Some famous writers cultivate an image of reckless disregard for their bodies. Some are just plain weird, maladjusted, or out of touch with life in the real world. And some, of course, are best described by all of the above.
I know a lot of writers, and I can attest to how basically normal most of us are. We have to be. We function in an environment that has myriad ways to sap our energy and undermine our egos, and we have to be able to float on top of it all, at least most of the time.
I have been writing for publication for 11 years now (17 YA and 4 adult trade titles). I pulled out a calculator to figure out how many pages of conventionally published writing they all add up to, and I’m astonished that it comes out to somewhere around 4000-4300 pages in books alone, not to mention book reviews, this diary, and other things I’ve written. Interestingly, that comes out, using the low figure, to roughly 365 pages a year, or 1 published page a day for 11 years.
I’m not crowing here. I have been more fortunate in getting published than many of the
talented and committed writers I know. I’m just thinking that this puts me in a pretty good position to comment on how to stay in writing for the long haul, without sacrificing health or sanity (at least I hope most people would agree I haven’t lost the latter).
I’m 300 pages into my novel in progress, and I am trying to learn from how wiggy I’ve gotten in the past, so I can avoid it this time. I’m a professor with summers off, a mixed blessing because the structure of going to work and interacting with a variety of people is good for me. People with different commitments and obligations might have to adjust the details, but I think the principle I’m sharing here is sound for everyone.
In brief, the problem with many writers, especially those who do it for a living, is that we think everything else we do is taking us away from our writing. We don’t like that, so we devalue other things and try to do as little of them as possible when we’re hot in the middle of a project. This is a mistake.
This summer I am telling myself that writing is only one of several good uses of my time, and it is inappropriate to be writing when I should be doing something else. I have a sign near my computer that has a list of 5 things:
Every one of those things is a valid and necessary part of my day. I plan every day around ensuring that I put in at least an hour on each. Then I fill up the rest of my time with a mix of all of them, in whatever way works that day.
I’m not talking about the 8-hour standard workday, but the whole 12 hours from the time I get up (around 6AM) to the time I call a halt to everything but an evening with my sweetheart (around 6PM). On most days the majority of my time overall is taken up with writing, but as I get more invested in the other things on the list, I often spend more than the minimum on them, and I still have a lot of time to write.
I ask myself a couple of times each day whether I’m doing a good mix of the 5 types of things, and if I’m not, I tell myself “it’s not writing time now.”
Haven’t exercised? Do it! Haven’t taken a shower or gone to the store? Do it. Haven’t stopped just to do something fun? Do it!
I’m having a great summer, and interestingly, I don’t think my writing productivity has dropped overall. I’m still on track to finish novel #4 this fall, and I think I could have finished it only a few weeks earlier at most if I had done nothing else. And I feel great–not at all like that stringy-haired, unwashed, antisocial creature with a backache I vaguely remember from summers past.