How to organise your writing time – marathon sessions or little and often?

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The more I learn about how other authors work, the more I am struck by how widely their methods vary. In my last post I wrote about the aspect of advance planning for a novel: how some authors can just sit and let the words flow, with little or no forward planning, while others prefer to have an outline plan for their whole book mapped out before actually starting to write the first chapter. There is another aspect of writing which different authors approach in widely different ways, and that is the question of how to allocate time for writing. It is generally acknowledged that some people are ‘morning people’ who do their best work early in the day whilst others are ‘evening people’ or ‘night owls’. It is not surprising, therefore, that given the choice, most authors prefer to write when they at their best. For me, that is very definitely in the morning, but I am in the fortunate position of having retired from my former career in business, so, in theory (it doesn’t always work out like this, though!), I can write when I like. For many authors they simply have to write when their ‘day jobs’ allow. Then there is the question of how long a writing session should last. I know of some authors who will sit and write for twelve hours at a stretch, with only short breaks to eat, drink, and answer the call of nature. These people tend to say that this allows them to really settle into and engage with the story and that once ‘on a roll’ they just have to press on until either a natural break in the narrative, or exhaustion sets in. This just doesn’t work for me. About two, or at most three hours is as much as I can manage at a single stretch before the concentration gives me a headache and I need to stop – otherwise I just start writing rubbish which needs correcting later. The next question is how much self discipline to apply. Some authors say they will allocate a definite objective each and every day of say three hours or maybe three thousand words. For me, that is far too constraining. For one thing, I have many other things in my life apart from writing, and if I force myself to sit down and write, when there are other things on my mind, then I don’t enjoy my writing (very important to me) and the quality of what I write definitely suffers. So I write when I feel that I want to – not according to a work schedule. If writing were ever to become a chore rather than a joy I would give it up there and then. So, to sum up, the ideal writing schedule for me would be to spend perhaps a couple of hours each (or at least most) mornings, stopping when I feel tired or get a headache, or pressing on a little longer if I feel inspired to do so. When I am able to work like this I remain engaged with the story and motivated to pick it up again each new day. Sometimes. however, other things intrude. I am currently in the middle of writing my third novel, ‘Chinese Whispers’. I have recently spent a three week holiday in the USA (yes, I know – this is unlikely to evoke a sympathy vote) during which time I didn’t manage to write a single word. Shortly afterwards, my wife and I were in charge of looking after our two grandsons – aged two and four – while our daughter took a well-deserved break in Spain with her best friend (they are lovely kids, but very demanding, so this really should deserve the sympathy vote!) . Once again ‘Chinese Whispers’ had to take a back seat. I am now just about to plunge back into my writing, but I must admit that after some four or five weeks of no writing, it won’t be easy to remember just where I was with the story and immerse myself once more. This is where, for me at least, it is vital to have an outline plan which will allow me to reorient myself and pick up the threads. If you look back at my last post ‘How do you craft a novel from a blank page’ you will see more about this approach. Thank God we authors are all different. If we all had similar mind-sets and organised our work in similar ways, perhaps that would be reflected in a sameness in the finished products, rather than the incredibly rich variety of fiction writing which is out there to be enjoyed. Now I need to go and get back into ‘Chinese Whispers’. I’ll post again soon. Ray

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