, and it's not a Big Beginning, which can feel overwhelming. The story may stay with you when you're doing errands, and if not breakthroughs, you may get at least bits of dialog. And probably, too, it keeps that sense of being a writer, which you've written about, with you, and may be what Mailler's referring to in his over the top way (not that I've read him either)

Gail Gauthier said...

I've been thinking it would be helpful if I could even do journal work on days I can't formally write. Even doing some professional reading on weekends would be better than doing nothing.