One thing that has always interested me is how much time different writers spend, on average, writing. It’s difficult to get a straight answer from a lot of writers, and few writers mention hard numbers in their writing about writing—often, I think, because most writers probably aren’t as obsessed with the time question as I am, so they don’t pay as much attention as I do to the exact number of hours they spend in the act. Still, the fact that I’ve been able to find out concrete numbers from so few writers leaves the answer to the question even more elusive, and it leaves the question feeling ever more important in my mind. If I could just figure out what that golden number is . . .
Of course, the truth is there is no golden number. The fact that so few writers can give any kind of concrete time estimate is probably partial proof that the amount of time a writer actually spends writing is not the all-important factor, after all, that determines the development and success of a writer. Time spent reading, for example, is also very important, yet I don’t bother logging how many hours a day I read. Time spent living life and having experiences also factors in, as writers must have something to write about.
I do think that it’s important to physically sit in front of your computer and write fairly often. If you do not write, you can’t reasonably call yourself a writer (and if you look up the definition of writer in the dictionary, you’ll see that that is not my opinion but a cold, hard fact). But the question of how much time should writers spend in the act of writing and how much of our time should we spend in other, equally important and relevant endeavors, remains.
What I don’t think is useful is the “if you want writing to be your job, you should treat it like your job and do it for eight hours a day” mentality. This is advice that highly successful, bestselling writers sometimes give amateur writers, and it sounds good on the surface. Yes, if I were working at an office, I would clock in and work for eight hours a day, five days a week. But this logic is actually painfully flawed.
First of all, I want to point out that the “eight hours a day” idea might be true if you want to be freelance writer or a journalist or something like that, but I don’t believe creative writing works that way. But also, let’s be honest, if I was working at an office job, I wouldn’t actually be working for that entire eight hours a day. That eight hours would be filled up with some actual work, yes, but also, with countless trips to the water cooler and chats with my coworkers, not to mention the million times a day I’d refresh my email. And that’s just me—I’m pretty honest. A lot of people would be chatting on Facebook while at work, among other things. How much of that eight hour day is actually spent doing productive work? Who knows, but certainly nowhere near eight hours.
Already, the eight hour a day argument isn’t sound. On top of that, though, is the fact that a creative endeavor is different from, say, entering data into a spreadsheet or filing paperwork. I can force my mind to do mindless office-job work for a lot longer than I can force it to work on a piece of fiction. Some days, sure, something comes over me and the words just keep coming and coming for hours and hours on end, but most days, I can write for a couple of hours or so, and then the words start drying up. My mind just needs a break, or it needs to spend time on those other important writerly duties (remember?
? Having experiences worth writing about? Thinking about those experiences and analyzing them for meaning?). So even if it were true that you should spend eight hours a day in your capacity as a writer, that would include those other things—it wouldn’t be eight hours spent in front of the computer typing. Reading
So how much time to spend writing and how much time to spend doing other things will probably just always be an unanswerable question, and surely if it did have an answer, it would have a different answer for each different writer. For me, I think I’m just going to keep trying to find the right balance between actual writing time and the other things, like reading, that are so important to being a writer.