Or, between creativity and productivity, between sleep and insanity, between now and sometime this century, can anyone tell me if I’m doing enough?
Writers are interested in the methods of other writers, particularly when it comes to their productivity. I know I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the way in which my favourite screenwriters/playwrights/authors structure their working. After all they’ve produced something that has jumped clean out of their mind and into the public consciousness. They must be doing something right, they succeeded. How did they do that?
Of course you eventually realise that what works for someone will not necessarily work for you and in time you find your own way of working, your own level of productivity. Still, you have the numbers going around in your head; should I work from 10am til 4pm? Do 5 pages a day? No, 10 pages a day? Enid Blyton wrote 10,000 words a day (!)… I found myself looking for something to latch onto, because you’ve got to start somewhere. Even more so perhaps when you are writing in your spare time and you don’t have the luxury of talking in terms of days or normal office hours.
I realised that looking for some kind of workable guideline to my writing was perhaps more to do with a need for reassurance, am I doing enough? This is understandable, especially when you are just starting out and the continuing practice of it is new to you.
Sometimes though the question ‘how much?’ is born of something else, when what you are really asking is ‘can I stop now?’ Then what can often follow is deal making with yourself ‘I’ve written 3 of my 10 pages today, but that’s ok because I can write 17 tomorrow’. That’s the same logic trap that ruins so many diets, which is what diets look like to me; a lot of denial and negotiation. You don’t need to be on a diet, but you do need a diet. Diets are for sustenance, and sustainability is the key word here.
A plan is a list of things that don’t happen, but seeing as writers are in the business of applying order to the world then a plan is the place from which you should start. Personally I find deadlines more useful than daily quotas (and the former will inform the latter anyway, specific to whatever you’re doing), so I work towards that. Prepare to be flexible with your plan (but not so flexible that you honk down your calorific intake all at once on the promise that you won’t eat at all next year. Bad diet). And remember these continuous quality control checkpoints:
Don’t beat yourself up. If you’re doing all you can and you’re still falling short of your goals then adjust them. Better to finish in one piece later than to finish earlier but as some sort of root vegetable who produces too much saliva.
Listen to yourself. You’ll know when you’re ignoring that guilty spot inside your bowels that says ‘you’re not done here. Sit down for another hour and finish this scene’. You’ll feel better for it.
If you get that guilty feeling too often then refer to the previous point and vice versa. Or do something else entirely because you’re probably not enjoying the whole writing thing.