How Much Time Do You Need To Write?

In a few weeks’ time I’ll temporarily relocate to a lovely apartment in the south of France, making it three years in a row that I’ve done that, and I’ll try to complete my novel while I’m there, making it three years in a row that I’ve done that too


The key word there is try. Why can’t I just finish this damn book?

In my defence, things are quite hectic in Catherineland. (But then people with far more hectic lives than me write books all the time.) And it hasn’t been the same novel for the last three years. (But it was the same novel this time last year.) And some progress has been made. (A messy ‘discovery’ draft completed, but what since then? You finished that at the end of July, for feck’s sake!)

Time is definitely a major factor—and I don’t mean a lack of it (because we all know you can make time for anything when you really want to) but more so, how much of it I need to write anything at all. I can’t remember who said it but years ago I heard an author say, ‘I need the whole day to write for an hour, the whole week to write for a day…’ (possible paraphrase alert) and I totally understood what she meant. It might only take me an hour to write a thousand words, but in order to write those thousand words, I need to feel as if I have the whole day, or at least a great big chunk of it. I’ve never been one of these writers who can get up an hour earlier and cheerfully bang out ten pages before work. My process is more like bang out a few paragraphs, swim around in them for a few hours, tinkering and changing and rearranging, bang out a couple more, repeat as required.

I know a writer who sits down at her desk and just writes, one word after the other, sentence by sentence, never looking back or even having to look back, until a perfectly coherent draft is completed. She immediately whisks it off to her editor, and the edits are always little polishes, never major reconstruction. To me, this sounds like voodoo. HOW IS SHE DOING THIS?!

My method, on the other hand, is very circular. That’s the only way I can explain it, and perhaps it’s not the best explanation. But although I know what has to happen in each chapter, I don’t know how I’m going to write about how it happened. I have all the words, and the facts, and I scribble down all of them onto the virtual page, and then I mess around with them for hours on end, seeing where they go, changing where they went, moving that line from the middle to the end, etc. etc. I’m constantly coming back to the start of the chapter to start again, afresh, until I’m somewhat satisfied with it. Only then do I move on. As I said above, I swim around in my chapters rather than write them from start to finish.

Is this normal? I’m starting to doubt it. But then is there any ‘normal’ way to write?

A few years I happened upon a documentary about John Banville that, quite honestly, made me want to throw things. In a scene set in his writing room, he introduced the audience to his writing process. It begins with him sitting at a desk, writing in longhand until he has perfected a sentence. This could and apparently does take all day. Then, when he has a perfect sentence, he turns to a second desk that’s at a right angle to the first and types that sentence into the MS Word document of his novel’s manuscript. Then the process begins again.

Now maybe that’s why Banville has won the Booker, may win the Nobel Prize and writes lines like the past beats inside me like a second heart, while I can’t kick an adverb habit or even finish my novel, but I just can’t fathom spending this much time dwelling on single lines.

Tell me: how much time do you need to write? What’s your process? How many words do you get done on an average day? And could you even imagine writing your book the Banville way?

70 thoughts on “How Much Time Do You Need To Write?

  1. julitownsend says:

    ‘I need the whole day to write for an hour, the whole week to write for a day…’ is a lovely way to explain my dilemma. I have always said that unless I have a chunk of time – meaning days or weeks in a row where nothing much is happening in my life – I can’t write. I really, really want to change this, but I have so much going on and I need a chunk of time before I can start!!!!Aaagh.

    A week in France wouldn’t work for me. I’d have to get out there and explore. I hope it works for you. Good luck.

  2. MarinaSofia says:

    Really, that’s how Banville writes? Wow, I couldn’t imagine doing that, it must interrupt the flow of the story quite a bit! I’m completely with you on this one (although I wish I weren’t) – I faff around for ages before settling down to write something halfway coherent. It only gets better on the 2nd-3rd rewrite, as well.

  3. Tracy Campbell says:

    Catherine, I write the same way as you and Juli. You’re not alone. Thank you for sharing this.Now I know I’m in good company. Enjoy your time in France, you lucky girl. 🙂 P.S. Social media distractions don’t help either.

