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The blog of Stephen Arnott (aka S J Arnott). Writer of the Leofric Dark Age adventures and Jack Bleacher.

How long is a writing day?

Stephen Arnott

Some people can write till the cows come home.

Some people can write till the cows come home.

The author J. Robert Lennon once analysed one of his four-hour writing sessions and found that he only spent 33 minutes actually putting words on paper.  He calculated that, over a year, as little as 2% of his time was devoted to writing. In fact, considering the hours he spent on other activities, he decided he was not so much a writer as he was a sleeper, or an eater, or a naked girl imaginer…

Although many of Lennon’s lost 207 minutes must have been devoted to authorial activities such as thinking and mulling, and necessary support activities such as pencil sharpening, or finding new batteries for his keyboard, his example helps illustrate an important point: you don’t need to set aside great chunks of writing time to produce something worthwhile.

Some professional authors will write till the cows come home, and be willing and able to spend most of their waking days at the keyboard (Dean Koontz will apparently work for 10 or 11 hours at a stretch). However, many don’t. In fact, some authors get by on remarkably few productive hours. A good example is Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, who started his writing career while he had a full-time job as an English teacher. When he became successful enough to give up the day job, he was surprised to find that his writing time didn’t ratchet up; it stayed the same. In other words, he did as much writing as a full-time author as he did when he was a full-time teacher. The few creative hours he managed to squeeze out of each working day were all he needed to establish himself as a professional writer with a string of titles to his name.

I actually find it counter-productive to write for extended periods. Even following the Pomodoro method (taking a five minute break every 25 minutes), two or three hours is the most I can manage. Anything more and I get exhausted and start to make mistakes. I begin to churn out bumf for the sake of seeing something on the page, then have to spend more time re-writing it the next day; or, more usually, trashing it.

Little and often works best for me. As long as you can establish a solid routine, the small slices of time you can spare for writing quickly add up.

When I was a teenager I went on a school trip to Wales to climb Mount Snowdon. It’s not a hard climb, only a four mile walk through around 900m (3,000 feet) of elevation, but it looked a tall order to me, and for some reason I was wearing a pair of Wellington boots rather than walking shoes. The trail was a huge stairway carved into the slate and it looked a long, long way up. But I couldn’t back out, so I kept my head down and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Step after step after step; not once lifting my eyes to avoid the discouragement of seeing how much more lay ahead. Then it ended. And I looked around me and saw the incredible view and the long trail stretching down behind me into the mist.

It was a good lesson. Each small step, inconsequential on its own, had combined to lift me above the clouds.

If you'd like to find out more about my books, click the covers below...

Rick Riordan has some good advice for writers on his website. You can find it here. For writerly advice from Dean Koontz, go here.