August 12, 2011

It Takes Time

This morning when I sat down to write, I was at the beginning of a chapter. I had a new scene planned to open this chapter, a scene that didn't occur in the previous draft, so I was writing from scratch, not working with existing material.

I decided that most likely the first word of the first sentence was "I". I typed that to get myself going. Fifteen minutes later, I was still staring at that "I", all alone there on the page.

Half an hour into my writing session, I had a few sentences. After 50 minutes, when I took my 10-minute break, there was half a page.

I'm careful about what I do during the breaks in my writing session. I get up from my desk to stretch and refill my glass of water. I check my email and look at Twitter, maybe skim an article someone linked to. Nothing too involved, nothing that pulls me out of my writing zone.

And that's good, because when I came back from my break, the scene really started moving. The writing was going so well that I even skipped my second break. I had an excellent writing session today, ending up with a long new scene that I really like. On Monday I'll probably hate it, but for now, I'm pleased.

That's not what I expected when I stared at the word "I" for what felt like forever. This is usually how it goes, but I'm always quick to forget what it was like the last time.

Many writers don't have the luxury of the quantity of time available to me. Maybe they only get half an hour a day to write, or less than that. Some of them do remarkably well within those constraints. Others try and fail to make progress, then beat themselves up over not taking advantage of those small chunks of time the way some writing guides advise.

As my experience demonstrates, it's not an easy thing to get a good quantity of writing done in a single half hour, compared to what you might get out of the next half hour, and the next. Some people are better at it than others, and the same person can have different results day to day, but in general, it takes a bit of time to ramp up into the creative zone. I'm not the only one who thinks so. This essay by Paul Graham on the subject of creative time has always stuck with me, though it's targeted at programmers and their managers.

If you've been trying to write a little every day and it's not working for you, experiment with finding a longer block of time once a week and see if you get more done. And don't feel like you're wasting time when you stare at a single word and nothing else comes out. The rest of the words are still making their way to the surface.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Jason Black continues an insightful series on forty-five flaws that expose your lack of storytelling experience.

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