Writing Every Day vs. Binge Writing vs. Some Combination There-Of

The title says it all: how do you prefer to write? Do you like to write a little bit each day, setting aside whatever time you can between activities? Or, do you save up all your writing time for a couple select days and just write for hours and hours?

I’ve discovered that I do both. At first I thought I needed at least an hour – preferably more – to get any real writing accomplished. Then I got a job in a city and had to commute back and forth by subway. The individual legs of the journey would take anywhere from 15 – 25 minutes, and I used to spend that time engrossed in whatever book I was reading at the time. But, that changed one day when I was riding home and just had the urge to write an opening scene to something. Didn’t know where I was going with it, but I knew if I didn’t write the scene down then I would forget about it. So, I put the book away, pulled out a notebook, and started jotting things down.

10 minutes later, as the train pulled in, I had an entire page written. The prose wasn’t very good, but it was a page! A full page!

I started doing this every day, getting several pages written during each commute. I would then go home and transcribe them to the computer. It was a great setup, and quite a bit got done during those days.

But, jobs changed, schedules changed, and I suddenly found myself with more free time to write. And that, as most writers know, is both good and bad. I find I need just a little bit of pressure in order to write efficiently. Too much time and I dawdle, thinking I have plenty of time to get stuff done and – oh, wait, it’s already 4:00 PM and a paragraph’s been written?

My solution to that has been to time myself, either with the stopwatch feature on my cell phone or the handy dandy Online Stopwatch. When drafting I will time myself until I complete a page, and then attempt to beat that time during the next page. My goal is to do at least six pages an hour. The first couple of hours tends to be the slowest, but as the hours creep by the word count per hour rises quite a bit. I’ll average 1,000 words in an hour at first, but by the end of an 8-10 hour writing binge I’m doing upwards of 1,500 words an hour, if I’m really into the story and have enough notes prepared to carry me that far.

I love these long stretches of time. Not only does my overall productivity climb, but I find that I become more immersed in the characters and the world at large and insights occur to me that wouldn’t come in a much shorter session.

I need those short moments as well, though. There are days where I can’t devote even a solid hour to writing, especially now with my work schedule. If I keep myself from writing even a little bit during these busiest of days I start to feel like crap, like I’m no longer a writer. While I don’t believe that all writers must write every single day if they want to hold onto the title, for me this is a must. Something must be accomplished every day, even if it’s just a single page or a short scene.
So, what works for you? Or, have you figured it out yet? If you haven’t I recommend trying to write several different ways and see what works best.

Killing My Darlings (Also: Putting Them in the Freezer for Later)

Still adjusting to the new work schedule, but things are finally starting to shape up. I’m working about 50 hours a week on the day job, and am slowly working in time for about 40 hours of writing each week. Realistically it will probably be closer to 30-35, since it takes an hour or so for me to shift gears from working to writing. Maybe my brain just needs to relax for a bit or something, but that first hour is always so inefficient that I might as well not count it.

Anyway, along with this schedule adjustment comes a major change in my writing plans for the year. Well, a couple of changes, but chief amongst them is my decision to switch to a new novel, and it pains me to do so. The Wendigo novel is something I’ve been planning for years, off and on. It’s a universe and concept that’s very near and dear to me, and it’s something I want to get absolutely right.

That’s paralyzing.

I’ve written a short story about it. I then brainstormed/outlined how I could expand it into a novel. After that I wrote the rough draft of the novel, which was a very illuminating experience. Though I never went and edited it I learned a lot about pacing and story structure as well as what I was missing from my earlier outline. There were a lot of gaps in the world-building, from the magic to the history to even the geography. I knew where Points A, B, C, and D were, but what was between them? Pfft, who cares, right?

Right.

I’ve since outlined and re-outlined it, working in new characters and taking out old ones that just didn’t work anymore. I’ve most recently gone back to the drawing board on the magic system, and I did this just as I was sitting down to finish my outline and start writing the second rough draft of it. And then there was-

Starting to see the pattern here? I’m throwing up roadblocks, slowing and ruining what forward momentum I had. It’s fear of getting it wrong, of failing at something I’ve spent so much time on.

pizza-rollsSo, I’ve killed the story for the time being. Killed it, sliced it up, put it into food saver bags, and placed onto a prominent shelf on the freezer. It’s not stuffed away somewhere so I’ll forget about it. I very much want to write this story, this series. But, not today.

Who gave me this idea? Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler over at Writing Excuses. (I have yet to get to the seasons where¬†Mary Robinette Kowal becomes a regular, but her discussion on puppetry and how it relates to storytelling is amazing. Go listen to it!)¬† My day work involves a lot of mindless data entry. That means plenty of time to listen to writing podcasts. In the last week and a half I’ve burned through the first three seasons (20+ hours) and have amassed 42 pages of detailed notes. A lot of the writing principles covered are things I’m aware of, but much of it’s been eye-opening.

In several of the episodes they discuss getting stuck on pet projects and ultimately getting dragged down by it. Their advice?

You guessed it. Shelve it and try something completely new, and not something else that’s been sitting for years and years and has lots of excess baggage.

That’s exactly what I’m doing.

No sooner did I make this decision on Tuesday morning (And it was a tough one, believe me) that new ideas started coming to me, and from all over the place! A new world, new characters, and new conflicts. I’m overflowing with ideas for a brand new book. In just an hour after the first ideas came to me I already had 8 pages of notes. Since Tuesday I’ve doubled that count, and as soon as I finish this post I’m diving headfirst back into the brainstorming process.

