22 May 2011

Writing and Discipline

I don't write every day.

There. I said it. I am a bad writer. Although I should probably clarify that statement. The current trend in advice to writers is to sit down and discipline yourself to write at least a thousand words every day. Which I do not do.

Oh, I write on a daily basis. Patient notes, reports, letters, emails to friends... But sitting at the keyboard and plunking out a new chapter in a story every day? Nuh-uh.

Is it a good discipline to develop? When every word should be a nugget of information, spewing tripe just to get a thousand words onto the page seems counterproductive. On the other hand, getting the garbage out may allow the brain clarity and a chance to tap straight into the good stuff. And to be honest, every writer can produce some real stinky stuff.

My methodology is to stew, ferment, and then gush. I think about a story a long time before I start to write. I read, research, read more, and then hike a local canyon with the characters in my mind. I consider scenarios, conversations, conflicts, and timelines. I've recently started writing the timeline first, in longhand to keep by my computer for easy reference.

Once my thoughts are filled with the characters and their situations, the words pour out. I find myself rushing to the keyboard and staying late, concentrating to the exclusion of nearly everything else, irritated and grouchy as hell when interrupted. Hence all the burnt dinners-- well, that and my diabolical plan to force someone to take me out to eat. Doesn't really work, though. I seem to taste lots of charcoal bits...

But back to the subject of discipline. Writing on a daily basis isn't easy and for some people who also have a day job, it isn't feasible. But when I do get to sit down and work on a manuscript or story,  I let the gush run until I can't type any more. Once I have the rough draft, I go back and edit mercilessly before I send it anywhere.

Discipline is important. Whether to produce volume or slash unnecessary verbiage, every writer must exercise their skills. The question is what works best for you, your style, and your life responsibilities.

What methods have you found help you?


  1. Hey Jude, great post. I don't write 1000 words a day either, but I do try to write at least something on my wip even if it's only one sentence. My reasoning here is so that it stays fresh in my mind for when I do have time to pour out more than 1000 in one sitting.

  2. I never write a 1,000 words either... I just write whats in my head till I run out of words and then can't think of what scene to write next... But I should write at least a little bit everyday if I can, so I can actually finish my story and not leave it halfway done like many others I have started yet never finished. - Eniko

  3. I write much like you do, Jude. I like to walk through a scene, literally I put on my walkin' shoes and go to the park. Once I have it in my mind, I write it all down in a gush. Then I re-write it a few hundred times until it feels right.

  4. I don't consider the number of words. I try to write in pages, a minimum of five. But I also write blogs, letters, articles, so does that count? And the horrible part is I can't stand to work on one manuscript at a time. I have to have more than one story going at a time. So what does that say about me?

  5. I've never really been a word counter, since obsessing about it is distracting. Like you, I don't write everyday - especially weekends (or hubby starts giving me the evil eye). I'm glad to see I'm not the only one, but it doesn't make me any less a writer. I keep stories in my head, in notes on notebooks, run through scenes like a movie in my mind at night, even jot random scenes or dialogues on pieces of paper. Eventually, they all join together once I do sit down and write. And yes, I do get grouchy when I'm in writing mode.

  6. I used to write everyday -- if I don't it's like pulling teeth. But since I started working it's so hard to find the time and energy, especially with trying to market other things. And I am a slave to email now and I hate it. I need to get back into a rhythm.

  7. Thanks everyone for the comments! I was beginning to think I was in the minority of not writing so many words per day, but it is refreshing to see how differently we all find ways to get thoughts onto paper. Allison, are you a Gemini? I have two or even three things going at once as well. But once I get so far into one project, I tend to concentrate on that One to finish the rough draft.

    We all have to find "our time" to scribe away. And it's well worth it in the long run -- isn't it?

  8. TKToppin said... "I keep stories in my head, in notes on notebooks, run through scenes like a movie in my mind at night, even jot random scenes or dialogues on pieces of paper. Eventually, they all join together once I do sit down and write."

    I do the same thing.

  9. I do write every day, but no designated number of words because I have a lot of interruptions.

    To me, the most important part of discipline is to stay on point; don't put everyting you know in it. Make it real by, as Stephen King so eloquently put it, "killing your darlings."

  10. Indeed, Julie. "Killing your darlings" takes a lot of discipline. But one thing I have learned is don't throw anything away. You never know when something you've cut will work better in another story.

  11. I tried to do the write every day thing...doesn't work for me...the write even if you don't feel like it results in blank pages and a foul mood. But I'm back in writing mode and am fully involved in a book that is half finished so I can get it published. This means between 8am and 2pm I'm unavailable... no email, answering machine will pick up the calls, etc. until after 2pm... unless I'm on a roll and then I'll go until the words won't come anymore...meals will probably be prepared by my roommate who's the one that's been nagging "when are you going to finish that book?" Now that I'm finishing it, he's unhappy because I'm grouchy when disturbed and not available to sit and watch tv with him. I write in my mind first,for days on end, all the bloody time...just noticed the time...I'm outta here...

  12. I don't write everyday, sometimes I spend time on marketing/promoting or family care responsibilities. I keep track of chapter word count and that is enough. Writing just for the sake of writing doesn't help the muse or for me, make for better writing. I've found working with other's words as editor or in a critique group improves my writing more that a forced regiment.

    Practice does make perfect, but practice doesn't say everyday. And when my mind cycles and the words come, I don't stop, regardless of how much has been written that day.


    Helen Henderson
    Stories that take you to the stars, the Old West, or worlds of imagination

    Ellspeth, Captain of the Sea Falcon, is determined to make her own destiny, but it isn't easy when she has to decide between the sea, magic...or love. Windmaster--coming in June from Champagne Books.

    Romance of My Dreams 2 from L&L Dreamspell, Tales of romance of today and tommorrow.
    Available Now in Ebook at AllRomance/OmniLit, Fictionwise, and for the Kindle. In print at Amazon.com.

  13. MA, you have such a wonderful strategy to focus on your writing. I'll bet a lot of writers would love to do just that! Best of luck on your new project!

    Helen, thanks for noting that helping other writers also helps your craft. That should count as discipline, too. Congratulations on the upcoming Windmaster--the story sounds intriguing and the cover is really well done.

  14. I've ever really understood the '1k/day' rule. I mean, I do it every November (but usually it's 10k/day then - didn't say it was a good 10k, but I do get lots of stories down). That's more of a NaNoWriMo habit I've gotten into, rather than a rule for writing.
    For the rest of the year, I sit down at the screen and open my mind to my characters. If there's no one there, I don't write. But if there is someone there, I might start writing at six a.m. and walk out of the story at 10pm when I fall asleep on the keyboard. To me, it just depends on who's around and who wants to talk.

  15. Thanks, Holly. I have tried to do NaNoWriMo and I think it's a great exercise.
    Characters definitely nag to be heard in my head. Half the time they take over my dreams too.