  4. rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris says:

    Hi Catherine! I love that comment about needing to feel you have the whole day, even if you’re only going to use a couple of hours of it writing.
    I have a strict method,which you probably know about anyway! In short, I do a lot of creative planning before I write anything. I lay the book out on index cards so I have the whole story in front of me like a mixing desk, then play around with the order of events, writing short snatches that I then index on the cards so I can find them easily. Basically, if I don’t know where I’m heading with a book I get muddled and lost, so this really works for me.
    I’m getting a lot better at thinking before I write. I sweat an idea a lot before I finally decide what it’s telling me, and what it’s calling me to investigate. Many of my books come to me as bizarre what-ifs that are like poetic metaphors – eg let’s explore reincarnation, but in the future instead of the past? I’ll also add that it took me YEARS to work out what I was trying to say with that book.
    I also use working titles, which again give me permission to be rough and experimental. My current WIP is called The Mountains Novel. It does have a real title, but I’m not going to allow myself to use it until all the gaps are joined.
    All this is to say, uncertainty goes with the territory. Some of it becomes easier with experience, but the most important thing you gain for subsequent novels is the understanding of how your own creative machine works. I know I need to understand the fundamental idea down to atomic level. I know I need the whole book completely grasped in my mind before I ‘perform’ it on the page. You might need completely different things in order to write with confidence. Finding out what they are is part of the journey.

  5. ChristineArdigo says:

    I do the same thing as you do Catherine. I work on one chapter until it’s ‘perfect’ move on, and then the next time i sit down to write i re read that chapter and fix it and fix it until it’s better. Than i come back months later and re read it and change it all over again. It’s never perfect and each time i find something i dont like,

  6. Tim McGregor says:

    Is it possible you’re overthinking it? I find it works best when my gut is telling me where to go, often deviating from the outline or plan. But I don’t go back until I’m done. For me, that path is death and will kill the book right there. Banville’s process sounds absolutely insane to me. Who has time for that nonsense? Booker prize winners, I guess.

    Hugh Howey posted some sound advice recently, suggesting to forget the language and focus on the plot. Get the story down first, you can always rewrite afterwards. I found it works for me, just plowing blindly ahead until I cross the finish line.

    You know, the more I think about it, the more I hate Banville and his ‘process’. What a precious twerp.

    • David Michael Williams says:

      I’m with you on this one, Tim. I’ve seen so many stillborn manuscripts because the writer insists on getting chapter 1 (or even page 1) perfect before moving on. Unsurprisingly, they don’t get very far.

      As a recovering perfectionist, I allow myself to go back and proof a chapter (fixing awkward syntax, removing typos, massaging punctuation) before reading it to my writers group ( And after I receive my critique, I resist the urge to dive back in until the entire manuscript is done.

      For me, true editing can’t take place until I have a full draft.

    • Dave Lacey says:


      I have to agree with Tim here, I set out a target of 750 to 1,000 words per day, and mark them off in a spreadsheet as i do them. It might sound a bit angular, but it’s the only way for me not to get overwhelmed by how much there is to do.

      I have no idea who this Banville person is, but it does sound very precious. It’s really about whatever fits for you. This is the path that works for me. I think my cousin told me years ago, ‘just keep writing’. Don’t look back until you have finished. Then leave it alone for a bit, and come back to it fresh.

      I write my 1,000 words in around 45 mins, it gushes out once I’m past about 250 words.


  7. Abby Geiger (@AbbyGeiger) says:

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experience, Catherine. I always figured I was just too new at this, too undisciplined, and definitely way too busy to finish my novel in less than what is beginning to seem like a ridiculous amount of time, but between you and julitownsend, I see that I am happily not alone. Unless I have hours of time to think, immerse myself in, and play with my work, the best I can do is scribble out a couple paragraphs of a scene that may not even belong in the part of the novel I’m currently banging away at. Oh sure, sometimes I’m particularly inspired and in tune with my characters, and the words flow like magic. But not usually, and certainly not lately.

    Perhaps some people can write an entire chapter in 30 minutes, while others really need 30 hours. As long as the dilly-dalliers aren’t working on a deadline, what difference does it make? The end will be reached, it will just be a longer journey for some!

  8. Tim McGregor says:

    Ahh, right. Second draft. I prefer to openly despair over the steaming pile of sh*t I’ve written and regret the day I ever started. But I don’t recommend that process. Will more coffee help?

