In a recent comment, Dani asked several questions that I hear fairly often. Here they are:
Do you have a set writing schedule? A certain time of day that you get in your xx number of words? Days off from writing? Are those scheduled? My great challenge with writing is staying on task. I read recently that one author wouldn't allow himself to pee until he wrote his quota everyday. :D I'm about ready to try that.
Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. (Re: peeing. Whatever works.)
Writing calendar. I'm writing two series at the moment, which means two books a year, with hard deadlines. I also write an "extra" book about every 18 months, usually with a softer deadline. If I didn't organize my work, I couldn't meet the deadlines, hard or soft. So I calendar my projects, just the way you calendar projects at the office. I give each book a 90-day slot on the calendar, hoping to get 60-some good writing days out of that period and still leave time for life. I calendar six months a year for series writing (China Bayles, the Cottage Tales), which gives me plenty of time for an "extra" project, like the short story collection, the Book of Days, the memoir that will be out in 2009, and fun editorial work, such as What Wildness and the book review site.
Writing schedule. I am enormously privileged: writing is my day job. Which means that I go to work when everybody else does (rather than writing nights and weekends, the way I did when I was first getting started and I was still working at the university). I show up at the computer about 8:30, after morning chores and the morning dog walk. I work on the current project until 4:30, with some time off for lunch. I allow myself to be distracted by Bill, email, interesting Web stuff, uninteresting household stuff (laundry etc) and dogs. I aim for 1500 words a day and usually get it, more or less. At that rate, it should take me just under 60 days to come up with about 85,000 words. Add in another 10 days for revision, and I'm up to about 70 days. To reduce the forgetting factor, I prefer to corral as many consecutive days as possible for the work (yes, this does include weekends). I don't like to work half-days. If I've got to go somewhere in the afternoon, I don't try to write in the morning, I do the laundry instead. As I said, writing is my day job. It's a wonderful privilege. It's also a responsibility, and I take it seriously.
Days off. Sure. There are scheduled days off. This month, I planned to take time out to speak in Lubbock, Dallas, Georgetown, and at the Texas Book Fair. I also went to Austin for a couple of Story Circle events: Reading Circle and the launch of the Kitchen Table Stories. And I planned to take Thanksgiving Day off to cook, knit, and watch a movie (Amazing Grace--good!). But there are unscheduled days off, too. A sick dog, a four-hour power failure, shopping, an emergency trip to the dentist, an unexpectedly large pecan harvest, garden work (has to be done in the daytime now, with dark coming just at dinner-time).
Staying on task. A deadline is a great motivator. And humans are great procrastinators. Without a deadline, most of us won't stay on task. I give myself quotas and set myself deadlines--these are the monkey tricks that keep me sane, as William Conrad says in Heart of Darkness. But writing is my life. I love it. I have to do it. Staying on task isn't a problem for me. It's making time for other life stuff that is often my challenge.
Writing practice. Years ago, when I first began studying Buddhism, I saw the connection between sitting practice and writing practice. (This was before Natalie Goldberg began writing her books about writing and Zen practice. She saw it too.) For me, writing is a kind of meditation practice. When I'm writing, I'm paying attention, the best kind of attention, to the real world at large, to the imaginary world of my fiction, to the interior world of mind, the sound of words, the play of thought. I do this best when I'm focused, clear, intent, motivated (either by the pressure of the story or the pressure of the deadline). If an unnecessary distraction comes up, I let it go. If a necessary distraction comes along, I pay it the attention it deserves, then come back to the work.
Reading about writing. There's lots of good stuff about writing out there. Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott, for instance. Oh, and Stephen King--I really like his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. King is a 2000-word a day guy (he doesn't do the laundry), and quits only when he gets it done. He's also able to think about the writing life, as well as live it. I like that.
Reading note. The biggest aid to regular (Trollopian?) production is working in a serene atmosphere. It's difficult for even the most naturally productive writer to work in an environment where alarms and excursions are the rule rather than the exception. When I'm asked for 'the secret of my success' (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy (at least until a van knocked me down by the side of the road in the summer of 1999), and I stayed married... The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.--Stephen King, On Writing