Wright’s Writing Corner: Excerpt from: How Can I Have A Life And Still Write?

Still spending too much time recovering from our computer outage, so it’s been hard to write something new this week. I did try yesterday, but what I wrote came out…dumb.

 So, today what we have is the begining of How Can I Have A Life And Still Write, an article I wrote for: The Complete Guide To Writing Fantasy Volume Three. I am just posting an excerpt here. If you wish to read more, you’ll have to go hunt down the book. 


How can I have a life and still write?

Short answer: commitment.

Long answer: if you are committed to becoming an author, you can find the time to write, even if you work full-time, have six kids and also run the local soup kitchen. Making a commitment, however, is not the same as knowing how implement it. So the next logical question becomes: now that I have made this commitment, how do I carry it out?

In answering this question, the first point that must be stressed is that no two individuals write alike. This may sound like common sense, yet you would be surprised how frequently people assume otherwise. Articles on this subject are often restatements of what works for a particular author, offering advice such as: “Only those who sit down at midnight, by candlelight, with a full quart of ice cream balanced on their head can produce a worthwhile story. All other methods are for posers.”

It would be nice if there were a magic formula that would make words flow from our fingers like honey. Alas, this is not the case. What works for one often merely exasperates another. Keeping this in mind, this chapter will examine numerous strategies for balancing our daily lives with our desire to write. Hopefully, each reader will find a helpful hint or two among the many bits of hard-earned wisdom offered.


Commitment. That sounds good…how do I do it?

Short answer: put aside time to write.

Long answer: here’s where the “each person is different” issue comes into play. There are as many strategies for how to plan your time as there are people who write. Most of these strategies, however, fall into two general categories: quotas and time.
The quota strategy is results-oriented. You commit yourself to writing a certain number of words or pages per day/week/month. It does not matter whether what is written is worthy of Shakespeare or merely fated for the next bonfire. The important thing is that you produce the requisite amount of product.

The time strategy, on the other hand, involves putting aside a certain number of hours each day/week/month to devote to writing. During these allotted hours, you sit at your desk and show bravery in the face of the blank screen. It does not matter whether you produce ten pages or one line. The point is to devote the same number of hours to writing on a regular basis. Eventually, you will produce something worth keeping.


To Quota or not to Quota?

Short answer: honestly, it depends on your mental constitution.

Long answer: quotas are wonderful, if you have the sort of psychology that can manage one. The quota itself can be by word or by page. A page a day, five days a week, for a year will yield two hundred and sixty-one pages, approximately three-fourths of the average 80,000 word manuscript. 1000 words once a week for a year will yield 52,000 words, about two thirds of the average 80,000 word novel. 1000 to 1500 words per session seems to be a favorite with many writers, though some do significantly less or more.

A number of authors in the science fiction field are known for keeping strict quotas. One of the strictest is Harry Turtledove, who reports that he produces 2,300 to 2,400 words a day, seven days a week! (It is rumored that he excuses himself from writing on Christmas Day.) At that rate, an 80,000 word novel would take him a little over a month. One of his novels, which are often a bit longer, would take about two months (give or take rewriting time).

Most writers are not that severe, yet many find the quota to be an invaluable tool. As part of a series of articles entitled “So You Want To Be A Writer,” author Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote: “Frederik Pohl has a daily quota of three pages. Every day, day in, day out, he writes three pages of something a day. Stephen King, I’ve heard, has a daily quota of several thousand words, but we won’t talk about people like that. That’s not normal. 

            “My quota,” Watt-Evans continued, “back when I didn’t have kids and could therefore manage one, was a thousand words a day. That’s three or four pages, depending. I had to write a thousand words a day, five days a week (I got to pick which five, and could arbitrarily declare any given day to be a ‘‘weekend,’’ so long as I hadn’t already used up my two weekend days that week). If I hadn’t written it, I couldn’t go to bed. I wouldn’t allow myself to do so any more than I would go to bed without brushing my teeth. 

            “If I absolutely couldn’t write on a given day, then I could put it off – but the amount I owed automatically doubled the moment I fell asleep. That was my inflexible rule. And I didn’t allow any carryover, either – if I wrote 8,000 words on Tuesday, I still had to write a thousand more on Wednesday. If I didn’t write anything on Wednesday, my quota for Thursday would be 3,000 (Wednesday’s doubled, plus Thursday’s). No fractions smaller than 500 words were allowed, either. If I wrote 950 words one day, I owed 2,000 the next.”

There you go. If you want to read more, you know where to look.