March 25, 2014 by Nathaniel Tower
If you are like most writers, then writing is not your full-time job. Many of us spend 40 hours a week at work. When we are home, we don’t just sit around and write all the time. We have obligations to family. We are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives. Everyone’s situation is different, but everyone is much more than just a writer.
People often ask me how I find the time to do so much. My first reaction is to say that I don’t sleep, or at least not as much as the average person, but that isn’t the real answer. My real answer is that I do my best to try to find a balance. Yes, I often fall behind, but no one really seems to notice because I always have something in the works. At the same time, I have been sitting on a finished first draft of a novel for about eighteen months. That isn’t being efficient or getting a lot done.
People also sometimes ask how much time they should spend writing. Some people want to break it down to how many hours per week or per day. For me, that doesn’t work. There is no set amount of writing time that I try to hit. Instead, it’s about fitting in some writing with a bunch of other activities. Some days there is no writing at all. It just depends what else needs to be accomplished.
Writing is a process. When I was a teacher, I had to tell my students about “the writing process.” The curriculum made me break it down into five steps: brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, publishing. I’m sure you learned of some similar process, but for writers in the real world, it certainly isn’t this simple.
In the real world, I like to say that writing is a four-step process (and each of these steps contains multiple facets that I won’t get into here): writing, revising, submitting, and promoting. It seems a no-brainer that writing should make up the bulk of our time, but I find that isn’t necessarily the case. For me, where I focus my time as a writer has drastically changed over the years. Here is where I was at the beginning:
While writing made up the biggest percentage of my time, I spent a lot of my efforts on submissions. Of course, this wasn’t because I was looking for the best places to submit. It’s because I was submitting everywhere. In just a couple years, I racked up over 1000 submissions (which resulted in well over 100 published pieces). Looking back, I wouldn’t say this was a lot of wasted time. Rather, it was a learning experience. That’s where I was as a writer then, but it’s certainly not a place I’d ever go back.
Here is where I am now:
The amount of time I spend writing (at least relative to the other activities) hasn’t changed much. But the focus of the rest of my time has. I don’t spend much time at all submitting. I revise more, and I promote more. As a result, I feel my finished works are much stronger, and I also think I have a stronger following. I am confident that people actually read my stuff now (but probably not as much as I’d like to think). Rather than investing hours and hours sending my work everywhere, I send more refined work to the right places. Then I spend my remaining time promoting my work (as well as the work of others).
In my earlier days, promoting my work meant hopping on Facebook, posting a link, and signing out. As you can guess, it wasn’t very effective. I am working on another blog post that is specific to how to best promote your work, so for now I will just say that I interact and engage a lot more than I used to.
Looking at these charts though, I know that there is one very important piece missing. So, I am going to add a fifth step to the writing process.
That’s right. Reading is actually where I spend most of my time now. I read more than I write. I think that is absolutely essential. As I used to tell my students, the best way to become a better writer isn’t by writing. It’s by reading. I have found this to be very true for me. I don’t become a better writer when I sit in front of the keyboard and pound out story after story. I become a better writer when I take the time to study and appreciate what has been written before me.
There is no secret formula to the writing process. Each individual writer must put his or her time into the areas that are most beneficial. Over time, it will change. No matter what though, never forget the importance of reading. When I first started writing, I almost forgot about reading. Now, it is the driving force behind most of my creative efforts.