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Writing More by Writing Less

19 December, 2014

A published novelist recently remarked on how little she writes daily. At first, I was surprised. But when I thought more about it, writing less makes sense.

We’ve all read accounts of famous writers who work on their material nearly all day, everyday. Two questions pop up in my mind. What have they let go of in their lives in order to gain so much time to write? And who helps them take care of the non-writing but essential aspects of life—paying bills, cleaning house, making trip arrangements, buying groceries? Some of the most prolific writers have assistants to help them with the non-writing tasks. Others eschew social engagements and any other non-writing activities, making writing their sole activity.

This novelist explained that her practice is to write 40 minutes only. But she tries to fulfil this goal each and every day. She has her plot sorted out, so she has a good idea about how to progress in her short daily writing period.

Aiming for short but frequent writing may help other writers, especially ones who find it hard to free up slabs of time to write. We may strive to get this long periods—a day or even a half-day—but rarely achieve this aim. Most of us can find 40 minutes in each day to write.

The main benefit of working on frequency rather than word count is that regular writing sessions help us settle into the writing groove. Leave too much of a gap between the sessions, and we may end up spending our writing time re-reading, picking up the threads of our material before we can write something new.

Daily writing also keeps the brain focussed on our material. Knowing we’ll be writing again tomorrow tends to make our subconscious mull over writing issues, characters, and developments, new items we may take up when writing the next day.

Although I find the daily goal of 40 minutes useful, I think that for some writers, and for some periods in a writing project, a daily goal of writing at least 40 minutes seems more realistic. Being free to write more on a day when we’re in the groove is one of the deep pleasures of writing and shouldn’t be quashed.  But that doesn’t mean we can reward ourselves by not writing at least 40 minutes the next day!

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