I never understood authors who said they wrote (or read) a specific number of hours per day, every day. Perhaps I have a particularly undisciplined mind, but I do everything in spurts. I binge-read, tearing through a 500-page novel over the course of twelve hours spread over a few days. I binge-write, going several days where time melts away as I’m lost in my story. Then one day I need a break and I do something else while my creative juices recharge. I binge-watch TV, spending a whole day getting through most of a season of a show I like.
I typically binge-watch TV during unbearably stressful times. This habit originated not with TV but with movies, almost ten years ago during the darkest month of my life when I was almost 18–almost is key here–and I was removed halfway across the country against my will and left at my aunt’s house to keep me from the father of the child I was pregnant with. I was too distracted by my distress to engage in reading books–I tried, but my aunt had very different tastes than I did when it came to books, and besides, my anguish kept rising up and breaking me out of the stories. But movies–stupid, brainless movies that I would have never watched otherwise–could be turned up loud enough to drown out the awful racket of my despair. And my aunt had a portable DVD player and a wall full of DVDs. Thus, I mostly drown out the vast tracts of time in my imprisonment with a load of garbage.
I try to keep away from the garbage these days, though I do fall into it on occasion (less and less often, though, I like to think). But when life has done a good job beating me down, whatever the show is, it’s useful to sit and let the stress fall off me for a few hours before trying to focus on more important matters. Allowing myself to do this is my way of staying sane.
Writing takes a lot of focus, and focus is not something I can typically force myself to have. But when I’ve satisfied my need to relax and I’ve filled up on reading and feel ready to create my own story, dangit, I write with abandonment. Not a specific amount of time per day or a specific number of hours or words, but as long as the ideas are hot and I’m immersed in the story. The moment I pop out of the story, I step away, sometimes for only a few hours, sometimes for a few days, to figure out what popped me out, and how I might fix it. Otherwise–if I charge ahead full-throttle and force it to keep coming even when it’s clunky and unnatural–I’ll end up with large tracts of crap.
Time to think, letting the ideas simmer until they’ve matured, like leaving meat in a crock pot, is what allows me my most well-developed writing.
Perhaps that’s why it takes me so long to finish writing books. Or perhaps the blame for that can be claimed by children, my school, and my day job. Mental energy is easier to come by when I have some kind of free time.