Writing hard is kind of difficult topic to visualize. What exactly does it mean? I sort of get the impression of someone slaving over a keyboard, desperately trying to beat a deadline. Maybe it’s because I was in that position last month when I was struggling to make a July 30th deadline for a new novel. I made it, but not with much time to spare. I’m now in the process of writing the second (of four) books on my current contract, and facing another deadline, but this one is not breathing down my throat. So this time I’m determined not to fall into the same set of circumstances as the last one. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pace myself better and avoid falling behind. Then I won’t put myself in the position of having to be writing hard.
As I said, the way to do this is to pace yourself. Start writing early, and keep at it, even if you don’t really feel like writing. The sage advice is to write every day, even if you’re not in the mood. If you wait until you are in the mood to write, you’ll probably do a good job putting words on paper. Inspiration will no doubt do that. But if you wait until you’re inspired each time, you’ll probably end up with an unfinished manuscript.
The process I use is a simple one. I can’t claim credit for it, but it works. I sit down with a certain time allotment and the goal to write two pages and then I crank them out. At the end of those two pages I’ll briefly pause and assess what I’ve done. There are times when I can write myself into the mood of writing, and if I have, I’ll keep going. If, on the other hand, I look at those two pages and decide they’re substandard, and I just don’t have it in me to keep going, I’ll stop and do something else. But at least I’ll be two pages closer to my goal of finishing.
A lot of times, when I do go back later and look at those substandard two pages, I’ll get an idea on how to tweak them to make them better. Sometimes putting them aside and taking on a new project can allow your subconscious to work on the problem, and when you return for the rematch, you know just what to do.
Writing hard might also describe instances when you are inspired and don’t want to stop. I’ve been there, too. I once wrote for an entire day (approximately 12 hours or more) finishing up a novel I’d been working on. It wasn’t that I had a deadline, but rather I was on a roll. It was New Year’s Day, and cold and snowy outside. I don’t think I left the house all day, and took breaks only to grab a bite to eat, make coffee, or go to the bathroom. I managed to finish the novel, producing 25 pages, in one long, extended session. My usual page limit is about 10 or 12 before I’m too exhausted to go on. That particular day remains my personal best, but like I said, I was inspired.
Not that I’d recommend marathon writing sessions. I’ve usually found that writing too long is almost as bad as not writing long enough. I can usually tell when it’s time to stop because I find myself taking quantum leaps in the scene. I’m subconsciously anxious to finish, and start to leapfrog over certain details to get to a stopping point. If you find yourself doing that, it’s probably time to stop writing.
Once again, the key is pacing. If you’ve got a long race to run, you don’t want to tire yourself out in the first part. Leave something in your tank for the last leg. On the other hand, you don’t want to get so far behind that you find yourself in a bind with an approaching deadline. It’s just like voting in a Chicago election: start early, do it often. (Election days in Chi-town are incredibly busy.)
So be mindful of the two Ps. Preparation and pacing are the best ways to avoid placing yourself in a position where you’ll find yourself writing hard.