From one writer to another
One of my friends remarked, ‘It’s awesome how you keep up your writing with work and everything else you do. How do you find the time?’ Not that I am a prolific writer, but I understood the question from a non-writer’s point of view. I had many thoughts at once and gave a disjointed answer. It was time to bring my own order to this question. I felt you might find my ruminations helpful, so they became this story.
I’ve been writing steadily for eight years and have improved by objective measures such as punctuation, simplicity, brevity, and grammatical precision. There’s circumstantial evidence that my writing is also better subjectively on average across my pieces. So, let’s say I am a better writer than I was eight years ago and four years ago. But what about my writing speed and volume? Are they increasing or decreasing? And why?
I am talking about how quickly we complete a story. It’s affected by several things, but these stood out for me.
Some stories go fast, and some slow. It’s all about the flow.
For some ideas, a whole boatload of thoughts come up that I need to pin down before they jump back out and sink into the depths of my mind. But I know that the story will flow whenever there is this abundance. My motor cortex and fingers just need to keep up with my prefrontal cortex.
(This story is an example of flow. It was a torrent, out of my mind, through my Logitech keypad into my Lenovo laptop as a draft in Medium on Chrome in just ten minutes. That was the capture-the-ideas part. Fleshing out and arranging it took an hour and ten minutes, and cleaning up took about thirty minutes, which is par. Overall a pretty quick write at under two hours. Excellent for a story about the quickness of writing!)
But from where does flow come? The following five aspects play a large part.
Writing from our personality
I am faster when my writing style follows my personality. It takes longer if I try to be funnier than I am, less cynical, etc. I can manage it, but to make it sound right takes a while. Considering an area where I need to change and going some distance before writing with it is natural and faster. It also influences others better when that is my intention. (How much bringing my true self to my stories makes them valuable and interesting is an entirely different matter.)
The more adept I become at keeping my sentences and expression simple, the faster I write. It also allows me to state my thoughts precisely. Long, convoluted sentences and exotic words are attention seekers that divert me from my ideas. I’ve also found that simplifying at the outset significantly reduces the amount of material I have to clean and correct, adding to my speed.
I write faster in the mornings. The mind and eyes are rested, and there’s just something about mornings that gives me more ideas. It also helps that I meditate in the mornings, which often generates writing-worthy thoughts. Some say that ideas come fluently when we walk. From experience, I believe there is merit in this hypothesis. And, of course, my writing speed drops off dramatically when I’m tired. So excellent mental and physical conditions make for fluent writing.
Knowing when to stop
We writers struggle with this. The tendency is to write too much. It comes from excessive and usually unjustified love for our voice, meandering, and writer-splaining the same thing three ways because we think readers are imbeciles. Eliminating these disorders is a significant speed booster.
Practise, practise, practise
As expected, like for other skills, the more time I spend writing, the faster I write. It includes the time I spend reading, looking up words and grammar, and studying the craft.
I considered next what influences my writing output.
What determines how many stories or poems I’ll write per week or books in my life?
To dispatch the obvious, writing speed affects output, but surprisingly less than the factors below. Fast writers may publish only once a month, and slow writers could produce a story daily.
Profession or hobby
I write as a hobby and can’t write as much as a professional. Nor should I try, else I or the writing will break. As with any hobby, I love writing and find time for it. Some weeks I manage to give it about seven hours and others half that. Within this, I manage one to two stories weekly and am content. If I keep it up for the next twenty years, I’ll write over a thousand stories and at least five books. I don’t have greater ambitions. If writing becomes a profession, there’ll be a lot more. We’ll see.
Expectations of ourselves
It is perhaps the most significant driver. The first expectation is of quantity — of followers, likes, or earnings. We may believe it’s only possible by publishing frequently. Some have the time, ideas, and determination to achieve it. In others, the determination becomes desperation. To each their own, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone.
The second expectation is of quality — of our stories, language, and effects. Striving for this reduces the output for most of us. If we become obsessive about our stories’ titles, opening, closing, vocabulary, etc., before we are ready to hit the publish button, our releases go down significantly. Taking a step back for detachment helps us strike a balance between quality and productivity.
Breadth of experience and interest
A variety of experiences naturally leads to more writing ideas and stories. A trip to Europe yielded five stories; reading a biography of Napoleon sparked several philosophical ruminations. Doing, learning and reading more will keep the fount flowing. There’s another advantage — with breadth, there usually comes depth. When I am satisfied I’ve covered all the angles of an idea, I know I can start closing out the story. The broader my thinking, the faster I cover the angles and the more stories I finish in a period.
I’ve concluded I am writing each story faster. I am slower with my poems, but that’s to be expected as I am new to poetry. As for volume, I could steadily do two stories a week but presently publish only one weekly as I am resurfacing one of my older stories every week and don’t want to overload my loyal readers.
I’d love to hear how you make time for writing and what makes you fast or slow. Do share.