The goal is to write good books, not rack up a certain number of hours behind the keyboard

half_cockEvery year, in December, I usually have a blog post where I share a number of my productivity stats for the year: hours spent writing; days where I wrote; number of words I wrote; etc etc. (Here’s an example, if you want one). Last year I did not do this, and I had a very good reason. It’s because last year I stopped keeping statistics.

Oh I recorded a few things, but only infrequently, when I was on a hot streak and trying to keep myself going. Before, I’d check my spreadsheet every single day, and every single day I’d fill out all the fields. Last year, I had three periods of weeks or months when I didn’t check the spreadsheet at all.

And yet last year I wrote and revised several stories, and I finished and submitted a novel I’m pretty happy with. The latter, the novel I’m happy with, is more than I’ve managed to do in several years. And I think if I was still a slave to having to write every day for x number of hours, I couldn’t have done it. In fact, during most of the time I was working on the novel, I had no set goals. I just woke up, turned off my internet and wrote. If I wasn’t feeling it, I stopped. If I was, I kept going. This is how I worked for at least nine months, off and on.

Now I’m coming off of another period of a week when I didn’t write so much as a word. I had a reason for it. I was at AWP. But in the past that wouldn’t have stopped me. After all, you can always find an hour or two to write if you really want to. But I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. Instead I did some thinking, and I realized some things about my work in progress (namely, that I needed to add another point of view).

If I’d spent this week writing, I might’ve still had that realization. Or maybe I wouldn’t have. But I don’t know if I would’ve had it any faster. Sometimes it’s precisely when you’re not working on something that you have the realization you need to have before you can start.

I don’t know. I’ve never been a writer who had the answers when it came to process or workflow. I’ve always been the writer who’s like, “Err, every book is different.”

But I do know one thing: I am tired of going off half-cocked and spending months working on ideas that are still deeply flawed on a conceptual level. I think there’s a time for working things out on the page, and there’s a time for working things out in your mind. Both are really important, and, to a certain extent, neither can replace the other. The problem is knowing when it’s time to transition from one phase to the other. I think there are some writers who spend too much time thinking and not enough time writing, and there are a (smaller) number of writers whose problem is the opposite. Maybe I’m one of the latter. I don’t know. As I said, I don’t have all the answers.

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