July 24th, 2008

How long is enough?

February 1 was my last day at work. Since then, I have struggled to figure out how much writing I need to do every day. It’s kind of like when I got a two-book contract after having written my first book. How much did I need to write every day in order to have a finished book in 11 months? With my first book, I had been able to take as long as I wanted.

Now, I have two books coming out in 2009 (both written, one still to be edited). Two books coming out in 2010 (one written, but still to be edited, and one slowly coming together). And I find myself back trying to figure out how much I need to write each day in order to have two or three books done by the end of the year. [Full disclosure: I have to write a lot if I want to make up for my old salary and benefits, including a generous pension plan.]

In February, I wrote nearly five hours a day, every day. I’m talking turning my stopwatch off if I even checked email or went to the bathroom. It was pretty crazy and I wrote 40,000 words.

Now I’m aiming for three hours a day, plus some on weekends. Oddly enough, that is enough to fill up a whole day. I don’t goof off, watch TV, or nap. The house is cleaner, but the meals are not markedly better (which was a dream of mine). And I never worked this hard at my real job. At my job there were meetings (many, many meetings), chats with friends, a trip to get coffee, a peek at LiveJournal from time to time.

I was glad to read this post of Sarah Dessen’s. She’s a full time writer, and up until she had her baby, she was writing two hours a day, seven days a week. At least I beat that.

How much do you think is enough? I’m talking pure writing, not reading blogs or talking to your agent or anything. Just writing.

Poll #1228880 How much is enough?

How much daily writing is enough?

Less than 1 hour a day
1 hour
1.5 hours
2 hours
3 hours
4 hours
More than 4 hours a day

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Reading out of character

Sometimes I read books I can imagine myself writing. Other times the author's approach is so different than my own there would be no way I could write it. But I think it still helps me stretch.

One such book is Meg Wolitzer's
The Ten Year Nap.

It follows a cast of characters, some of whom appear only for two pages. In a way, this works - it's a book about women and work and parenthood and change, so by dipping into the head of Margaret Thatcher's imaginary assistant or George Magritte's wife and model as well as more modern women, she can create a mosaic of the dilemmas and challenges facing women.

In another way, it doesn't work, because it's hard to get traction with a single character or even a pair of characters. You think you understand what the book is about: Amy's and Jill's foundering friendship, or Amy trying to figure out her life, but then come a string of chapters from many other points of view.

Wolitzer is often dryly funny. "Nathaniel was older than anyone else Roberta [in her 20s] knew and possessed a slightly bitter manner that was appealing to her, because she did not yet know many older people and did not understand that this was a fairly common feature of them."

The POV is often third person plural: "In the night, just before husbands called out wives during sleep and children called out to mothers, the women were often already awake." I couldn't write that, and it doesn't even interest me that much, because it's about women, not a woman. Except that's the point Wolitzer is trying to make. Sometimes it's second person: "Suddenly you, who had once been youthful and golden and special, were now treated as just another customer waiting in line for something."

This book is stretching my writing muscles.

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Is this a good idea or not (would love to hear from librarians)

Okay, I'm going to be at the Oregon/Washington school librarians conference. I'll have a session librarians can come to. But I was thinking about how to get more visibility. With my first book, I attended mystery conferences and wore my book cover (shrunk down) as a kind of over-sized pin. (Once I got into the elevator at Bouchercon and the people were discussing my book! My book! I kept my hand over the book cover pin until I heard enough to know they liked it.)

Anyway, I was trying to think of how I could promote Torched, my next YA thriller. The book starts out with a bunch of environmental activists setting a Hummer dealership on fire. So I was thinking, maybe I could get some match books or match boxes with the cover on the front. Only to give out to adults, like the librarian conference. I would never want to encourage kids to smoke.

So would that be cool or weird or something in between. I've never been to a librarian conference.

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