I am often asked, “How much time do you spend writing in a day?” and “What is your writing schedule?”
The answers are 4 – 5 hours per day; I write in the late morning and throughout the afternoon.
I have read about writers who lock themselves away for the entire day. I couldn’t possibly do that, because when I try to write for more than about two hours at a stretch, I become mentally fatigued, and the quality of my writing declines. My imagination and my critical skills must both be keen. Imagination is essential to achieving an interesting, creative output. And critical skills must also be operational to avoid putting something down which is ‘good enough’. I find that when I am mentally tired, my imagination is less fertile and instead of being critical of my output, I get lazy. So, every hour of two, I take a break. I go out to do the food shopping, or I work on by blog, or check my email, or pay the bills or I play spider solitaire: anything which doesn’t use my brain in the same way as writing.
My wife and I have coffee at 7 am, and for about an hour I work on the sudokus in yesterday’s paper while she reads the paper itself. Four mornings a week, I walk to the gym for an hour, and on the way back, I pick up the newspaper. What follows is breakfast and a shower. Then, I can sit down at my PC, and check my email.
If I’m starting a new chapter, or a new section of a chapter, I’ll look at the outline I’ve written for that chapter to see what comes next. Often, I experience a ‘writer’s block’ where I find it hard to get started. I’ve learned that it’s best to not ‘just plunge in’. Instead, I’ll think about the character or characters, and put myself in their shoes. ‘What would he or she do next?’ I’ll wonder, and I’ll look for a response which is interesting, in character, and moves the story forward. Once the starting point has been achieved, the story will tend to flow until the next juncture is reached. Actually, I find that ‘writer’s block’ is a good thing: it helps prevent me from producing low quality output. After I write about a page (single spaced), I’ll stop and read through what I’ve written. At this point, I bring my critical skills into play, and I’m alert to any word or phrase which doesn’t feel quite right. I may have to consult my thesaurus to find a better word. Once I’ve reviewed the text, I’ll run the spell checker. My spell checker is set for UK English. (Even though I’m American by birth, I tend to feel that UK English is more authentic.) Sometimes my editor doesn’t agree, which is OK, except when the novel is set in the UK and may, therefore, have primarily a UK readership.
Usually, I’ll take a lunch break from 1 til 2, during which time I’ll read the paper. Then, I’ll be back at work – with the occasional break – until 6, which is generally my quiting time.
During the average day, I’ll produce four pages of text, which I’ll re-read again before signing off for the day. And at the end of a chapter, the whole chapter gets re-read, and when I complete a novel, I’ll re-read it in its entirety. (I should mention that during the editing process with my publisher, I’ll end up re-reading everything again at least once. Every time I re-read, I’ll find something that I find needs changing/improving.)
The other activity that can take up to half my ‘writing time’ is doing research. My fourth novel (which I’ve just finished) is set in Washing ton DC (where I have lived), Afghanistan and Iran. I’ve never been to those two countries, and to make up for that deficiency, I’ve had to do a lot of research – mostly on line, but I find that Lonely Planet guides are a big help, too.
Then, sometimes I’ll think of a (usually slight) change of direction, which requires that I revisit one of more previous chapters to make alterations.