  9. Georgina Troy says:

    Firstly, I’m drooling over the picture of where you’ll be going to write! I know what you mean about needing a day to write a sentence… I’ve been visiting various social networking sites for a couple of hours and was determined to spend the entire day working on my current wip. I’m going to go and write right now!

  10. evamsz says:

    Well said. Once I sit, I can normally get out a few pages in an hour. The hard part is getting myself to sit still long enough to get anything done. I’m still discovering which time of day is best for me to write.

  11. lblivingbetter says:

    For me I needed a publicly stated deadline which I am now in fear of not meeting…gets my but in a chair! I circle around all of my chapters and have rewritten the intro (3-4) times. This book is non-fiction and ironically it is about organization! Enjoy France!

  12. annajroberts says:

    I’ve managed to write four novels this year already, after spending eighteen months and about three years of research on the last one. I totally get how it feels – sometimes you think you will never be done.

    What happened to me was that I was dividing my time between two projects – one rather dark and moody historical novel, Paris Green, and a silly, frothy parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. Paris Green, although a shortish 60k novel, made me suffer. I ground it out in daily wordcounts and every other day I wanted to set light to my hair rather than face the laptop. Then after the 50k word mark, I realised my heroine had been wandering around for the last 20k words like she’d had some kind of head transplant. The whole second half of the book had to be rewritten, and that feels bad. That’s the Sisyphean feeling right there. Up the hill, and back rolls the damn boulder.

    Meanwhile, my Fifty Shades of Grey parody was falling out of my head without a second thought. What the hell was going on?

    Quite simply, I knew what I was writing. I was spoofing the book pretty much scene by scene. It wasn’t until I read Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k that it all fell into place. She made the same points I’d been encountering – always sit down knowing what it is you’re going to write that day.

    Previously I’d been a serious seat-of-the-pants writer, but I’ve been much more productive since I started outlining more carefully. Obviously your outlines are going to be subject to change and should never be written in blood, but I definitely find I work quicker if I have a simple five act structure and some idea of where I’m going.

    We all have our weird little ways, but it’s just a question of working out what works for you. Would definitely recommend the Rachel Aaron book, though. Cheap and useful. Good luck!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I love from 2k to 10k! I always think about the bit where she says that sometimes she gets to a point where she’s going so fast and it’s going so well that it stops being writing and becomes like reading. If only! 🙂

  13. quietwisdomnoisyfool says:

    My first two books (neither published) I just wrote from beginning to end. The second ( first way too big needs massive edit) just needed polishing and has been sent off. My third is in pieces and I set aside while days and get nothing accomplished. It’s painful. Not even sure an apartment in France could help this one.

  14. caoimhemccabe says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter. (I have Self Printed 2.0 and I love it BTW!)

    I’m a classic procrastinator. To write one small scene requires three hours of research! It comes from my work, which is technical in nature and so needs to have every statement backed up with data. Slow going I’m afraid! Hope you have a productive time in France.

  15. marilynslagel says:

    Finally, someone I can relate to. Catherine, I can’t just sit down and write a book. I write in spurts – when it is “there” I’ll pound the keyboard for hours. When it isn’t, I can sit and look at a blank screen all day. Why waste my time on the latter? Like you, I have all the required thoughts, words, etc. in my head and a few things outlined, but the actual writing of my second book will come later. Maybe when I can rent an apartment in the South of France….

  16. Linda Ulleseit says:

    I love that photograph. How beautiful! I’m a master proscrastinator too. Since June I’ve had fourteen hours every Saturday to myself. Peace and quiet. No distractions. I managed to finish a novella (11 chapters) and polish a novel. That’s really disgusting. I’m glad I got that done, but the evil social media monster just sucks up my time. 🙂

  17. joyce nance says:

    Oh dude, I so write like you do. It’s not really like going nowhere fast, it’s more like going somewhere, very, very, very, very, very slowly. But on the bright side, when you get there (finally), you have a better chance of people applauding. (no guarantees) I like the France part though.

  18. thewordsmithsreview says:

    I write the same way you do…needing a day to write an hour’s worth of work. I understand. If you ever figure out a way to fix this, please let me know. I’m working on my first novel and can’t seem to find TIME to actually get stuff done. I haven’t even finished my first draft…though I do have a nice outline written up so I don’t forget.

