So you're working on the next great novel. How do you approach it? An intense burst of 5000-words-a-day locked in a dark room with no Internet connection? A scrawled dozen words here and there on trains, waiting at the bank or in between sets at the gym? Or a leisurely 500 while sipping tea and taking long walks?
The answer of course is “whatever works for you”. Everyone writes differently and is motivated in different ways. And to show you precisely that, here are 18 of the authors that we chatted to last year” to “that we've interviewed over the years.
“I just grab time when I can…Sometimes I work eight or nine hours a day writing… and other days, many days – I do nothing at all…I spent a full day just walking around trying to come up with the first sentence for The Rosie Project. I wanted a strong sentence. Now, I didn’t do any writing that day, but it was a very important day in the production of that book.”
“I used to sit down at the same time every morning and check my clock and keep the same hours, as if I was still at school with a strict teacher watching over me. But since having a child, I write whenever I can, in short spurts, in cars, in play centres, in my head, whenever. And strangely, I like it that way.”
“I write best in the morning. For me this is especially true with fiction, which draws strongly on my dream world and thrives, I think, on the leftover wisps of the stuff. So I’d write from 6.30 to 7.10am, before getting the children up and off to school. It was hard, but it meant that I could then move into my day job.”
“I write best in the mornings, so where possible I try to crack out 1500 words a day. Afternoons are for redrafting, reading, other things. Mornings work best for me, though, so I try to protect this time as much as possible.”
“When the drafting process begins I try to write 2000 words a day – there have been rare days I've hit the 8000 word mark, while other days I can barely manage 200. Non-writing days are valuable too, because there’s always something mulling under the surface.”
“When I am on deadline for a book, I aim for a minimum of 2000 words per day in the first draft stage. A good day would be reaching 3000 words. An excellent you-can-have-a-glass-of-wine-tonight writing day would see me write around 4000 words. These are rare of course, and would require a lot of chocolate and caffeine.”
“The only thing that really allowed me to give the book the focus it required was physically taking myself out of the city, forgoing all other employment and bunkering down for one to two weeks at a time…Beyond that I am also indebted to the computer program ‘Freedom’ for shutting down my computer's ability to connect to the internet for hours at a time. And also to my morning coffee for being love itself.”
“I’m a shocking procrastinator — shocking, shocking, shocking. [For the book] I was working within school hours. I just had to get off social media, which is probably my favourite procrastination playground, and just hit fingers to the keyboard… One of my first lecturers said, ‘Think through your fingers.’ That seriously has stuck. From that moment on I never wrote anything down first, I just hit the keyboard and let it all pour out and then come back in and play with it. It’s like a brain dump.”
“Things I know about writing and myself:
- I cannot write at night and I cannot write in the morning. I am a late morning/mid-day writer.
- I can only sit still for 4 hours max at a time.
- I can write with one glass of wine, not two.
- I have to write in air conditioning and I cannot have any sound around me at all – a place with no distractions.
- I cannot be inspired by a looking out a window.
- I have to talk it out first. I process my thoughts when I talk. Storytelling is my gift and I have to work at writing it down. My trick is to have a great writing partner who I can tell my stories to and with whom I bounce ideas back and forth. I have to say it before I can write it.”
Karen M Davis
“I try to write most days. If I’m not in the mood to write I’ll do some editing. Some days I’ll do five hours before falling asleep at the computer and other days I might only fit in one hour. I usually document my word count for each day I write to keep myself motivated. Writing a 120,000 word (around 400-415 pages) book can be overwhelming sometimes.”
“Like many writers, I struggle with procrastination. The hardest part about being a writer is forcing myself to sit down at the desk and do the f#%king work. Deadlines help.”
“I'm at my desk by 9.30am (at the latest), after enjoying a heart-starting coffee at one of my favourite local cafes, and possibly a work-out at the gym. Once I’ve switched on my computer in my study, I'm there for pretty much the rest of the day. For lunch I'll grab a can of salmon and bring it upstairs to eat at my desk, and then I'll usually work right through to 6.59pm, when I'll switch off my computer and watch the ABC news and have dinner. I occasionally go back to writing after this, but it depends on how tired I am.
“I think it’s enormously important to be self-disciplined, but then again, there are some days when your brain just doesn't work, so it’s probably best on these occasions to go shopping!”
“When writing a book, I tend to do the bulk of my work late at night. It is not unusual for me to start at 9pm and finish at 4am. I find I am most creative at this time and there are no distractions; kids asleep, mobile phone tucked in a drawer. I then edit what I have done during the day, when mostly I am sober.”
“I try to write every day. My new thing is to go back to bed after breakfast and not get up again until I've written at least a page. I’m a slow writer, I find it very difficult sometimes. I have to force myself to do it. When I have a few chapters finished, I print them out and carry them around with me, and scribble corrections on them when I'm out and about.”
“It’s so funny, I think everyone has got their own opinion of what productive is…
“I think, for me, there’s a sign on my wall that says, ‘Have you made art today?' For example, today I haven't written — I actually haven't written anything yet, it’s only midday, but I have published a book in Italian, so as far as I'm concerned I have actually put art out in the world today.”
“I started out saying, ‘I'm going to do 1,000 words a day. I'm going to do 1,000 words a day first thing in the day.’ It didn't work. I discovered after about three days that if I didn't want to write that morning nothing was going to come out of my fingertips, it wasn't going to happen. I kind of put that strategy on the back burner. Then I figured I was going to spend Saturday morning away from the house in a café somewhere writing — all Saturday morning, four or five hours, really crank it out… awful, terrible strategy. Can’t do that.
“So I resigned to the fact that I was going to write when I felt like writing, plain and simple. The funny thing was that once I allowed myself to have that freedom with the writing it became a lot more natural for me to sit down and not just knock out 500 or 1,000 words, sometimes I would sit and write for three hours and knock out 6,000 words. I did that several times. When you’re done you’re like, ‘Whoa, that was a monster session,' but you feel so productive at the end of it and you weren’t forcing yourself into it and the words just flowed, it was much, much easier.”
“It's a short working day and I make every minute count. I have a nerdy little timetable which includes time for the creation of new work (I aim for 500 words a day)… I keep myself on track with a kitchen timer, which has a horrible shrill ringing sound I can’t ignore – much to my cat’s annoyance when he is taking a nap in my study!”
“Probably in a year I have written maybe 120,000 words of journalism. If you do that, then you know it’s possible to write 120,000 words in a year. I think when people begin a novel, they’re not at all convinced that there’s enough time and space in their lives to ever complete it. But I know you can, I know exactly what I can do in a given time period.
“People spend an awful lot of time talking about writing, agonising about writing, and trying to think of ways to make themselves write, rather than actually writing. It seems to me that probably the best way to begin writing would be to sit down in front of a computer, open a file and then to do your best to fill it.”
Well, that’s our writing done for today. Now it’s your turn…