Why Should I Make Daily Writing a Habit?

Typewriter 11We all have habits. Some are good, and we try to cultivate them. Some are bad, and we try to break them. One thing just about anyone would agree with is that if you do anything consistently, it will become a habit. “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going,” Jim Ryun said.  He had something there.

Writing, as with all endeavors, improves with practice. As a writer, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my craft, to find newer and better ways of describing things, to attempt to describe what is happening in a story so vividly that the reader forgets she is reading and begins to see the landscape before her. The wind is not then simply rushing through the character’s hair, but the reader’s as well.

 

How Do I Find the Time?

But how? How can a writer improve their craft while still doing all the myriad things necessary to structure, map out, develop, write, edit, and polish a story? It seems simple enough, right? Write a story and put it out there, write the next story, and as you go along you become more adept at the craft. Well, no.

There are so many aspects to publishing a book (even self-publishing) that there is actually very little time spent just writing. After all the upfront work (for those of us who structure and plan stories), there is a blissful chunk of time wherein the rough draft is written. That is pure writing, without all the fluff and necessary incidental work. But that’s it. The majority of the author’s time is spent on other parts of the process.

After the rough draft, it is an endless stream of edits and revisions, checking facts and timelines, and making sure everything works. Then comes the actual compiling and publishing. Don’t forget all the work that goes into product descriptions, gathering of metadata, cover art, and the publishing process itself. Then, there is marketing and blogs, mailing list work, and (if lucky) fan mail to read and answer.

All of this leaves the author without much time to actually write. So what happens? We become rusty. Editing is great and is necessary, but it’s not freeform writing. The problem then, is to figure out how to write consistently, making it a habit, while doing all this other work. For those of us who work a “day job,” it is even more difficult. There are only so many hours in a day and if we take them all to edit or market or do any number of other things, we’re left at the end of the day with no time to actually write. What to do?

Many authors set a word count for themselves to write each day. Come hell or high water, they get those words in. I have read comments from them, heard of the benefits, but still I resisted trying to do daily writing quotas. I didn’t have the time. I had too many other things to do. I may get around to it eventually, just not now. It was always something to do in the future.

November caused a few cracks in my argument. If you don’t know or remember, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), wherein writers are encouraged to write a 50,000 word novel by writing each day. I participated in 2015 (you can see my journal of it here) and found that I liked it. No, despite how difficult it was to find the time, I loved it. Writing each day gave me a little treat as I saw a story, one I had done the structure and scene list for beforehand, unfold before my eyes. Still, as I said, it was difficult and I was glad to go back to my lazy way of doing things in December.

 

The Commitment

As the new year came and I read more and more about the benefits of daily writing quotas, I finally succumbed. Starting in February, I set a goal for myself to write at least a thousand words a day. I resolved myself to doing my writing as soon as possible each day. If I could do it before work, that would be ideal, though that does not happen often because of how early I have to get up already just to go to work. Normally it means coming straight home each night and writing first thing. On the weekends, it’s the first thing I do in the morning. I have kept up with the task, making it a habit, for 44 days as of this morning.

It’s tough sometimes. I recently took a road trip on which I drove more than 20 hours a day. I’m sure the writing I did on those days will be heavily edited, maybe even thrown out of the rough draft. But I did write. My string of writing days stayed intact and I got my needed practice.  As with anything worthwhile, keeping up with my daily writing requires sacrifice. I think it’s worth it.

 

Benefits

Writer & Muse 01

As mentioned, the main reason for writing daily as a separate, word-count driven activity is to get much-needed practice. Writing in a journal is great and helps to become more articulate, but that does little to develop the skills for weaving all the threads of a story together into a coherent whole. A chunk of time sitting at the keyboard and searching for the magic is invaluable for sharpening the writer’s tools. Following are some benefits I’ve already experienced with the daily writing quota habit.

Speed – I type relatively quickly. Sure, I could be faster, I could be more accurate, but in general, I think my speed is good. Normally you hear the rate at which someone types expressed in words per minute (WPM). While that’s a good indicator for gauging how long it takes to write a letter or to have a standard metric with which to compare two typists, it is inadequate for writing novels. There, words per hour are more informative.

When I began my daily quota, I was writing at about 1200 words per hour. So, to finish my writing each day took me about an hour. Keep in mind that this total includes time taken to think or to look something up, so it’s not just straight typing. At this point, I’m at almost twice that rate. It’s not just that my typing speed has increased. I believe that by practicing, by creating my habit, I have improved the efficiency by which I write. That means, simply, I am able to think through a scene, develop how I will describe it, and then put it onto the screen in less time than it took before.

