How Do You Write?
How do you write?
There are probably as many different ways to write as there are books. I didn’t have a routine a few years back. I’d write when inspiration hit. But that changed when I realised I wasn’t getting enough done, and when I was losing track of plots. Routines might not work for some. They do for others. Some like silence, some can’t write in silence. Some write by hand, others on laptop or phones or tablets…
Morning, afternoon, night?
Stephen King says, “Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait. Basically, mornings are my prime writing time.”
I write better in the early hours. I’m not sure why, but my brain seems to work better. I get up at 5AM and read for a little while, eat something. Then get stuck in. I usually spend a couple of furious hours writing before coming up for air. Sometimes I add bits and pieces in the afternoon, but I never write at night. I write fast and at night it’s good to not work my brain too hard or I’ll be up for hours thinking about what happens next—that happens enough without fuelling it with writing.
How long for…?
2-3 hours in the morning is usually what I stick to, and I usually get between 2000-4000 words done in that time. Any longer and I get hungry. Or I reach my word count and feel happy to leave the story where it is until tomorrow.
Lee Child (right) says he “writes in the afternoon, from about 12 until 6 or 7” and that “it usually takes about six months from the first blank screen until “The End.”
I’m not sure I could sit at a desk and write for six or seven solid hours, but that shows how writing processes differ.
Roald Dahl had a cool writing shed (left). Rowling finished Deathly Hallows in a hotel room. Michael Grant, author of the Gone series, says that he writes outside in his back yard. I think he lives in California, so it works for him. In Britain sitting outside to write is as unpredictable as writing itself. Unless you’re in a tent or raincoat with something to stop the rain getting on your laptop. I usually write in the living room, in the same chair by the window. Sometimes I write in my bedroom if people are trying to talk to me.
Roald Dahl wrote all his books by hand, in pencil, on yellow legal pads. I used to do that when I was younger, and stapled pages together and called them books. Now I like to write fast and furious, so the laptop is the only way to go.
Stephen King says he usually gets 2000 words done, and that he likes to achieve that or the characters start to become stale in his head. King was the writer who inspired me to start using a routine. And it works well for me. A minimum of 2000 words a day ensures I work harder, and it keeps me motivated. I haven’t had writer’s block since I started the routine.
Plotter or pantser
I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle. I like to know where a plot and characters are going. If I don’t, sometimes the plot gets rambling or convoluted and the characters inconsistent. Having an end in sight works for me—even if it’s not all that clear. That ending can change. So can everything that comes before it. But having a structure of events and plot twists to follow keeps the story and me on track.
When you’re tackling a seven book long series like J K Rowling, I don’t think you have any choice but to plot—for the most part. But Lee Child goes into a Jack Reacher book without a solid idea of where it’s going. An enviable skill, and it doesn’t show in his books.
Dan Brown writes for an hour before stopping to do push-ups and sit-ups. He combats writers block by using gravity boots to walk on the ceiling. J K Rowling drinks coffee and chews gum. Lee Child drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes and barely eats.
I’m not sure if I have a quirk. I have a routine. 5AM start. Read for maybe fifteen minutes while I eat my first breakfast. Write four 2-3 hours and then have second (Hobbit) breakfast while reading. I might add a few hundred words after that. But as far as quirks do… I can write with the TV on, as long as it isn’t something I’m interested in. For the most part I can keep my head in the world or characters I’m writing about with any kind of distraction going on around me.
How many projects?
Rick Riordan had two series on the go at the same time—The Kane Chronicles and Heroes of Olympus. I remember reading an interview where he said how tough it was. I can believe it. At one point I was writing two different books at once—one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. But character names from one started appearing in the other, and I included a plot twist that should’ve been in the first book in the second. I stick to writing one project now, but recently I’ve started edits with my agent and I do those in the afternoon. But I always have another project plotting or developing in my head, ready for when I finish what I’m currently writing.
A routine and word count is how I stave off writer’s block. A target to work towards motivated me, and it’s worked for almost five years now. But some writers don’t like routine. It doesn’t work for them.
Neil Gaiman gives this advice: “Put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things, try not to think about it. Then sit down and read it (printouts are best I find, but that’s just me) as if you’ve never seen it before.”
They’re pretty sage words. You can spend that long in a world, with a story and characters, thinking that hard about them that you lose focus. Distancing yourself from a world, story and characters can help.
On the other hand, Phillip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials doesn’t believe in writer’s block: “The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don’t want to do it, and you can’t think of what to write next, and you’re fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don’t feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely.”
Other books usually inspire me the most out of anything. Reading a quality book urges me to want to make my writing better, or a character or phrase or plot twist will plant an idea my head that turns into a whole story. I don’t think that’s plagiarism. Many writers write to inspire others to do the same. I think books are like fuel, and writers like cars.
How writers write is probably not only as varying as books, but probably changes over time. I know the way I wrote did. Do you have a routine or quirk? A word count target for each day? Do you like to drink or eat something specific or sit in a certain spot? Feel free to drop a comment below; it’ll be interesting to see if anyone has the same quirks or if there are any really original ones?