Saturday, 16 July 2011

Masochist: "Whip Me!" Sadist: "No!"

In case it's not obvious from the title, this blog is about Discipline. I regularly catch writers out at my seminars. They have fantastic 'plans', but not nearly enough writing is actually going on. Lots of thinking, not a lot of doing.
"Let me guess," I say. "You're planning a year out, right? And you're going to use it to write a complete work."
The year out is the top answer, or a carefully planned overseas retreat somewhere sunny, or a five-year plan to a career change that will allow them to turn pro... They are surprised that I know their plans, but are also genuinely yearning for the year to come when they can go full-time, act like a professional and really immerse themselves in their novel.

Well, if you are in this space, awaiting some perfect world in which you will write soulfully and immersively and professionally, I have news for you...

9 out of 10 of the people who work like this won't ever get that year out. The 1 in 10 who do will be hugely shocked to find that, when given the time to write full-time, they actually can't manage more than around 4 hours a day anyway. The fact is, you can't deliver effectively for more than this; not every day. Most pro writers deliver an average of around 2000 words a day, and guess what... you can do that now in your daily life. Make time - today - and tomorrow - and the next day - and just do it. Don't wait for the mythical year off. Don't wait for the retreat. Don't dream it. Do it. Now.

When I had an office job, I used to get up at 5.30am and write for 1.5 hours. Then another half-hour on the train and another at lunchtime, and still did right by my employer (sort of...) and by my family in the evening. Steven King said this: 'Talent is as cheap as table salt. The difference between the talented and the successful is the work they are prepared to put in.' Do you want to be successful - or are you merely talented?

Whatever it takes, if you're serious, you must write every day. 2000 words a day can bring you a substantial book - 100,000 words - in 50 days. Let's say you can do half that - no, half it again - 500 words a day. You do 500 words every day - that's a single page of A4 every day - you'll have a 100,000 word book in under 7 months. Polish it and edit it and rewrite it - that's a book a year, no problem at all...

Discipline, folks. If you have talent, productivity is the secret of success.



  1. I totally agree with this. I was in the very position not too long ago. And the point is, you'll probably get more done if you have less time.

    Thanks for the post. Always good to get a reminder.

  2. This is so true. It's so easy to find the excuses not to write and I guess I've discovered all of them. A book idea may come easy, but it's not going to happen unless somebody does the labor involved in producing it. And if it's your idea then you're the one who has to do that work.

    Tossing It Out

  3. So true! No one ever finished a book by saying that they'll start when the time is optimal.


  4. How's the excuse 'I'm feeling so nihilistic and my doctors are worried I might kill myself that I stopped writing because every page becomes poisoned with the hopeless bile of a depressive and I won't so much need to rewrite as soak it down with bleach?' How you rate that?!

    Only kidding :p This is brilliant. Every time I see about this issue people either elaborate enough or say nothing more than 'Just write k!' but setting out that ratio of words per day, well no one can argue with that logic :)