The Writing Session (3)

November 21st, 2007

This is getting longer than War and Peace. This final installment is really a roundup of some reasons why you want to schedule regular sessions, keep to the schedule, and write often whether you feel like it or not, whether it’s going well or not, whether you’ve got other things to do, or not. And it’s not just to pile up the pages, although that’s certainly an encouraging thing to see — that stack of paper getting thicker on your desk. (You should print out regularly, if only to create the stack.) Here are some other reasons:

Getting there: Write 500 words a day, five days a week, and in ten weeks you’ll have 25,000 words. That’s a quarter of a good-size novel. At that pace, even with the inevitable wrong turns and backtracks, you’ll be able to turn out a revised draft of your novel in a year.

Tuning in: Writing regularly and at some length also keeps the world of your novel open to you. Annie Dillard once said that writing a book is like taming a lion: the longer you stay out of the cage, the more dangerous it is to go back in. Working regularly keeps that lion under control.

Opening up: Regular writing also brings the world of your book into your nonwriting life — and vice-versa. You’ll find yourself thinking about the book even when you’re not writing. Everything you see or hear will have some sort of relationship to your story. You’ll find yourself asking, “Is this material or not?” “Is this what Judith would say in that scene?” Driving down the street, doing dishes, taking a shower (especially taking a shower) — you’ll have inspirations.

Turning on the sorter: There’s a little node in your brain called the reticular activating system. It’s a sorter: it flips through the hundreds of thousands of things you see, hear, read, and think every day, and it says, This is important or This is junk. And it calls the important things to your attention. The reticular activiting system is why you can hear your name spoken across a noisy room, or why, once you’ve decided to buy a certain car, you suddenly see billboards and commercials for that car everywhere. Those things were always there, but the reticular activating system had been putting them in the junkpile.

The universe has a vast amount of material to offer you, free of charge, for your book. If you write regularly, you’ll recognize that material when it comes along. It could, ultimately, be the thing that either saves your book or takes it to a higher level.

And finally: Write regularly because it’s a privilege to be able to do so. Write regularly for the love of challenging your creative spirit to grow and flourish. Write regularly to experience the magic of a new world coming into being at the ends of your fingers. Write regularly to strengthen yourself against the despair of gruntwork, dead dialog, and bad pages. And most of all, write regularly in order to write better.

And remember, the session you decide to blow off today or tomorrow might be the most important session in the development of your book. Ain’t no way to know except to do the session.

10 Responses to “The Writing Session (3)”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    It’s so funny that you specifically mention 500 words as a decent goal. Since I’ve just shifted from writing in big chunks on weekends and sometimes late at night to a daily schedule, I’d already told myself that for starters I’d be happy with 400-500 words to start. I had not previously considered that the daily commitment does turn on that sorter, but it’s absolutely true. AND, I’ve always known that some of my best ideas have always come in the shower! Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Dana King Says:

    As they say in the Guinness ads, “Brilliant!” And not just because I agree with, or already do, just about everything you mention. (Except for getting published. I don’t have that part down yet,)

    I’m going to compile the links and share all three of these with my writers group, who will read them, and probably never do any of them. But, you do what you can. Thanks for getting me revved up.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Lisa!! Dana!!

    Thanks to both of you, and I’m glad you found the posts useful.

    I’m trying to think of ways to reinvigorate the Writer’s Resources area of the site. I’m considering:

    1. Linking all the writing blogs to that area of the site and plugging them shamelessly on the introductory WA page.

    2. Inviting people to sign up for a daily (well, five days a week) mini-newsletter that I’m tentatively calling Write Away. This would be free and would include everything from quotations to tips to question/answer material.

    3. Giving the WA area its own alternative URL – I’ve got a bunch of good names registered – so it’ll get found more easily by people who have never heard of me, and there are millions and millions of them.

    Any of those you like? Anything else come to mind?

    Thanks in advance.

  4. John Says:

    Dana – shame on you! I loved these tips from Tim. I’m glad to find out I was already doing some of them. And I hear you on the getting published part… ugh, don’t get me started.

    Thanks for putting this out there Tim.

  5. Bernita Says:

    Writers sometimes fuss over whether their personal style /approach to writing is stupid/useless/inefficient.
    You have no idea how reassuring your advice is.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, John, Hi, Bernita —

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m sure Dana will be published soon, and then he can experience the whole new set of troubles that ensues. And Bernita, I can assure you that I spend lot of time fussing over my own approach to writing. That’s one reason I wrote all the stuff on the site.

    Would either of you be interested in a daily writing newsletter like the one described above? I’d kind of like to do it, but not if no one will ever read it.

  7. Peter Says:


    Have spent so many years mulling and pondering and wishing and hoping and anything to avoid actually applying butt to chair and writing. But read through your resources page and it demystified the process so much. I stopped competing with my writing heroes and just took on my own procrastinating self. So, guess what. I finished the novel this past friday. I set an insane daily word count of 1,600 and made it. Daily sessions! Tending the flame! Now, I have a stack of pages that need rewriting, but at least I have something I didn’t have in summer: a first draft. Plenty more to write, and I am already proud of it, so I know I will be proud of it when it’s in final form.

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks, Peter — This is what I love to hear. Daily sessions, opening yourself to the book, setting a limit (and a high one, at that) and meeting it. And not listening to the pernicious little buggers who tell you that you have something more important to do, or that you’re too tired, or that there’s no point in writing because you don’t have any ideas. How the hell are you supposed to get ideas if you’re not writing?

    Just out of curiosity, how long did the draft take you?

    But most of all, congratulations.

  9. Peter Says:

    Thanks so much Tim, and, like I said, very grateful for the guidance.

    The draft took me:

    17 years of research and 5 weeks of writing.



  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Peter —

    That’s a good ratio. I’d try to compress the research period for the next one, though.

    Five weeks!!!! Amazing. I thought I was flying, but it’ll take me eight or nine to finish the first draft of the one I’m doing now, and that’s assuming I don’t hit a wall.

    And this particular first draft is going to need a lot of work.

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