No, this post is not as pedantic as it first may seem. The answer to “What is writing?” has a very real impact on how I spend my time, especially when you consider the scope of what I mean.
One of the pieces of advice that I most often hear given to writers, old and new, is to write every day. There are studies that “prove” this (and I’m having trouble finding them – much though I hate not to cite sources, I’ll have to fill these in at a later date), except that all of the studies that I’ve found have a looser definition of writing than is usually harped upon.
When I say “writing”, what immediately springs to my mind is new words on a new story, or if I’m feeling generous, rewrites of scenes from old stories. What is not part of that list is: line revisions, plotting/planning, re-reading, research, storyboarding, reading other books, and macroscopic editing (defining themes, characterization, etc. for use on rewrites and edits).
So if my goal is to spend at least two hours a day writing (and that is something I often hear preached as the way to be a good writer), my mind says: “Okay, that’s two hours a day on new prose, plus I have to spend all this time on editing, and need to stay current in my genre(s), so we’re at, what, 5-6 hours a day now?”
Add in nine for work (including a commute), seven hours of sleep (not enough, but close) on top of five hours of writing activities (rounding down) and that leaves three hours for meals, chores, and social time. Also, time to be not stressed, which is really important if I want to do this my entire life (and not have a heart attack by the time I’m forty).
I have two problems with that schedule: sleep and seclusion. And I don’t think these are just personal problems.
Sleep is important. Not getting enough sleep is not just an inconvenience, it’s unhealthy and counter-productive. I’m more creative when I’m well rested, and I think I can make up in productivity what I lose in time. Studies back this up (there have been numerous studies showing that getting two more hours of sleep before a big exam improves performance – even if that time would have been spent studying). Besides, 50% of my inspiration, and 95% of the starts of my ideas, come from my dreams. I should do that.
Two: how ironic and counter-productive is it to lock myself in my room in order to try to perfectly portray human interaction? To seclude myself from the world to try to write the world? I need material and observations as much as I need another line edit.
Which is not to say that half an hour a day is sufficient to become a good writer. I don’t believe that any more than I believe that the only way to make it is to spend six hours a day on it. What I’m going to strive for next year is to spend two hours a day (at a minimum) on productive writing activities. That means new prose, or work on old prose, or concrete and productive research or brainstorming. It does not mean goofing off on the internet while claiming to be writing, or playing games/sleeping in search of inspiration. If I work extra (and I hope to get into it and do just that), then great.
But I’m not going to hold myself to new prose on a story every day. I don’t think I’m the kind of person that can hold the shape of more than one story in my head at once, and (right now at least) I’m a very subconscious writer. Writing a new story while editing an old one is likely to leave me confused. Bouncing back and forth rapidly I can do, but not mixing them up.
This all may change if I can ever have writing be my real career, what I spend most of my day doing, but right now, having it as a second job on top of my first is not sustainable. It’s more likely to burn me out than anything else, so even if it is “ideal”, it’s not practical, and it’s not sustainable. I’m going to try for something realistic but challenging, that will give me real productivity but still a chance to breathe.
So that’s my over-arching and rather sketchy goal for next year, to be elaborated in future posts. How about you? How are you approaching this writing thing?