Quality – It’s an interesting thing that the more you practice something, the faster you get, but also the better the quality of what you put out. I have noticed that my more current stuff is better, less in need of drastic editing, than material I wrote even a month ago. I’m analytical by nature and so I imagine lots of new neural pathways being formed by my new habit. I am actually rewiring my brain to not only write faster, but to do it better. If I continue to improve, I can see a time when my rough drafts will be as good as my second or third revisions are now. Who knows what the limit is.

Writer's Block 01No Writer’s Block – The trio responsible for the Self-Publishing Podcast, as well as three excellent non-fiction books on writing (Johnny Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright) have stated repeatedly that they don’t believe in writer’s block. I would have to agree. I have had rough spots where I couldn’t write a particular scene in any way that seemed acceptable, but I’ve never been incapacitated by a blank screen. Part of this is the pre-writing preparation. If you have a list of scenes that you have to fully flesh out, you can almost always type something. Writing daily, being comfortable with transferring thought to screen, does a lot to keep blockages from happening. If you keep the machine moving each day through action, it is not as likely to seize up when you try to start it at a particular time. That’s my take on it, anyway. I never have a problem with being able to write, just with having the time to do so.

Lots of Stuff in the Queue – Another benefit from writing daily is that you can quickly build up a collection of rough drafts. True,  you still need to find the time to edit and revise those drafts, but having them there, waiting in the wings, does a lot to build confidence and keep motivation. Chipping away at a novel of over 100,000 words by writing small parts of it each day almost seems effortless. Isn’t that what habits are supposed to do? Right now, I have several stories in-process. Keeping up with my daily writing, I can foresee most of them being published by the end of summer. No doubt, by that time, I will have started on several others to feed my habit.

 

But Does It Take Up Valuable Time?

Ok, so all that is great, but what about the edits and revisions that need to be done? Does writing for a half an hour to an hour each day take up valuable time that could be used for doing those other tasks? Yes and no.

Joanna Penn has famously said that she believes there are different types of time. For example, there is creative time during which your mind is imaginatively working overtime and you are making art. Then there are times when you are less creative, more analytical. Still other times you are so tired, such as at the end of a work day, that about all you’re good for is checking e-mails and maybe scheduling some advertising campaigns. The point is, I feel that the editing part of my brain is not the same as the creative, rough-draft writing part. When I’m most creative, I’m really not sure I want to waste that on an edit pass where I’m focusing on grammar or fact-checking. I would rather use the creative juices to, well, create.

Also, the benefits of being able to let loose and imagine can’t be underestimated. So many times, I begin writing a simple scene that should be very short and somehow, during the process, I come up with something that changes the whole story trajectory. A simple scene may become two chapters and may be the linchpin on which the entire tale becomes based. I liken this to a muscle. Letting the mind do its creative thing relaxes it, makes it more efficient, more fluid. It lubricates all the moving parts (figuratively speaking, of course) and then when I do go to tackle the editing, maybe an hour or so after, my brain is clear and uncluttered. In a word, it’s efficient. So, though I do spend time on writing other works, I think the net gain in my efficiency in working on my top-of-the-list project more than makes up for the time. Again, that’s totally my opinion, but I think I have a basis for stating it as truth in my situation.

I have found that making a habit of writing every day, targeting a specific number of words, to be beneficial. It makes me happy, makes me feel as if I’m developing my skill, and it goes a long way toward completing the projects I have planned out for my year. Sean Covey, the son of Stephen (7 Habits of Highly Effective People), stated: “We become what we repeatedly do.” I myself want to be a writer who improves with every story I write. What better way than to write every day? Would this work for you? Why not give it a shot and see. I’d love to hear about your success.

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Book Release Delays. Now I Understand…To a Point

Release Calendar - Final

As a reader, I can think of few things more frustrating than waiting for the next book in a series to be released, only to have it delayed over and over again. If you don’t understand the concept, strike up a conversation with a Game of Thrones fan and ask when the next book will be out. You’ll probably want to get yourself comfortable before asking, though. It may take a while.

The old adage that to understand someone you must travel a mile in their shoes applies here. While most readers understand that writing and publishing a book takes some time, there is such a wide range in the frequency of book releases, sometimes it is hard to determine if an author is dragging his or her creative feet or if the reasons (excuses?) for delays are valid. Out of curiosity, I did some research on a handful of authors to see how frequently they release new works. One must keep in mind that not all authors are created equal, so the numbers should be taken with more than one grain of salt.

