In 2009, I wrote a blog post in which I said that writers should ignore anyone who told them that they had to always be writing if they wanted to legitimately be a writer. Some people agreed, some people didn't. That's fine. In this post I want to talk about writing patterns. Because while I don't believe that you have to write every minute of every day, you do have to write. And writing is often about finding a rhythm. We find routines that suit the way we think and work.
Flights of fancy
The truth is, dear reader, I'm a complete daydreamer. I think many writers are.
I find it very diffult to focus on one thing for a lengthy period of time. I either get distracted or find myself thinking about something else that's totally awesome and that I absolutely have to give my full attention instead.
It's quite tiring actually, although I'm not sure I'd have it any other way. I like being flighty. I enjoy those moments where I drift away on the breeze of another idea. It's good that I'm always thinking and wanting to create. I'm perfectly happy this way.
However, to be honest, it's a pain for productivity. Over the years, I've created - mentally, at least - a way of dealing with that flightniess which allows me to, you know, actually get things done.
The risk of being a daydreamer is that all you ever do is dream, and I've never been up for that conclusion. What's the point in dreaming if you don't try and make those dreams a reality?
If you have an idea - if you want to write successfully - you need to focus. And you need to act.
Give yourself breaks
This has been one long build up to me telling you that, essentially, I write in short, concentrated bursts. I don't have the attention span to put myself in front of a computer and write solidly for several hours. So I don't even try.
Instead, if I have a good chunk of time available to write, I break it into smaller chunks. If I have two hours spare, I'll spend 20 minutes writing, then 10 minutes doing something else. I'll then spend another 20 minutes writing and again, take a 10-minute break.
None of which is in any way unusual or controversial. I'm sure plenty of you write in the same way. But it's important to be aware of what you're doing, because finding a pattern that works is not easy. It's part of learning your craft.
How I write now is not how I used to write. Of couse, I've gained experience and improved technically, but I've also come to understand my own quirks and foibles. I've accepted the daydreaming and found a way to manage it.
Embracing the gaps
To refer again to last year's post, my criticism was of the notion that a writer needs to spend all their time writing.
As I've just described, for me, the gaps between the writing are just as important. They free me up and help me prepare.
When the going gets tough, rather than waste time staring at an empty screen, I'll use the time to proofread what I've already done. It takes my attention away from what I'm doing (struggling to write) and gets my brain ticking over again. Sometimes I walk away ffrom the desk and do something entirely different. Whatever it takes to help me recharge.
Because that shift is so important, I think. Incessant writing is all good and well, but most people just aren't built to work like that. I can produce my best work multiple times a day, but I don't think I ever produce it consistently throughout.
We are writers. We are not robots.
Observe and deploy
I guess the point of this article is to enourage you to think about your own writing patterns. If you find it difficult to write for a sustained period of time, don't beat yourself up about it, try something different. Likewise, if you're a daydreamer who never seems to get anything meaningful done, try something different.
The key to this is observation. Don't sit down to write without being conscious of when you're doing it and what state of mind you're in. These things will have an impact on the work you produce. Instead, be aware. Look out for patterms. Make appropriate adjustments.