  19. Jennifer Ellis says:

    What a perfect post as I sit down for the third morning in a row with really only half an hour of committed writing time (as I have young children and there is no school on the weekends) and wonder why I am not even opening my WIP. While I don’t need a whole day to write for an hour, I need at least four hours to write for an hour. And if I have those four hours, I often end up writing for three. But an hour or, in my case today, half an hour is just not enough time.

    There is start up time associated with writing and it takes me at least fifteen to twenty minutes to get warmed up and get something useful flowing. There is also the pain of being cut off too early. After a four hour stint, I can feel satisfied most of the time that I accomplished something and resume my normal life without too much fuss. After a half an hour of writing, the pain of reentry into normal life is too significant.

    As for Banville’s method – Maybe if I had no children, no job and no other responsibilities. It is clear that his approach does yield lovely sentences. Sentences that I would love to write. But it is simply not realistic.

    That is a wonderful looking writing apartment by the way!

  20. drcarolcooper says:

    Catherine, you’ve made me laugh out loud yet again. I so identify with needing a whole day (and never getting it) but now I write with pencil on paper till I get a coherent thread (then I go into Word). The only sad thing in your post is the bit about Banville. The past beats like a second heart? I would never have managed to come up with that superb line no matter how many desks I had. Pathetic, especially since I worked in the heart surgery unit at Harefield and should have dreamed it up myself!
    Hope you’ll still be blogging from France as well.

  21. elizabethraine says:

    I can write 750 crappy words in 15 minutes. If I really work at it and put that speed into things for an hour or more a day I think I can get a novel done this way in a month or so. I haven’t gotten that far though- when I’m on, i’m really on, and when I’m not, I forget about writing entirely. But I find the attitude that your first draft will always suck is helpful- I worry less as I write. I also found this article really helpful, even though I’m still on step 5:

  22. Elle Knowles says:

    Ditto for me! The whole sequel to ‘Crossing The Line’ is in my head from beginning to end. I just can’t seem to get but about two thirds of it on paper….I often wonder where I misplaced that USB cord that attaches to my brain!

  23. Tammy J Rizzo says:

    Catherine, thank you for a very thought-provoking post.

    I, too, need ‘a day to write for an hour’. I have learned that, unless I do my writing the very first thing after I get up in the morning, other things impinge upon my consciousness that need dealing with right away, and the writing gets pushed aside, and pushed aside, and the next thing I know, it’s bedtime and I haven’t done any writing and my brain is mush so there will be no writing now, either. However, on the days when I get up and set myself down right away to write for an hour, I can almost always top 1200 words in that hour, even when my muse is not talking to me. They may be crap words, but at least I know more of the shape of my story after them than I did before, and I can always rewrite later to clean up the language so long as the story works.

  24. Shea Ford says:

    I used to write like you, but I’m getting faster. I kind of have to since I have small boys. I’ve learned to take advantage of any quiet moment that I can. But I’m setting myself up for a great challenge in November. It’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’ll be trying (note the word choice here) to write the entire first draft of my next novel in just those 30 days.

  25. gracielynne6 says:

    Oh, my goodness, I loved this post! At least you have completed a book. I am so jealous. I am reworking a manuscript that I started 13 years ago. I, too, edit each and every page till it is so wrung out it smells like a dirty dish rag. I have got to STOP doing that! I recently have stepped away from my novel and have found great comfort in a lover, which is my blog. I feel as if I am betraying my novel because I am having the time of my life in the arms of my blog. I do not find blogging to be a difficult occupation, writing my novel is gut wrenching work. I do not edit the blog a thousand and one times. I usually write a post the night before, edit it the morning of and then publish it. Oh, but there is a method to my madness. I am using the blog to promote my writing and develop a fan base. I am also looking to cash in on advertising. So it really is all about the novel, or at least it will be when I finish it. I digress though. You posted a question to which you deserve an answer. A blog post takes under an hour to write while a novel takes a lifetime. At your convenience I would like to invite you to view my blog at Please finish your novel first and then let me know the title of it . I would be delighted to purchase it and would welcome any feedback you have to offer on my blog.