Frequency of New Releases By Some Well-Known Authors
Author Number of Books Over How Many Years Frequency             (years per book)
Nora Roberts 234 32 0.14 (49 days!)
Tom Clancy 92 29 0.32
Brandon Sanderson 31 10 0.32
Stephen King 85 39 0.45
James Patterson 61 34 0.56
Terry Brooks 45 38 0.84
Robert Heinlein 38 46 1.2
J.K. Rowling 7 10 1.43
George RR Martin 13 34 2.6
Ernest Hemingway 13 35 2.7

As you can see, the average frequency for an individual author differs quite a bit, as does each book release for the same author. For example, though George RR Martin has an average of 2.6 years between releases, it has been double that since his last Game of Thrones book. It’s no wonder some readers are disappointed.

In the past, I, in my ignorance, scoffed at authors who spouted the old standby: “I just want to make sure the book is the best I can make it, so I’m pushing off the release date for another [insert ridiculous length of time here].” The thing is, there is some validity to the statement. Some.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not selling out and I’m definitely not condoning or defending authors who make their fans wait exorbitant amounts of time to get the next book in a series. All I am saying is that I have experienced firsthand how things can get slightly out of control.

Let me use as an example a story that has a fair amount of complexity and girth. Writing the first draft, it seems sometimes that things flow well and there will be no problem making the self-imposed deadline for release. Then, somewhere in between the third and fourth edits, the story begs to fork off in another direction. The author can ignore the direction the story and characters want to go, or he can oblige them and see where it all leads. And just like that, another month or more has just been added to the process.

This is not even mentioning delays in cover art creation, third-party editing, or one of the other dozen or so steps that are required to publish a book. Suffice it to say, it was eye-opening when delays began to rear their ugly heads with my own works. And then there are the delays originating with traditional publishing houses themselves, things completely out of control of the author.

Still, there are limits to which we can claim unforeseen occurrences meddling with our schedules. If delays stretch from weeks to months and even to years, there is something wrong. Authors have the obligation, I believe, to finish what they start, and to do so in a reasonable amount of time. In spite of all the many things that can tie us down and cause a release date to be pushed out, readers deserve the entire story, start to finish. As for myself, I need to get back to editing the next book in my series now so I won’t be accused of stalling.

If only George RR Martin would do the same.

 

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Can You Hear It?

Vibrations Harmonic Magic - AudioThe audiobook version of Vibrations is out! It is now available on Audible, Amazon, and the iTunes store. I’m trying to get the book so that it qualifies for Whispersync, Amazon’s/Audible’s program for seamlessly merging audiobooks and e-books. If it qualifies, those who have bought the e-book version will be able to get the audiobook for a discounted price.

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Fantasy Adventure For Under a Buck!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00066]From November 17 through November 21, 2015, Vibrations: Harmonic Magic Book 1 is on sale for just 99¢. If you haven’t read the start of the Harmonic Magic series, now’s your chance. See what readers have been saying about the book:

“Most fascinating fantasy/science fiction novel that I have read in a while. Once I started, there was no way for me to put it down.”

“The cast of characters is great. Everyone is fleshed out well…”

“I was initially hesitant but so glad I read this book. So many new ideas and concepts are presented to the reader on this journey of adventure and discovery.”

“Just when I think the bookstore is empty a good book is found.”

Join the crowd!

 

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Follow my NaNoWriMo Quest

NaNoWriMo With Words

Today is the start of the National Novel Writing Month project to write a novel by the end of the month. As I posted a few days ago, I am taking part in this program. I will be logging my word counts and my experiences on this page. If you’re interesting in seeing how I’m doing, check it out. I’ll try to post daily, but can’t promise I can do that for thirty days straight. I’ll do my best.

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Do You Do NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo Shield

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Did you know that November is the month in which the National Novel Writing Month program takes place? According to the official website (http://nanowrimo.org): “National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”

The premise of the program is that if you think you have a story in you that wants to come out, the first step is freeing yourself to write as many words as you can without judgment or too much attention to how well the words all fit together. This first draft is the start of a novel and, with edits and changes afterward, can result in a published book. The website gives more detailed information.

The program was started in 1999 to encourage young writers and has steadily grown since then. The complete history is here. According to the NaNoWriMo website, 325,142 people participated in 2014 and since the numbers increase each year, it is expected that even more will participate this year. The community of participants discuss, encourage, and support each other throughout the month, making it a fun as well as rewarding experience.

I have already signed up, ready to start typing away on November 1st. I am a planner, structuring and outlining my stories, but many who participate are “pantsers,” those who allow the words to freely flow from their creative mind to the screen in a “seat of the pants” fashion. Both types of writers are welcome to participate. In fact there is a badge presented for each of the two types of writer.

Would you like to join me and the hundreds of thousands of others who will be trying to create a work of surpassing creativity and beauty? If so, check out the NaNoWriMo website for details, or comment on this post so we can discuss it. I’d love to see you in the trenches!

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