It’s such a liberating feeling, even if it is a little bit frightening and frustrating at the same time. I have this huge blank slate to start working with, and I have to realize that I’m now a month behind on any kind of novel writing schedule. I will either have to pick up the pace on this novel, or scale back my realistic expectations for the year. I’m going to hope for the former and prepare for the latter. It’s just how I operate. Always plan for 200%, then when you only get half accomplished you can still say you did it all.

With all that said, I need to be careful of two things on opposite ends of the spectrum:

  • Jumping into the drafting process before the brainstorming/outlining is finished (In too soon)
  • Succumbing to the alluring temptation of World-Builders Disease (In too late)

There’s a fine balancing act to be had here. Start too soon and I’ll be writing in white space and make dumb plot decisions that won’t hold up inside a well-crafted setting with well-planned characters. Start too late and I’ll never get any writing done. To avoid this I’ll judge how progress is going over the next few days and determine a hard deadline for the ending of brainstorming and the beginning of outlining. The outlining process itself I want to take no more than a month, once more following Karen Wiesner’s “First Draft in 30 Days” format. This format really helped me with the Wendigo outline. With a fresh start I expect this will be even more invaluable.

To help me build characters, I will start up again with Michael A Stackpole’s “21 Days To a Novel“. I love this book. There’s so much to learn from it.

So, that’s the big update for the moment. Lots of work to do, with the focus shifting mostly to novel writing for the foreseeable future. I still want to write short stories, but I do not think I will be writing them at the pace I intended to. Same goes for reading. I wanted to read two books a week, but I don’t know that there will be time for that. On the plus side these craft podcasts can sort of count as nonfiction book reading, but what about my fiction reading? I need my epic fantasy!

I think my posts from here on may go more into the nuts and bolts of my writing process, from brainstorming to outlining to drafting to editing. I’m hoping to have the first and possibly edited draft of the book ready by sometime in April, so I will be a month behind my original plan for the year. Let’s shoot for that, and see where it takes us!

An Enjoyable Craft Book: Rayne Hall’s “Writing Vivid Settings”

I don’t know that I will make this a regular part of my blog, but I do want to take a moment to post a review I wrote for Rayne Hall’s Writing Vivid Settings that I received from her a couple of weeks back. I took it with me to my wife’s dentist visit and blazed through the entire thing in a single sitting. I’ve since gone back several times as I’ve worked at revising scenes written.

Description isn’t really something I have a problem with writing, other than my focus is sometimes not on the right things. I love rich description of settings when I read, so I try to emulate that when I write. With longer fiction, anyway. Shorter fiction doesn’t allow for as much prose as one would always like, but that’s the nature of the beast.

One of the areas where I lack is tickling all five senses. I’m good with visuals and good with noises, but sometimes texture, taste, and smell go by the wayside when I’m drafting. This particular book helped remind me of how important all the senses are, both for grounding the reader into the setting but also for building atmosphere.

Here’s the review I wrote on Amazon and Goodreads:

This is an excellent book to read if you are a writer trying to improve your descriptive prose. Rayne Hall writes about several areas where description can be improved, such as focusing on smell, sound, light, and color. Further, she details several techniques within each subsection that one can use to make a scene or setting come alive.

I was working on a short story at the time I read this book, and my opening scene was set in a bland office with a pair of characters who might as well have just been talking heads in white space. The detail just wasn’t there. After reading this book I was able to insert description about the light of the sun filtering through the windows and the aroma of the coffee in one of the character’s hands, and so on. The scene really came alive and was far more interesting to read than my original draft.

Further, she goes beyond the description of just the base techniques and areas of detail to focus on and applies them to different kinds of scenes: openings (Like the one I was working on above), climaxes, action scenes, and fight scenes. Different details are needed for different kinds of scenes, both to set mood and to also ground the reader into a believable story. A fight scene doesn’t lack believability when it’s set in a fantastic setting. A fight scene lacks believability when the man fighting for his life is pausing to smell the proverbial roses.

All in all, an excellent read and one I will return to again and again as reference during the revision process.

 

 

Adjusting to New Schedule

Not much activity on the site over the last week or so, but stuff has been happening. I can guarantee you that!

I’m adjusting to a new work schedule, and I’ve been trying to figure out the optimum way of doing things. There’s a project I’ll be working on for the next 3-6 months that needs to get finished, but writing also needs to get done. The project will take up a lot of hours, as will the writing. We’re looking at 70-80 hour weeks. I’m not complaining, but I’m trying to juggle it from a logistics standpoint.

So, with that said, I don’t know how much I’ll be posting of my regular writing accomplishments. Likely weekly or twice weekly, but not daily like I had been attempting to do. There just won’t be much to report some days, especially if I focus on this project one day and write the next, rather than try to do both on the same day. We’ll have to see, but I am still alive and active! Just not as active (Writing-wise) as I would like. But, bills have to get paid. And as long as the writing gets finished in the end, that’s all that matters!

With that said, I’ve noticed I have a plethora of drafts for stories (Anywhere from second drafts to fifth drafts), but nothing I’ve started in 2015 has been finished and submitted. I have another draft I’m working on now, but I might put it aside this week and focus on getting one or two of these other stories really finished. There’s also a story from last year I want to rework into something better. I rushed it to get it sent in somewhere and, as you would expect, it wound up getting rejected out of hand. Word of advice: if a story’s not ready, don’t rush it. Do everything you can to get it done, but hey. Sometimes it just needs more time.