    Thanks again for a hearty dose of laughter! Now to run back to the arms of my lover, Jeanine Gray

  26. Rhoda Baxter says:

    I could NOT write using the Banville method. I’d die of boredom by sentence #3. I write for half an hour or so at lunchtimes and about an hour at bedtime most nights of the week. I think about the writing whenever I can (driving, walking, eating), so I guess I need the best part of day to write an hour too. i can manage about 800 words in a sitting. The most I’ve written in a day is 4000 words.
    It’s quite possible to manage a novel a year that way.

  27. Nicole Jarrell says:

    I write in a bit of a “circular” pattern as well. I’ll write a page then I need to stop, reread the chapter, edit over and over, then write a bit more, then I reread – sometimes from the beginning – more editing, more reading. It takes forever for me to make a lot of progress! But I enjoy the process. My schedule for writing isn’t as structured as I’d like, but I’m really not the “wake up at 4am” type of author either. Thanks so much for your post!

  28. timamarialacoba says:

    If I get through a thousand words a day, I’m thrilled! Sometimes more, sometimes less, but I have had days spent going over ONE paragraph.

  29. Angela Watson says:

    Yes, yes, a million times YES to the whole “need a day to write for an hour” thing. It’s so gratifying to read all these comments and know I’m not alone.

    Here’s an idea for a future blog post for you: I’d love to hear your thoughts (and those of commenters) on whether writing is actually enjoyable. Reading through these comments, it sounds like an excruciating process. And often, it is. I don’t actually like writing; I like *having written*…you know, that feeling afterward. Writing itself is painful and frustrating and tedious.

    Except, of course, when it’s the most satisfying thing on earth and the words just flow out perfectly in a stroke of divine inspiration.

    I don’t feel like I have a choice to write. I have to do it. When the words are there, I have to write them down, even if it’s the middle of the night, even if I’m driving 70 mph on the highway. It’s more like a compulsion than a choice, which is why it’s so awful to have to sit down and write when I’m not feeling inspired. I am on my fourth book, and I know I never would have finished the last three if I waited until I felt inspired to keep writing.

    I am making a living doing what I love, and yet it’s such a grueling process that I have to force myself to do it. What’s that all about?

    I’d love for someone to tell me I’m not crazy and help me make sense of this.

  30. writerlyderv says:

    We all get hung up on feeling that we need the magical time and place to write. But I’m a firm believer in snatching those moments where we can, in making the most of those pockets of time that become available throughout the day. So I write while waiting for appointments, waiting for the bus and waiting for other people to finish faffing and get going to wherever we’re going to!

  31. Kate Frost says:

    I don’t have an ‘average’ amount of words that I try and write in a day – quite simply some days are more, some days are less but I get there in the end. I like to write in cafes as despite the buzz of people chatting I find I can concentrate there a lot better than giving in to all the distractions at home.

    Your time in that apartment in the south of France sound blissful and will hopefully prove to be very productive!

  32. markcarew says:

    I can sympathize – it’s like you need a day in order to clear the decks and write for an hour. It might be a fault of the story – some stories were born to be written, maybe this one isn’t? Been there! Why not post a synopsis and see what people think?

  33. memoirsofahusk says:

    I, like almost everyone else, relate to the – ‘I need a day to write a sentence’ sentiment. I started blogging last year, because I felt I had to (and after many trawls through your earlier blogs had helped me publish my first book). In February I went to Ghana for a week and left laptop/mobile at home. I sat listening to the sea and relaxing. I wrote a few blogs using a pen and notebook. Then I typed them up in the internet cafe of the place I was staying. I barely changed a word. Yet when I write straight onto my own PC I make many, many changes before I publish. I wonder if a variation of the John Banville method (one desk, write several sentences at once, for example!) might in the end be more productive than using word processors? Perhaps the act of writing is less demanding of our brains than using a technological interface, leaving our brains more room to hone our words as we write, resulting in a better end result more rapidly achieved? And then of course, paper and pen can’t lead you to Twitter and the like… So am I writing the next book with pen and paper? Um…

  34. Deborah Anderson says:

    Oh wow. How ironic. I realize this is a day later, but just last night I was thinking about this very topic, my writing process, so your candid (and helpful!) article was so timely! I’m one of those that spends hours, days, weeks, saying, “I need to write” to a point that the word “write” becomes a lock-up. Then, I sit down and it all comes out in one sitting and I wonder why I worried about it, and certainly, why I actually wasted hours worrying when I could have been writing! But, here is the glitch that hangs me up… I am such a perfectionist that though it may be finished, I can’t go back and edit. It is like I am 97% done with the novel and can’t get that last 3%. I am determined that I need to find a writing partner who suffers from the same and offer to help them over that 3% hump (i.e. reading, offering edit suggestions) and request the same in return.

