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10:30 am: Wright's Writing Corner: Excerpt from: How Can I Have A Life And Still Write?

Still spending too much time recovering from our computer outage, so it's been hard to write something new this week. I did try yesterday, but what I wrote came out...dumb.

 So, today what we have is the begining of How Can I Have A Life And Still Write, an article I wrote for: The Complete Guide To Writing Fantasy Volume Three. I am just posting an excerpt here. If you wish to read more, you'll have to go hunt down the book. 


How can I have a life and still write

Short answer: commitment.

Long answer: if you are committed to becoming an author, you can find the time to write, even if you work full-time, have six kids and also run the local soup kitchen. Making a commitment, however, is not the same as knowing how implement it. So the next logical question becomes: now that I have made this commitment, how do I carry it out?

In answering this question, the first point that must be stressed is that no two individuals write alike. This may sound like common sense, yet you would be surprised how frequently people assume otherwise. Articles on this subject are often restatements of what works for a particular author, offering advice such as: “Only those who sit down at midnight, by candlelight, with a full quart of ice cream balanced on their head can produce a worthwhile story. All other methods are for posers.”

It would be nice if there were a magic formula that would make words flow from our fingers like honey. Alas, this is not the case. What works for one often merely exasperates another. Keeping this in mind, this chapter will examine numerous strategies for balancing our daily lives with our desire to write. Hopefully, each reader will find a helpful hint or two among the many bits of hard-earned wisdom offered.


Commitment. That sounds good…how do I do it?

Short answer: put aside time to write.

Long answer: here’s where the “each person is different” issue comes into play. There are as many strategies for how to plan your time as there are people who write. Most of these strategies, however, fall into two general categories: quotas and time.
The quota strategy is results-oriented. You commit yourself to writing a certain number of words or pages per day/week/month. It does not matter whether what is written is worthy of Shakespeare or merely fated for the next bonfire. The important thing is that you produce the requisite amount of product.

The time strategy, on the other hand, involves putting aside a certain number of hours each day/week/month to devote to writing. During these allotted hours, you sit at your desk and show bravery in the face of the blank screen. It does not matter whether you produce ten pages or one line. The point is to devote the same number of hours to writing on a regular basis. Eventually, you will produce something worth keeping.


To Quota or not to Quota?

Short answer: honestly, it depends on your mental constitution.

Long answer: quotas are wonderful, if you have the sort of psychology that can manage one. The quota itself can be by word or by page. A page a day, five days a week, for a year will yield two hundred and sixty-one pages, approximately three-fourths of the average 80,000 word manuscript. 1000 words once a week for a year will yield 52,000 words, about two thirds of the average 80,000 word novel. 1000 to 1500 words per session seems to be a favorite with many writers, though some do significantly less or more.

A number of authors in the science fiction field are known for keeping strict quotas. One of the strictest is Harry Turtledove, who reports that he produces 2,300 to 2,400 words a day, seven days a week! (It is rumored that he excuses himself from writing on Christmas Day.) At that rate, an 80,000 word novel would take him a little over a month. One of his novels, which are often a bit longer, would take about two months (give or take rewriting time).

Most writers are not that severe, yet many find the quota to be an invaluable tool. As part of a series of articles entitled “So You Want To Be A Writer,” author Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote: “Frederik Pohl has a daily quota of three pages. Every day, day in, day out, he writes three pages of something a day. Stephen King, I’ve heard, has a daily quota of several thousand words, but we won’t talk about people like that. That’s not normal. 

            “My quota,” Watt-Evans continued, “back when I didn’t have kids and could therefore manage one, was a thousand words a day. That’s three or four pages, depending. I had to write a thousand words a day, five days a week (I got to pick which five, and could arbitrarily declare any given day to be a ‘‘weekend,’’ so long as I hadn’t already used up my two weekend days that week). If I hadn’t written it, I couldn’t go to bed. I wouldn’t allow myself to do so any more than I would go to bed without brushing my teeth. 

            “If I absolutely couldn’t write on a given day, then I could put it off – but the amount I owed automatically doubled the moment I fell asleep. That was my inflexible rule. And I didn’t allow any carryover, either – if I wrote 8,000 words on Tuesday, I still had to write a thousand more on Wednesday. If I didn’t write anything on Wednesday, my quota for Thursday would be 3,000 (Wednesday’s doubled, plus Thursday’s). No fractions smaller than 500 words were allowed, either. If I wrote 950 words one day, I owed 2,000 the next.”

There you go. If you want to read more, you know where to look.


[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
My advice on quotas is:

You can make -- in fact, you must -- make up your quota after a slip.

