Off my Lawn! Jaine Fenn versus “Write every day!”

I am just beginning to know Jaine Fenn because we’re both members of SF Novelists. She is a British SF writer who studied Linguistics and Astronomy and had a career in IT before swapping financial security for the chance to tell tales about how the future might be. Her Hidden Empire series is published by Gollancz. Downside Girls is hot off the presses as of two days ago, and is a set of interlinked stories set in her Hidden Empire universe. Here’s the cover:
Jaine Fenn Covers

Today, on Off My Lawn, Jaine talks about the advice, often give to aspiring writers, to write every day.

One piece of advice commonly found in writing ‘how to’ books is ‘Write Every Day’.

Okay then! Soon as I build my time machine I’ll get right onto that.

Apparently Stephen King writes every day. This grand master has lots of
useful advice:

So if a ‘Write Every Day’ regime is good enough for him then surely it should work for you and me. Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t work for me.

Firstly, there are not enough hours in the day. Most writers have families and/or day-jobs. We like to see our friends, to engage in hobbies and go on holiday. We generally require more than two hours sleep a night. For many of us, if we don’t cook/clean/shop/child-wrangle then we’ll end up starving/drowning in kipple/unwashed
underwear/feral children. Finding a significant amount of keyboard-time in our schedules isn’t always possible.
Ah, you may say, but you have to make time. Fine. I refer you to the second paragraph above. And if you’ve already got a time-machine, I’d like to borrow it please.

Often we end up snatching the odd hour or two, and if writing isn’t our main source of income, even that can be fraught with guilt. But yes, an hour is better than nothing. Of course it is. And even if you don’t make it to a keyboard, you can – and should – still be developing stories in your head.

Which brings me on to the second reason I don’t write every day, the one unrelated to excuses and a chaotic lifestyle. The one that comes down to how creativity works.

The act of creative writing has been likened to drawing water from a well. If you keep taking the words out – if you make yourself produce several thousand words every single day – you may well find that after a while all you’re bringing up is mud.

This isn’t true for everyone, but for those of us not blessed with Mr King’s prodigious talent, the well of creativity isn’t bottomless. It needs time to refill.

When up against a deadline, I can write three thousand words a day. But if I do that for too many days in a row then, deadline or not, those words are not going to end up in the finished story. They’re just noise. For some people, making that noise is a good thing, especially when they first start out. You might subscribe to that school
of thought, and write every day despite the sure knowledge that some days you’ll only dredge up mud. But that doesn’t work for everyone.

For me, it’s frustrating when what turns up on the page is wastage. I might learn some lessons from it, but it won’t earn me a living – nor should it, because no one wants to pay for mud. And I could have used that time to clean the bathroom.

Every few days, even on deadline death-marches, I’ll find myself vacuuming the stairs, or digging the garden, or just going for a walk, but in my case this isn’t just writing avoidance. I’m waiting for the well to refill. Ideas need time to ferment, plots to coalesce.

On a Venn diagram of ‘writers’ and ‘OCD sufferers’ you’ll find a big overlap. Writers are good at setting up, then knocking down, mechanisms allowing them to almost write every day. We reorganise our lives, then find creative reasons not to write, and often punish themselves for not doing so. When I was writing Queen of Nowhere I was in the interesting position of writing about an obsessive while behaving obsessively, and I found a few insights there, I can tell you.

Fortunately, it being my fifth book, I had my coping mechanisms in place. I did not write every day, and I did not punish myself for not doing so. I still made my deadline.

So, if you’re someone who has learnt enough of the craft to get the basics down and has a busy life, instead of “Write every day,” the advice I’d give is to write regularly. It might just be a few hours on Saturday mornings, during your lunch break on days when the job isn’t too crazy, or an hour or two while the kids are at school,
but schedule it in.

If you’re being paid to write to a deadline you’ll be able to justify that time, but even if no one is paying you to write your story put aside some time, regularly, to write. Just not every day.
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Thank you, Jaine! What do you think, folks? When and how often do you write?

Here’s a little more about Downside Girls: The floating city of Khesh rests above the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. For the Topsiders life is about luxury and opulence, while for those of the Undertow day to day survival takes precedence. Khesh City is a democracy by assassination, where the Angels – deadly state-sponsored killers – remove those unworthy to hold office. When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship.

6 thoughts on “Off my Lawn! Jaine Fenn versus “Write every day!””

  1. I’ve been an advocate of writing every day, but I’ve found sometimes it just isn’t possible, practical, or even desirable. So now I’m giving myself permission to take days off. :)

  2. I’m absolutely with Jaine – hi, Jaine! – I can’t write every single day, rain or shine, or I’d burn out. Have come close, on occasion. If doing a bit every day suits you, that’s cool – but if you’d rather write all weekend and take weekday evenings to hang out with friends, or vice versa, that’s cool too. The important thing is to write enough, often enough, that you finish your stories at a rate that satisfies your publication ambitions. That’s really the only rule!

    1. It helps, in my case, that my schedule is flexible. I work a seven day week, generally, but I rarely work what most people would consider an eight-hour day. Or, rather, I sometimes do–but that includes all the stuff other people add atop their eight hour day: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, exercise, etc.

  3. Amen to that Jaine! We are all different, what works for one doesn’t work for another; and we don’t all have someone else to cook the dinner or take out the garbage.

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