Habit Forming

- by Laura Resnick

Adapted from
Rejection, Romance, and Royalties: RRR
The Wacky World of a Working Writer

I’m not a creature of habit. Mostly because I’m not organized and disciplined enough to maintain habits. So I hate the inevitable questions about my “habits” as a writer.

You know the questions I mean: How many hours per day do you write? How many pages per day do you write? How long does it take you to write a book? How long is a chapter? Do you see the characters or the plot first? What time of day do you write? Do you face East or West when writing?

Good grief, I don’t know.

And I’m often flabbergasted when I hear about how someone else writes a book. Multiple drafts? (I’d quit in exhausted despair.) Graphs and charts and right-angle juxtaposition? (I was always bad at geometry.) Everything planned in advance, all factors known and accounted for before composing the prose. (I’d never feel compelled to write if I already knew everything that would happen.) Scenes written at random, then later put in order and quilted together. (How does one even do that?)

I’m also regularly bowled over by the work habits that other writers reveal: Writing from 4:00 AM to 7:00 AM. (Sorry, I’m busy REMing at that time.) Writing ten pages a day everyday no matter what. (The number of friends whom I’ve had to coax out of the “I’m so inadequate, I’m such a fraud!” doldrums after hearing that one…) Writing on separate projects in the morning and the afternoon. Writing without leaving a room for weeks. Writing in public, in private, by hand, with voice-operated software, without music, with one specific piece of music playing non-stop, with the TV on, with the blinds drawn, with candles burning, with cookies at hand, outside, inside, at the beach, on a laptop, in a laundry room…

Meanwhile, if you’re someone who can’t ever get into the habit of forming habits, like me, then your writing process is always changing. Which is why I can never answer those questions about how I write. I don’t really know how many pages a day I write, or how many hours a day I sit here, or what daily goals I set, or what I know (or don’t know) at the start of a project or a scene, or how much research I do! I don’t really know because every book is different, and because I’m different for every book. Moreover, my process for a 250,000-word epic fantasy is different than it is for non-fiction, or for a 100,000-word contemporary novel, or for a 3,000-word short story.

So when people ask me all that stuff about how I write…not only can I not fathom why anyone would want to know this, since there is no right answer, no universal formula, no secret handshake, and it’s a pretty darn dull subject, anyhow…but I also really don’t have an answer. One way or another, the books and the stories and the articles get done year after year, and that’s all that really matters.

3 comments

  1. Wow. I’m about the exact opposite, and I can’t even fathom trying to write like that. I have no discipline in any other part of my life–if I did, I’d be 50 pounds lighter–but I *need* rigid guidelines for writing.

    I don’t have a fixed time for writing, but I do have a set minimum daily word count (2K, for the record) which, if I haven’t met, I *cannot* call the day done with. And I absolutely *must* have an outline. It’s not all that detailed–I tend to make up the specifics as I go–and I’m willing to deviate from it if the story changes. But I have to have the general roadmap of major chapters and events to work from. Heck, I’ve been known, on occasion, to outline individual chapters, if they’re proving troublesome enough.

    That said, I certainly agree with you that some other techniques seem–to me–to be the products of a sadistic mind. The notion of writing scenes out of order and then trying to shuffle them into a comprehensive novel fills me with the sort of mortal dread one would otherwise only experience facing an attacking army of roaches, mounted on wasps, hurling spiders at you.

  2. I loved the blog, I don’t outline, but have a general idea in my head where I want to go, and I always have to write even alittle bit every day, otherwise I become guilt ridden. And let’s not forget about the daily marketing…

  3. The fact is that the process of writing, like many other disciplines, e.g. cooking, garden designing, house building, and anything else you care to mention, will find as many differences in the detailed execution as there are practitioners.

    There are basic rules that will always apply to any activity if the end result is to be positive, but the process of getting there is unique for each person.

    No amount of analysis or argument will ever find one right way of writing to suit all people. My advice is, having established the basic principles, then do it your way. As Laura says a successful end result is what matters.

    Chris Warren
    Author and Freelance Writer
    Randolph’s Challenge Book One – The Pendulum Swings