    But, then, that perfectionism seems to do that 97% thing on many of my quality projects… We all have our humps, eh? Thanks again, Catherine, for sharing, and I wish you all success!

  35. AshleeW says:

    Oh, I swim, too. I’ve been swimming all of this afternoon, actually. I can’t write and write and not look back – I’ve never been able to do that. I correct and polish as I go along – sometimes by the paragraph, sometimes by the chapter, but never much beyond those short sections of the book. I have an outline, always, but (like you) although I know what will happen in each upcoming chapter, I don’t know how I will tell it, and I tend to mess with it when I’m in the thick of it. Ugh. It’s exhausting just talking about it. All the same … I love it 🙂 Thanks so much for the very-human post! I enjoyed it.

  36. Underwood Billing says:

    You’ve reminded me of something I read from Stephen King about word count. I think it must have been in his On Writing book:

    “A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

    James, what’s wrong?’ the friend asked. ‘Is it the work?’

    Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

    How many words did you get today?’ the friend pursued.

    Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): ‘Seven.’

    Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.’

    Yes,’ Joyce said, finally looking up. ‘I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”

  37. Lene says:

    I need mental space, time to think, walk around and metaphorically kick the baseboards, let things percolate in the back of my brain. This can happen over several days (who am I kidding — sometimes weeks). Usually, though, once I start writing, it moves. Especially if I’ve had that time to write and organize in my head. If I haven’t had that, it can be like pulling teeth.

  38. risingwoman says:

    ‘I’m constantly coming back to the start of the chapter to start again, afresh, until I’m somewhat satisfied with it. Only then do I move on. As I said above, I swim around in my chapters rather than write them from start to finish.’

    This is EXACTLY what I do! Really. It is time-consuming, I know, but it works for me. It takes longer, but I like the results so much that I just accept that.

    Much love, from a Fellow Swimmer.

  39. Pat Chiles says:

    “the past beats inside me like a second heart”
    Lines like that make me want to give up and chuck it all. Or try harder. Depends on what kind of day I’m having…

    Anyone else notice the second novel is actually harder than the first?

  40. wyndes says:

    Loved your description! And yes, I’m a fellow swimmer, too. Two books written that way and a third that I’ve been swimming around in for what feels like an appalling fourteen months (first draft not yet finished). I do have an outline, I do know what’s going to happen in my scenes, but when I start to write them, it’s still endless fiddling, moving one line above another and then below, questioning the emotional arc and whether I’m reusing the same verbs too often, etc. I can easily spend a day finishing 1000 words, because it takes me at least 3000 to get that 1000 into working shape.

  41. Laurie says:

    I’m sooo like that. I need several hours to write for an hour. I’ll admit some of it is procrastinating. But some is planning/ thinking. I’m *trying* to be a plotter. I’m more of a pantser. I don’t know how people can write books so quickly. I know I’m overthinking it…

  42. Alexis Roberts @alexiswrote says:

    I find that when I sit down to write, I just write. Often the first sentence is a little difficult, but once I push myself over that bump in the road, it’s all downhill from there. That said, I won’t start writing unless I have a good 45 minutes to an hour to kill at least, because as Jennifer Ellis said, once you’re in, ‘the pain of re-entry into normal life is just too significant’.
    I write more like the friend that you mentioned, and I think that we may be the minority, which might be a comfort to you. I have quite a few friends who also write, and their technique sounds very similar to yours. But I honestly can’t imagine writing like that. Granted, you probably come up with a far better, much more polished book than I do, but I rely heavily on the natural flow of my story. My process starts with the grand plan, which is essentially the skeletal system of the story. Then, starting at the beginning, the feet – to continue the metaphor – I work out a denser plan with a more solid direction, the layer of muscle and tendons, we’ll say. And then I sit down and I flesh it out. I write until I come to the end of my plan, and then I pause, plan a little bit further, and then I write that. Once I write a paragraph it is there to stay. I don’t go back and endlessly fiddle with phrases here and there. I don’t write and rewrite chapters. I once tried to write a collaboration with a friend who wrote like you, and our styles were so vastly and horribly different that we barely got past a hundred pages(Hand written, too, not typed). She changed the name of her main character three times. I couldn’t imagine doing that. Once I have my character, they are essentially set in stone; with a little leeway for development, of course.
    All this isn’t to say I don’t edit. Of course I do. But I let it sit there for a bit before I go back and touch it again. If I go back too soon, I’m less likely to find my mistakes and I tend to get bored, it’s all too familiar in my head still. I do, however, have a writing friend who writes the same way as I do, and we often exchange chapters as we go and we’ll edit those for each other, just to iron out the main kinks like typos and those sentences that seem to just go on and on without you even noticing that they’re getting away from you. Much like that last one there.
    I used to be jealous of the people who wrote like you, and the people who write like Roz Morris, to have everything so intricately planned, to be so controlled as to know exactly where you headed pages before you get there, but I’ve come to realise now that it’s simply not my style. I guess it must be working for me, seeing as I have completed six novels, with the seventh well on its way.
    And I think the way Banville writes, though obviously extremely effective for him, would be utterly maddening and completely infuriating. How would he ever finish a book writing like that?!

