Serious writers write every day. They make it a priority and force it in to their day, come what may.
The general rule for professionals is 2000 words a day, every day. You might feel that is not possible because you have work and a family and commitments and so forth, and that is fair enough, but how are you addressing this issue? The sad truth is that the year out that you plan in which you will write your novel may never happen. The writers’ retreat and the weekends away and getting that conservatory built where you can hide yourself away — not only do these things rarely actually come around, but the fact is that when you have all day to write, there is a limit on the amount of artistic energy a person can productively deliver in a single day. People take a year out and quickly get disappointed with how slowly it moves forwards. That is why a professional writer’s expectation is only for 2000 words in a day. I have managed 10,000 in a single day when I was wild and young, and most authors will tell you they can write much more than 2000 in a day, but they will have other days when they go backwards. An average of 2000 words a day is a good, professional hit rate.
What I do with aspiring writers who have jobs and kids and lives outside their writing is congratulate them. Living a full life is essential if you are going to write stories that resonate with normal human beings, so do not feel resentful towards your work and family for keeping you from your novel. But you do burn to write, so the question I pose is: can you manage say one side of A4 per day? Could you get up 30 minutes earlier? Could you do a page at lunchtime? Half-an-hour on the train? How about if you get to work early? That’s what I used to do when I was working in an office. You get the credit for being first in every day and do a quick hour before anyone else arrives. One side of A4 every day. That is my challenge to you. Could you do that?! The answer is usually a cautious ‘well, when you put it like that… one side of A4? I guess I can do that, yes.’
In that case, congratulations. You will have a completed full-length work in no time. A side of A4 is around 500 words a day. Let’s give you a day off or a day you didn’t get round to it and call it six days a week. That’s 3000 words a week. That’s a 90,000 word novel in around seven months. In fact, that leaves a week off before the end of July and five whole months of the year left for rewrites, editing and polish. That’s a book a year, no problem. From a single side of A4 per day (and Sundays off).
So there is no excuse. Don’t wait for that mythical year out. Don’t wait for the retreat. You can’t wait for the time you get the conservatory built in the garden and have half the day free to moon around in there thinking deep thoughts. That is not realistic. Artists are notoriously not realistic, but do not undervalue what I am saying here: This is one of the secrets of success. One of the major differences I have found between artists and… successful artists is that successful artists are focussed and productive and they write every day.
Let this be your wake-up call. Start now, and get on with it. Set the beast free! 500 words a day will achieve what you so passionately want. Don’t worry if your daily 500 are not polished words forming perfect prose. Just write something! Once you get in your rhythm you will find that you have other times in your day to think about your writing; you will figure out what is bugging you about what you did yesterday and plan for what that 500 words will contain tomorrow, so it gets easier and easier as your story world becomes part of your daily mindset and you get more and more immersed. And on top of that, you then have five months to edit it later in the year. Just make the time in your day and write something — anything! — and you will grow as a writer. It doesn’t matter if those words all end up in the bin — this is still progress. Have the confidence to throw stuff away and keep going. That’s fine. You are after the 10% of what you do that is golden. Much of what we do should get thrown away, and you need to be productive so that golden ten-percent ends up comprising your entire output.
Disciplining yourself to a routine is so very hard, and getting your bottom to stay on the chair and actually writing those first words in a session — that is the key to writing a book and to being a professional writer. I struggle to sit still, but I can tell myself I will focus and write for ten minutes. Just ten. And just write. Next time I look up, the chances are an hour has passed.
You will be amazed how productive you can be if you can be less artistic about your routine, and force that small bit of discipline into your writing life.