I have written a lot in my time. Close to two million words over the course of my life. Most of it terrible, of course, but this post isn’t about how to write well. It’s just about how to write.
See, when you write hundreds of thousands of words over the course of many years, your life and habits change, but you still have to get your writing done, so your writing habits change also, and you notice some things. Allow me to elaborate.
When I was in high school, I basically wrote on and off when I felt like it, when inspiration hit, and then go days or weeks without doing anything. Late high school I wrote a series of books at three hundred words four days a week. University was a thousand a day for a week or two, then nothing for several days. In third year, I didn’t write six days out of every seven, and on the seventh day (It was always Thursday), I would drink a ton of energy drinks during lectures, then start writing at about 7pm and stop at sunrise, making between nine and eleven thousand words. Afterwards I’d be totally drained and couldn’t think about writing a word until the following Thursday. I tried modelling my writing around life: I’d do two thousand Sunday to Tuesday, one thousand Wednesday and Thursday, and then nothing over the weekend. I went through a phase where I was totally erratic – there was no telling on any given day whether I’d get one hundred or five thousand words done.
Point is, I’ve tried a lot of different ways of getting words onto paper. And that’s just word counts – I haven’t even got into the long periods when I would write according to time: one hour a day, or two hours but with two twenty minute breaks, or ten hours a week but in any daily amount I felt like.
Those were my experiences, but what you want to know is not what I did but what I learned from it. So here is the lesson: consistency is best.
It may seem common sense to you that writing a certain amount every day is best for productivity – hell, even if you only write two hundred words a day you’ll have a small book by the end of the year – but it is also the best for your own enjoyment. What I discovered was that writing a ton in one day has a draining effect. I mentioned I couldn’t think of writing for days after my ten thousand word binges, and that was because of this. Your brain fuzzes, you get sick of your own voice and the tap of keys or the scratch of the pen. Hemingway, who I think did about five hundred words a day, every day, said: ‘I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.’ I can totally sympathise with this. When I write daily, I look forward to it more. My characters and story are familiar and alive, but not tiring. I’m not worried about doing a marathon session and staying up all night, or needing to catch up with days missed. Best of all, when I write daily I tend to think often about my story, and ideas will come to me more readily. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to a book you haven’t looked at in six days. Where is everyone? What’s happening? What did I write last time?
How much one writes a day varies depending on how much time you have and who you are. Some people have the means and inclination to write eight hours a day and never tire of it. I find that my ideal range is between one and two thousand words, so I aim for fifteen hundred, but I keep going if I’m on a roll. Personally I think the actual number is irrelevant for the most part, provided they’re quality words (don’t be rushing to fill your quota), and you don’t drain yourself, so you can do it day in, day out.
I shout it from the rooftops, ladies and gentlemen: consistency is the key to good, fun writing! It becomes another part of your life, like eating or dreaming. Imagine if every time you slept, you woke up to a single page of a novel. If you’re my age you would now have over nine thousand pages. Easy!
…Not. Yeah, there was a reason I wrote in all those different ways over the years: while writing consistently may be the best, it’s also definitely the hardest. Once you start breaking the daily habit, it slip slides. Sometimes you have all day to write and you fill your quota – and then some – in record time, and then later that week you only get to start at midnight and you have to be up in six hours and you have a headache and the words only form when your sweat turns to blood and drips onto the keyboard.
But you gotta do it, or you lose your integrity. Your consistency disappears overnight, like an alcoholic who fell off the wagon. Fuck this! You scream, I don’t need to do it every day! I can sit here in my underpants eating pizza and playing shovel knight until dawn! I don’t even care anymore! Fast forward and you wake up in a pile of drool and you’ve been ‘writing’ your novel for three weeks but you haven’t even made it to chapter two.
Consistency, my friends.
I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the world’s current leading badasses: The Rock:
‘Success isn’t always about greatness, it’s about consistency. Consistent, hard work gains success. Greatness will come.’