Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's the ordinary days that make the extraordinary ones

by April Henry

The trick to regularly having books published is to have a regular routine for writing them. When I was working full time, I just fit in my writing when I could, at about the same time each day.  I tried to write 45 minutes a day, usually after work.  Sometimes it was less.  Sometimes a lot less. 
But somehow it added up, just doing it day after day after day.  I wrote about a book a year that way.
Now I work full time at home. When I first quit my day job, I thought I could write eight hours a day.  After all, I had worked eight hours a day, right?
Well, on second thought, maybe not.  Not when you take out meetings, chatting with co-workers, checking the headlines online, and getting coffee refills.  Plus, even at my job (which was writing non-fiction), I was not creative 60 minutes an hour, eight hours a day.
I’ve found that I can’t write more than five hours a day. And even that is a lot. More often it's three or four. Revising and research I can sometimes do for longer. Sometimes. 
Now what I try to do is write a couple of hours in the morning and the balance in the afternoon or early evening.  I usually split my day between two books, although if I’m on deadline with one, that book takes over.  in the next ten days my life will become interesting when I get editorial letters from two different houses.  I’m not sure which one will have a tighter deadline or require more work.  I might even see if I can continue to make progress on one of the books I'm writing.  

A few tricks I use
A few things that have helped my productivity: the Pomodoro Technique and Freedom.  
The pomodoro technique is a way of working in concentrated bursts with short breaks in-between.  Author Randy Ingermanson describes it here. 

Freedom is a program that shuts you off the Internet. I use it with the Pomodoro Technique. 

One more thing I’ve added to my writing routine lately is reading. I still think of reading as a “treat” but after reading that Amy Kathleen Ryan made a point of reading because it helped her be a better writer I've been telling myself it's okay to read more.

Routines lead to creativity
"I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning." - William Faulkner

"I set myself 600 words a day as a minimum output, regardless of the weather, my state of mind or if I'm sick or well." - Arthur Hailey

"All through my career I've written 1,000 words a day--even if I've got a hangover. You've got to discipline yourself if you're professional. There's no other way." - J.G. Ballard


  1. thanks for all the tips and giving us a little window into how you manage to juggle all those books at once! Will have to try the Pomodoro!

  2. Hey April! I think the tip about making time for reading is great-- so many aspiring novelists forget that if you want to write, you need to read as much as possible!

  3. I've bookmarked the Freedom page. I've been trying to use self-restraint and switching to private browsing to manage the temptation, but it doesn't always work. The pomodoro method is intriguing... Thanks for the great ideas!

  4. This is an excellent post, April!

    I thought I'd write six hours a day after both my kids went to school. Little over-optimistic there! Love the quotes, especially the Faulkner one.

  5. Great post. I'd never heard of either of these techniques. Will give them a try! Thanks.

  6. Awesome! I'm definitely trying the Pomodro. This was really a helpful post.

  7. I thought I was an adult and capable of policing my own Internet usage (plus too cheap to pony up the 10 bucks), but the free trial of Freedom showed me that I lasted about five minutes on my own.

  8. I'm all about the daily quota - good post, April!