Reply To: Writing Paces and Schedules

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Brian Stansell

Hi Noah!

I have been writing on and off for over [mmrmpher (indecipherable mumbling)] years. I have a full library of writing craft books. I have taken college courses on creative writing, acting & directing [made A’s], attended virtual online seminars, (have yet to go to an actual physical writers conference), watched videos on the writing craft, purchased $800 worth of training courses taught by Ted Dekker, etc.  I taught two classes of Freshman Composition in a major university in Texas as a grad student. And have read and collected Christian-based fiction: fantasy, sci-fi, suspense, crime thrillers, etc. for many, many years.
I have written multiple manuscripts from kid’s fiction, starting at the young age of seven to larger works of Sci-Fi and Fantasy.  I had some of my poetry and a short story published in my undergraduate years in a college magazine and a small college publication book.  (But, I don’t count these as me being a “published” author in the traditional sense.) Here is a photo of just some of the writing craft books in my library.

My current WIP (fantasy) was over 360,600 words, back when I last printed it out (2019?), and it is 2 5/8″ inches thick and this is single-spaced with a 2 cm top margin from the edge of the paper to the written text.
The point is, finding out how many words to write per hour, is not the point.  That gets you nowhere, other than producing a lot of material to sort through later.  Speed does not equal quality, or get your work publishable.
If you spend an hour and only come out of it with a paragraph of quality writing, it is the quality writing that is salvageable.  Dean Koontz says he writes every page at least 30 times before getting it the way he wants it for submission for publication.  So, if there is anything I could tell you, it is this.  Focus on just getting the story out, however fast or slow that you need to.  Do not get distracted by the words per hour.  If the inspiration hits you, you will write furiously and barely be able to keep up with how fast you are writing to chase it down and bring it to paper.  Those days are wonderful.  But don’t expect them to always come that way. Some days you may puzzle over a few lines and work on them and feel like you are getting nowhere.  If you are distracted by artificial wpm speed, you will get discouraged by those days of seeming to find no progress.  Focus instead on pursuing the questions raised by your story, scene-by-scene, and line-by-line. This will ensure that you have more of those faster-paced, idea-chasing days.
Also, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for when is the best time to write.  It all depends on your lifestyle and preferences, but it is good to find that sweet spot for when you will not be distracted by other things, people, or pressing duties.
I would begin every writing session with prayer.  Deliberately and mentally connect with your Creator before you begin.  Tell Him what your concerns are with your writing, mentally place those cares on His shoulders and tell Him you trust Him with the outcome, whatever it may be.  He doesn’t need us to get in His Way.  He wants us to allow Him to illuminate those gifts and desires He had put within us.  Let Him flow through you as His instrument and co-Create with Him, letting Him lead in the dance.
Be open to what God will show you in your own writing.  God uses our gifts to teach us and reveal to us something about ourselves and how we interact with others.  There is a personal revelation in it, that must be allowed to reach you before it will ever reach others you anticipate as readers.
Gauge the effectiveness of your scenes by how they hold your personal interest. If they don’t challenge you, they won’t challenge others.  Bring it to the edge.  Challenge the darkness. Defy it in Jesus’s Name.  An author is a Word Warrior.  Learn to fight through.  Challenge yourself to make it feel as real to you as possible.  Bring your senses into it, and your worldview and those that counter that worldview.  Disarm the enemy, with research into what God says, over mankind’s pretensions.  Keep it authentic.  Do not be afraid to depict the darkness, but don’t revel in it. Keep the Light of Truth with you as a reference point so you don’t get lost in the dark places you have to write to reach authenticity.  Don’t show every monster.  Sometimes a silhouette is enough.  Find creative ways to give a sense of darkness, without bluntly assaulting the spirit of the reader.  Have a redemptive goal in mind and a theme that you keep too.
If you write a longer set that must go through the dark, take breaks and find something light and humorous to keep you from plunging off an emotional cliff into nihilism and irritability.  Writing will take you through a full range of emotions, so beware that you don’t lose yourself in it.
God’s book unflinchingly shows a dark world in need of Him. A stormy sea, with mountainous waves threatening to drown us in despair, but like Peter, you have to focus on Christ to walk over the pitching water.
Philippians 4:8 is a command of deliberate action to find the mindset we need to confront the tasks before us.  Anchor your mind there.  A fiction writer should never lose sight of the truth, even when they are spinning the webs of fiction.  The “tale” should come back to the head.
As for schedules, once you find that time that works for you, try to guard it and keep to it.  Your mind seeks a cadence of routine, and order.  It stresses in chaos, so you will want to give your mind that regular rhythm, however, don’t close off spontaneity.  Sometimes an idea will come at the strangest times and not in your regular scheduled writing time, so keep a notebook that you can capture those random thoughts.  Number them in the idea notebook, so they don’t have to be in order. Your mind will jump forward and backward in your story, so don’t expect your idea book to be filled with ideas that follow a linear sequence of events.  If you number the ideas, though, you can create a general outline or timeline and put those numbers on the larger timeline in the sequence in which they need to happen.  This gives you a sense of the whole scope of your story but allows you to retain those ideas that come to you in a flash.
Since I do many other things, I find it hard to quantify how many hours per day I write.  There is no effective way to keep a chess-clock counter on it.  Just be open to inspiration.  Don’t be discouraged or distracted by the artificial benchmarks.  Have a general goal, but recognize that life intervenes and intrudes, so allow yourself that flexibility.  You don’t need to keep score.  God is faithful to work out those things He has put in you, so just listen to Him and follow His prompting.  If you partner with Christ, He will move you along the timeline He sets for you and brings you to those timely and fortuitous moments that only He can foresee.  I will leave you with this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what [will happen] tomorrow. For what [is] your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you [ought] to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” [James 4:13-15 NKJV]

God Bless, my friend!

Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
I was born in war.
Fighting from my first breath.

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