A couple of days ago, I received an email from Lottie, Mike’s missus. Lottie is, like many of us, a writer, and she was interested in hearing how long it takes me to write my daily 1,000 words because…
“I don’t mean to be nosy. It’s just that it takes me quite a long time to write that much, and even when I have all the words down, I go back and fuss with it over and over again.”
I read the email and started to write my reply… and then thought, no, this might actually make an interesting blog post. So, with Lottie’s permission, I’m going to address it here — and add a few thoughts on daily targets in general.
How quickly I write isn’t important — or, rather, it is, but only to me. Lottie understands this, her question was born of curiousity more than anything else, but I just want to make that clear. As it happens, it takes me about an hour and a quarter to get 1,000 words down. I’ve always written quickly, almost in a trance-like state!, but in the early days the quality was rarely there. Oddly, looking back, I don’t think that mattered; we, I believe, learn to write through the act of writing — the process itself sharpens the blunt tools we start off with. I still believe that the best way to improve as a writer is simply to say (and I apologise in advance for the language 😉 ) “Fuck it” and dive in. As an exercise, just free associate. Pick an idea and write as much as you can in, say, half an hour. To begin with, the quality won’t be there (my first novel was rejected with the words “you have a lot to learn about the narrative form”!), but in time you will surprise yourself.
That said, it is important for me to stress that every writer has to find his or her own way of doing things. Set targets that demand something of you, but don’t make them unreachable. Terry Pratchett, for example, used to write 600 words a day (I don’t know how his illness has affected this.) I’m just getting into the swing of it at 600 words — but I’m not Terry Pratchett. It was right for him.
So, in conclusion:
- Speed writing exercises centered around free association can help “hone” one’s talent (and help you tap into thoughts you never knew you had!)
- What works for me may not work for you. Experiment with work patterns. See what feels right.
- Targets are important. They should tax you, but also be doable.
- Try to do a little every day. When it’s as much a part of your daily routine as taking a d — okay, brushing your teeth, then you’re on your way.
- Enjoy. It’s only writing, after all.