  43. David Michael Williams says:

    I have three writing “sessions” scheduled every week: 1-1.5 hours before work on Wednesdays and Thursdays and an evening session that sometimes, frankly, doesn’t happen because I’m too exhausted to put one thought in front of the other, let alone actual words.

    I use that time for blog posts, planning, writing, and editing (jumping among several projects). When I’m writing fiction, I tend to jump all over the page, inserting a paragraph here, cutting and sentence and pasting it far down page so that I don’t lose track of it in case I can work it in later.

    Individual components might jump about, but I almost always write a scene/chapter/novel from beginning to end. If I need to come back and clean something up later, so be it. However, I find if I break the MS down into bite-sized pieces, it’s not so overwhelming. Without forward momentum, I’d likely just spin my wheels trying to make sure everything looks good simultaneously.

    By getting consecutive scenes to a “good enough” state, eventually, I have a chapter, then a novel. Then I go back to see if “good enough” actually is “good enough.” I might have to do another round of editing, but with each pass, the MS gets stronger until maybe only a scene (or part of scene) needs more TLC. Eventually, the entire thing is ready to leave the nest.

  44. Nancy Beck says:

    Wow, the south of France, sounds wonderful. Of course, I probably wouldn’t get any writing done because I’d be too busy looking around and enjoying the views. 🙂

    As for the writer who can just put word after word, sentence after sentence, and has hardly any editing to do…obviously a mutant. Or maybe an alien from another solar system who crash landed on Earth. Or something. 😉

    Since I have a pretty lengthy commute to the day job, I can’t do any writing in the car. But then I try to put in a 5-10 minutes at a clip during the day, because this job can get intense to the point where my brain is about to explode.

    When I get home at night and the weekends are probably my most productive times, because I have full, uninterrupted hours to write (well, except for the times when my cat decides he has to tear up some plastic thingie or something).

    And sometimes I have an idea up to a certain point of how I’m going to write something. Then everything drags along. But I don’t do any kind of editing until I type “The End” at the end of the book. If I kept going back to make changes (YMMV), I’d never get anything done.

    But that’s just me. 🙂

    Thanks for a great post.

  45. home, garden, life says:

    I have had a cookbook draft for two years. Sent off to a few publishers, with only a nice personal note back from Julia Child’s former editor at Knopf, Judith Jones. Since then I blog whenever the mood strikes. P Allen Smith invited me down to his farm in May for a few days to meet with 19 other garden bloggers. THAT was reward in itself. Yet the yearning to get published the old fashioned way persists. I must settle into that chore when the garden sleeps from November to March. Wish I could use writing as an excuse to travel to the south of France! Kudos.

    I also invite you to check out my posts on home, garden, life.

    • Maggie says:

      When you make a quilt, you don’t cobble all the pieces together and then go back and fix them. You sew two bits together, lining them up carefully and making sure the seam is straight and exactly one quarter inch from the edge. Then you press it. Once it looks perfect, you attach the next piece, going through the same routine, over and over until all the bits are stitched together.

      This how I write. And it works, for me.

