I’ve been thinking about my writing rhythm as I’m working feverishly to meet my book deadline (mid-May). First was getting past my imposter syndrome that plagued the early writing.
Now is, you know . . . finishing the actual book.
In mid February, when the spring semester began and I worked up my weekly class schedule, I thought I would take advantage of a free hour here and there during my work days between classes to keep the momentum going. “One hour of writing,” I boldly declared to myself in the box on the weekly printed schedule.
It has yet to happen.
There is too much else needing my instant attention in those in-between hours — whether it’s emails or grading or prep for the next class or students wanting to meet or just plain taking a breather. (As a card-carrying introvert, being “on” all day long is exhausting. Sometimes I just need to recharge in my quiet office before venturing back out in front of the classroom.)
I’ve discovered that I just can’t work on my book in those in-between hours. It takes too much for me to get going, and then, once I get going, I don’t want to stop and then have to pick up later. A single hour just isn’t enough. But give me an entire Sunday afternoon or give me a free day during our college’s spring break, and I can write for five or six hours before looking up and realizing I should go get something to eat.
Allie Pleiter (creator of The Chunky Method — check it out, it’s cool!) would call me a “big chunk writer.” There are “little chunk writers,” those folks who can pick up and write in the cracks of time between other events. Some of my students fall into that category. In the few minutes between classes, they write. Others are like me and need to find a place and a time where uninterrupted hours allow for uninterrupted flow.
Indeed, famous writers past and present have very different types of rhythms. This article, The Daily Routine of 20 Famous Writers (and How You Can Use Them to Succeed) by Mayo Oshin, offers up the routines of twenty of them. Stephen King tries to write six pages a day, while John Steinbeck strove for one a day. Ernest Hemingway, Susan Sontag, and Maya Angelou wrote in the mornings (it seems that for many of them, mornings are key). Ray Bradbury wrote one short story a week, figuring that, with the law of averages, at least one out of 52 would have to be good. Mark Twain wrote all day from after breakfast until dinnertime. Charles Dickens always took a three-hour midday walk.
Some need music; some need silence (I’m a silence worker). Some write at the same time in the same spot every day. Some are compulsive about page or word count, others not so much.
The point is, no rhythm is right or wrong — you just need to find yours. And granted, I’m guessing you’re not making your living writing, so you probably have to work your writing time around job and family responsibilities. It’s a challenge.
My senior capstone students are currently reading Andrew Peterson’s excellent book Adorning the Dark (if you haven’t read it, please do!). He writes, “If you wait until the conditions are perfect, you’ll never write a thing” (p. 40). And all of them resonated with that statement. (And, if they think it’s tough now while in college …).
So if you’re going to make your writing life work, you need to figure out a rhythm that works for your life right now in this season. Even then, a few months from now, your life routine may change and you’ll need to readjust. But figure out something that will work for you now.
- Decide if you can make use of small chunks of time or you need long chunks of uninterrupted time.
- Consider the time when you’re most productive (and have time to put into writing). If you’re a morning big chunk writer with a full-time job, maybe you’ll have to use Saturday mornings. If you’re a morning small chunk writer, maybe getting up a bit earlier and putting in an hour each morning will work for you.
- Determine if you can work amidst chaos (will the kitchen table work while folks are moving around you, or a local coffee shop?) or if you need quiet. If you need a quiet space, can you set up a work table in a large closet, or the garage, or an attic? Is there a space you can set aside where you can work?
- Can you do chaos but with earplugs or earphones? Does music help or hinder?
Find out what works for you. Just because someone says to write X number of words or pages a day doesn’t mean YOU have to do that. But if you’re going to keep moving ahead with your writing, you’ll have to find a rhythm that works best for you.
If you’ve found your writing rhythm, what does that look like? Share in the comments below.