No Right Way to Write

“I took a class in memoir writing a few years ago and the professor told us that if we were going to be successful, we had to get up at five a.m. every morning and write for two hours. Every day. I knew I'd never do that, so I didn't even start. Is that something you advocate?”

Someone in the audience asked this question during a book talk I gave recently. I swear I felt hair rising above my collar as I listened. I think she knew my answer before she finished asking.

“What did he mean by successful?” I asked, thinking he may have been assuming everyone in his class aspired to publication and professional status. Not so. By success, the professor simply meant finishing what they started. By this time my clenched fists were waving away at shoulder level and my face was contorted in outrage.

NO WAY!” I shouted.
I absolutely do not advocate that! I don't say anyone has to do anything! Read my book, and you'll see that one of the first things I address is the importance of finding a writing schedule that works best for you.” That professor's advice may be relevant for professional writers who make a living by writing, but this woman was the perfect example of the result of issuing blanket directives to the world at large. It kept her words bottled tightly inside her heart.

Writing, especially writing lifestory or memoir, is one of the most personal things you'll ever do. You have to find an approach that works for you. If you have time and prefer to do a little bit every day, that's great. Write every day. Write for thirty minutes or three hours. That doesn't matter. What does matter is that you write, sometime, something. If life intervenes and you have to skip a day, or even a few weeks, don't beat yourself up. Just start again when you can.

The orderly routine approach works well for methodical people, and people with relatively short attention spans. The other extreme is binge writing. Some people may not write at all for days, or even months, then get an idea, sit down and write non-stop for hours. When I first began The Albuquerque Years, I spent every free moment at the computer for about three days until I felt finished with the project. Most people fall somewhere between these extremes.

Ask yourself questions like the following ones to determine your best approach for writing:
  • How do you prefer to approach other long-term projects? Would you rather chip away at them a little at a time, or dive in and do it?
  • What is your ongoing daily schedule like? Is it feasible to write for a set amount of time every day, or do you need to squeeze occasional writing sessions into an already hectic life?
  • What is your purpose for writing? If you plan to have a complete autobiography chronicalling your whole life, and plan to have it done within two years, you may plan a work schedule rather different from that of someone who is writing primarily for self-discovery.
If you do decide to write every day, experiment to find the optimum time. Some people do their most creative work first thing in the morning. Others work best in the evening, or as a break at some other point in the day. Experiment to discover your personal rhythms and use them to best advantage.

If you opt for the spontaneous inspiration mode, you'll probably find that inspiration comes more often with some form of deadline. Writing groups work especially well for this purpose, but short of that, friends or family members can be commissioned to prod you now and then.

Whatever you do, please, please, don't be detered by someone else's directives about how you should approach writing. The only right way to write is your way. Some people may offer helpful tips and suggestions that may be quite beneficial, but nobody, including Yours Truly, can tell you how you should go about getting your words on paper.

Write now: about your purpose for writing and your thoughts on the best way to manage your writing. Does a set time each day work best for you? Are you more inclined to write at the whim of your muse? Are you satisfied with your current approach? What changes would you like to make?

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


ybonesy said...

I WISH I were one of those people who could get up at 5a and write for an hour-and-a-half. For one thing, I love writing when the house is quiet and it's dark outside (and it's morning, not night). And for another, several of my writer friends who held day-time jobs yet managed to finish books did it that way.

Having said that, I agree with you 100%. No one schedule is THE right one. Your approach -- sitting in front of a computer for a bulk of time -- is similar to mine. I become obsessed and can't pull away.

TH Meeks said...

We just talked about the "shoulds" in life in my writing group today. Our conclusion was that when "should" pops up, it usually signals faulty logic!