  46. hillfamily1 says:

    Hello Catherine, Great line about needing the whole day to write an hour! I can usually spill out 2,500 words (on a really good day) in about four hours time then the next day I rearrange/take out/rethink the whole direction of those words. This process, at least for me, is mentally exhausting! I usually need a nap by 1pm- no joke. You know, they never show the author’s nap couch in interviews 🙂

  47. iamspacegiraffe says:

    Today, I spent an entire day writing what turned out to be a very short few paragraphs making up a review of a very nice gentleman’s new album of electronic music.

    First I wrote it LONG. Hundreds and hundreds of words spilling from my brain, down my arms, into my hands, along my fingers and finally making that magical jump onto the keyboard and into the slightly-too-bright screen in front of me. Hours of work.
    Then I deleted the lot.
    It wasn’t right.
    I can’t even remember why.

    I played with the cover art of his album for a bit. Settled on a size that I liked, I added it to the now empty page and looked at it for a little while.

    Next, I wrote the first short paragraph and hated it.
    Then I wrote another and liked that one slightly better so I deleted the first one.

    A few times I stood up and wandered about, made myself tea and listened to the album again.

    Hours passed…

    Tinker, tinker, tinker. Adjussssssssssst. Tinker.



    I enjoy writing. Some days I can be (almost) like your writer friend with her slightly terrifying robotic efficiency – or at least I like to PRETEND I can be like that – but let’s face it here:

    Isn’t our way a lot sexier?

    The “swimming” as you put it seems so much more romantic and gives writing the kind of suave mystery that makes it so much fun to talk and write about. Almost as much fun as the actual craft itself.

    Anyway. Thanks for your post, it cheered me right up this evening!

  48. annierue says:

    I am a new writer, and my process isn’t solidified yet, but I can tell you this. No matter how I start, the only way I get anything done is by setting my intention at the beginning of the day to ‘make words’! I do prefer to write longhand in a journal at a coffee shop, but regardless, the true work isn’t glamorous, and it isn’t leisurly, but it’s filled with fire and frustration and glorious fulfillment!

  49. Kerri Wood Thomson says:

    That apartment is so lovely! I’d like to think I’d get a lot of writing done there. Although, eating, napping, and reading seem to always win out over actual writing. Good luck, I hope you finish the novel.

  50. rjrugroden says:

    4 hours. Once a week.
    That’s the time I know I will get for writing. Anything in addition to that is gravy.
    It started with my husband being busy with his hobby on Wednesday nights, so I would go find a cafe to write in until he was done. He has since quite that hobby, but I have jealously hung onto those Wednesday nights. (Consequently, Thursdays are my most productive work days. The writing angst is fulfilled.)

    But is that enough?
    I often squeeze other writing times in during the week, but not always. It doesn’t really matter if 4 hours is enough, I suppose, because sometimes that’s all the time I have. I HAVE to make it work. Which makes me more productive and determined to focus during that time.

  51. novembersguest says:

    I don’t know how normal it is, but I find that I tend to get caught up in circular writing as well. I can spend an hour on one paragraph re-working it until my brain is numb. Also, I find that if I don’t have a large space of time to write, I find it difficult to relax (mentally) enough to settle into it.

    I’m relatively new to the writing scene (I never had enough confidence in my abilities to give it serious dedication) and because of that, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and reading articles on writing advice. The main thing I’ve learned, everyone has an opinion and a process. What I’ve come to believe is that there is no single, normal way of writing, there’s just the matter of doing it and finding out what works best for you. Having said that, it still gives me a lot of pleasure to read your article and know that I’m not the only one who can get so caught up in reworking a story paragraph by paragraph.

  52. T E Shepherd says:

    In an ideal situation I would have a whole evening or large parts of the weekend, but in practice I write in any snatches of time I can find when inspiration hits. But my first draft tends to by white close to the final one…

  53. Dianne says:

    Reblogged this on Dianne E.C.E. and commented:
    This reminds me of the Nanowrimo project every November. Unfortunately, I never finished the novel for last year’s competition and I’m still currently working on that novel. This year, however, I’m determined to make an honest effort to finish the 50,000 word count during that month.

  54. sstamm625 says:

    Thanks for this. I too feel like I need a lot of time in which to write–even though I may actually write only during a small part of that time. And I sometimes feel like my process is much too slow. But I guess we each have our own process and our pace. It helps to know there are others with similar ones though. 🙂

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