When I first decided to spend my time writing, I read everything I could on writing. Five years later, I still try every few months to read a book on some writing technique or on what other writers say about life as a writer. Most recently, I read Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, by Carolyn See.
In Making a Literary Life, Ms. See advises writers to write 1000 words (or spend two hours revising your work) five days a week and to write one charming note five days a week. She would add more tasks to supplement these two – such as a literary excursion once a week – but the 1000 words and charming note are the minimum for a successful writing life, she says.
5000 words/week gives you 100,000 words – a good-sized novel – in twenty weeks, less than half a year. Add the time necessary to edit a novel a few times, and a writer can produce a book a year following Ms. See’s suggestion. And the charming notes – 250 over the course of a year – would build many connections for writers trying to sell and promote their work.
So how many of us follow Carolyn See’s advice? I must admit I don’t. I do keep a daily journal, but I don’t work on my fiction or blog five days a week. I used to write several handwritten notes each week to colleagues and friends, but now I write only a few emails and ecards.
Yet I see the rationale for writing daily and connecting with people. As Mrs. See says, writing is like a marriage, not a romance. It’s the daily attention that makes it work.
I have tried to get ahead in my work since high school, when I discovered how nice it felt to have my term papers done a week before they were due. I read ahead in my college texts whenever I could. I worked most weekends so that I could start Monday morning with a clean slate – I never knew what crisis would come up during the week, and I might need the cushion of some free time.
I’m also used to catching up in my work. When those crises arose at work, I would also use evenings and weekends to be sure I met my deadlines.
Yet again, upon reflection, I see the rationale for Ms. See’s admonition. There are only so many hours in anyone’s day, and how we use them shows what is important to us. If our vocation is not a part of our life most days, then it is not a vocation, but an avocation. Which do I want writing to be in my life?
Furthermore, it is the dailiness of writing that makes it a habit, that helps a writer to be able to write without inspiration. Yes, it is possible to write 2500 words twice a week, rather than 1000 words five days a week, but the plodding nature of the daily routine is more likely to add to success than sprints. Successful writers are most often tortoises, not hares.
I relish the flexibility of not having a day job any longer. I like being able to do something different with each day. Yet I need some routine in my life to stay on track and to feel that I am productive. I think we all do. Each of us might balance routine and excitement differently, but we all need some rhythm to our days.
If you’re a writer, what do you do to make your writing a daily practice?
If you’re not a writer, what in your life requires regular daily activity? What provides the dailiness in your life? What makes you feel productive?
And if you’d like a charming note from me – or at least a digital reply – please leave a comment below.