Do writers write every day? Received wisdom is that any aspiring writer should put pen to paper on a daily basis. There are some very famous names who say they follow this advice – Hilary Mantel for one. Georges Simenon would reputedly write 60 – 80 pages a day. As he wrote over 500 hundred books under various names, which included serious psychological novels as well as detective stories, and countless articles, there must be some truth in it. (He also claimed that he had sex with over 10,000 women as well as being a husband and father – one wonders when he found the time to write.)
On a more modest scale, several authors will set themselves a minimum word count for the day of, say, 500 or 1,000. By contrast a contemporary poet (whose name I won’t mention) says he writes every day – but refined this to admitting that on same days he can spend the morning taking a comma out of a poem, and the afternoon putting it back in. Some celebrated writers, like Solzhenitsyn, have been imprisoned and unable to write at all for years, but ideas for their work have been formulated whilst incarcerated, and books based directly or indirectly on their experiences have flowed from their pens on their release.
Deadlines help, as well as torment, the ‘jobbing’ writer – ask any journalist! And many established writers have one or more outlets that really like their work – but need the book or article they commission to fit in with their timetable for publication.
And me – do I write every day? Well, yes – if you count emails, Facebook, blogging, and twitter (and shopping lists). Yes, if you include re-working existing efforts to try to make them print – worthy. And yes, if I’m researching a topic and making notes. But I’m not sure of any of this will count for the purist.
The first novel I wrote was written at a steady rate of 500 – 1,000 words a day. But I was writing primarily to see if I could actually accumulate enough words on paper and maintain a storyline long enough for my effort to be called a novel. I did, but it is a piece of work best kept tucked away in a drawer, and I’ve never tried to find a publisher.
These days I can say honestly that nearly every day is taken up with writing related matters. But life is full of distractions – like my dog is now barking at me as he thinks it’s time to go and play football in the garden. I will do as he orders (of course). And who knows, inspiration for a new story may come whilst we’re out.
There have been times when I haven’t written for a few days,because I can’t think of how to take a story forward, or am stumped for a new idea, or just too ‘busy.’ I can start to feel a bit agitated in these circumstances and to calm myself I resort to a simple writing exercise I learnt some years ago.
You CAN try this at home!
1. Pick up a document – almost anything will do, but newspapers and magazines are best. Take any article at random and count ten words. Write down the tenth word (unless it is ‘a’ or ‘the’). Then count the next ten and write down the twentieth word. Ditto for the thirtieth word.
2. Without thinking anymore, write a short story using these three words in any order. Write for exactly five minutes. Then stop.
You may be surprised with what you’ve achieved. Some of the mini stories I have come up with have become proper stories that have even been published. One formed the basis of a short play.
(PS: It’s also a good exercise to try if you find you can’t sleep. Beats counting sheep!)