Accept your foibles and observe your writing patterns

Writing is about rhythm and patterns, but understanding these things can be pretty tricky when it comes to your own work. First things first though, accept and manage your quirks and foibles.

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.

12 Comments 12 April 2011 Reply

Gaps in writing also help me revise and plan. I write. Then I let that chapter or article or post simmer for a while. I find myself thinking about it while driving, getting another idea from something I hear on the radio or read somewhere, and “noticing” in my mind where I can tighten and/or strengthen the piece. 12 April 2011 Reply

Sounds pretty similar to the way I work too. I think it’s important to remember that thinking is writing too, as my internet pal, Randy Murray always says. It’s in those gaps that we allow our ideas to gain traction, form properly. Thanks for the comment! 12 April 2011 Reply

Thanks – much needed words of absolution. Glad I’m not the only “flighty” writer out there! 😉 12 April 2011 Reply

Absolutely not! I think it comes with the job description.

Anonymous 13 April 2011 Reply

[…] the article I posted earlier this week on writing patterns and rhythm applies very much to writer’s block too. It’s about taking the time to look at how you […] 13 April 2011 Reply

I’ve found that if I create a deadline for myself then I can not write properly. Maybe it’s anxiety or the fact that I suffer from perfectionism just like any other writer. But I’ve come a long way. I used to rewrite every single chapter. Now I don’t, at least not necessarily, or so many times as I used to. I guess I can say I’m at peace with myself and my writing at a deeper level, which makes me kind of proud of myself.
I’ve been surfing through this website for a while now, but I think I haven’t found articles about rewriting until one dies – which I totally don’t recommend. I would love to see that here at

Anonymous 20 April 2011 Reply

[…] Simonds Fitch has written a great response to my post last week on observing your writing rhythm and patterns. It’s all good and I recommend you read the whole thing, but this sentence in particular […]

Anonymous 20 April 2011 Reply

[…] two weeks ago as part of the 250 words a day challenge and then, on April 12, Iain Broome put up this blog post on Write For Your Life. In it he encourages writers to look at their writing patterns. Do they […]

Anonymous 20 April 2011 Reply

[…] two weeks ago as part of the 250 words a day challenge and then, on April 12, Iain Broome put up this blog post on Write For Your Life. In it he encourages writers to look at their writing patterns. Do they […] 22 June 2011 Reply

I am so glad I am not the only writer like this. I thought there was something wrong with my writing routines. I am such a dreamer! But like you said, us dreamers have to be able to put it down and make it real. Thanks Ian. 23 June 2011 Reply

No worries – dream on! 23 June 2011 Reply

Hi Daiana, I seem to have missed your comment! It sounds like you’re getting there with your work. And that’s a good idea for a post actually. I tend to get hung up on the editing and rewriting rather a lot myself.

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