But no matter how much you write, you can never get ahead. That way you won't let it slide.

Meanwhile, does anyone have good ideas about how to have a quota when revising?
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
With revisions, sometimes I have to do it by time rather than page count, since it can go at very different speeds, pagewise. The important thing becomes putting in the time.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 04:50 pm (UTC)


My experience involved a contract, so I still have much to learn about self-control. However, I like these words from Bradbury. Makes the whole thing seem joyous--which is how I find his writing. For him living and writing are interchangeable.

"If I were to advise writers my advice would go simply like this: Begin writing when you are 12 if possible. Fall in love with all the arts, for from them you will learn how to touch, see, smell, know the world. Educate your hands by drawing, educate your ear by listening, educate you nose by running against the wind, keep your eyes wide and your mouth shut. Write every day and every day of your life until it becomes such an immense love you can't help yourself. It should be as crazy as any love is for any man. It should be like the first love you know when you are sixteen or seventeen and go out of your mind because the fruit is high on the tree and you are shaking the tree like mad and it won't fall down into your arms and if it does not fall down soon and smother you with returned affection, why, damn it to hell, you'll climb the tree and get it or hang yourself, one or t'other. Crazy love. Mad love. Love comic strips. I have collected them all my life. Love radio shows. I used to clean out the garbage cans in back of NBC and CBS after every Jack Benny Show or Burns and Allen Show. Start bad. Become mediocre. Get better. Become excellent. By any means at hand. But love, love, love. Love to be around actors and directors. Paint sets. Write bad plays. Do terrible essays. Write awful poems. But all because you are so full of things you want to say you cannot stop.

Know all the books in your local library better than the librarian. Go there every night. Live there. Educate yourself. Know all the stock in the local book store. I do. There is no day in my life I do not go to at least one book store. Go to art galleries. Look. Fill up. See every film ever made. Fill up on that medium. Know everything that is bad. Only by knowing what is bad can you avoid badness. The snob who refuses knowledge in mediocrities remains always second-rate himself. I have collected Prince Valiant for 30 years. Listen to bad music and good music and great music. Study architecture. Read science fiction, because it is the one fiction which is curious about ALL the above, all and everything, on every level. In sum: run, shout, search, be puzzled, go on, from day to day, with high enthusiasm."
(This from the site Ray Bradbury Central)

[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
My advice to people that think they still have a life after that is to add editing jobs to the list. Oh, um, yeah you were talking about still having a life. Dang, I never have advice for that. If I still had time, I'd just use it for more writing. *grin*
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 06:18 pm (UTC)

The option, just write-no life, is of course, slightly easier to pull off.

But not all of us are cut out for that.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure you'd get very good results if you did.
See previous Bradbury quote.
Date:January 14th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
I absolutely cannot write in front of a computer. It's insane. Work writing or pleasure writing; scientific, fiction, or reflective essay, I cannot do it in front of my computer. I can barely manage to comment on blogs, and each comment might take me an hour to be satisfied with. Any email longer than a couple of lines must be drafted by hand on paper.

I run into this problem mostly with blog posts, thus my abysmal posting record. They're either spur of the moment postings, heavy on projects or pictures or recipes. Or they're painstaking hand written and then typed.

It took me 10 years to figure this out. And it's so ironic, because when I was small and pretending to be a writer, I would peck out pretend stories on an old disused keyboard.

For some reason sitting down in front of a computer is just death for the words.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
There was a time when I had to write by hand, and only retyped everything. That eventually went away...I suspect it was email roleplaying that broke the spell.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
The way I see it, if I want it enough, somehow or other I'll make the time. If not, then I guess writing wasn't so important to me after all.
[User Picture]
Date:January 14th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
A nice way to do it...but don't share that idea with my husband. He has deadlines to meet. ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:January 26th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)


I usually have to give myself a quota -- usually weekly -- or it simply doesn't get done. With how much I've got going on every day of every month of every year, establishing "set hours" has proven maddening, but if I give myself a weekly goal, I can often find a way to make it; taking advantage of the unexpected 'down time' from my normal routine.

Of course, there are loads of temptations that can often lure me away from the writing, during that 'down time,' and it's a real challenge to say no to a basketball game or some other form of entertainment.

I too often find myself doing "midnight" writing: desperate to crank something out, I am literally up in the middle of the night trying to finish the whatever-it-is and get it done. My story which was a Q1 Finalist at Writers of the Future -- and which I have since sold to Analog SF -- was like that. Took me two nights over a weekend, about 4 or 5 hours each night, to complete the novelette.
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