One of our favorite writers, Haruki Murakami, got up at 4:00am every day and wrote for 5 to 6 hours. Ernest Hemingway wrote for 5 or 6 hours every morning as did Kurt Vonnegut.
Writers everywhere either talk about word counts or hours at their desk. And they all limit their writing somehow. Several of the most respected writers advise the rest of us to stop when we know what will happen next. This gives us a nice beginning point for the next day’s writing session.
Over the past several years, I’ve noticed my creativity tanks if I write for over 6 hours a day. The quality of work suffers immensely, so now I limit my writing hours every day. And my output hasn’t decreased; rather, I’m able to get more done in less time.
Research proves this point. Studies around the world show that your productivity diminishes the more hours you put in.
Sweden tested the idea of shorter working hours with their health care workers. Nurses at a retirement home worked 6-hour days while still being paid for 8-hour days for an entire year. Over that period, the government realized that productivity increased as did quality of care.
Similar to nursing, writing is a physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing profession. If you’ve spent any kind of time writing, you know how draining it can be to sit in front of a keyboard for 6 hours. You’ve gone through the gamut of emotions as you write, mentally challenging yourself to write the best sentence ever. And your legs and tush are numb from sitting too long in a chair.
Have you found your peak writing hours yet? If you haven’t, try it for a few days. Limit your writing hours to 6 or less and see what happens to your productivity and creativity.
And then find a writing routine that works best for you. Here are a few tips to help you create your best daily routine in the limited hours you’re writing.
1. Prepare your brain by working your body.
Physical exertion gets your blood pumping, rushing oxygen and nutrients to your brain. Murakami runs 10 kilometers or swims 1500 meters a day, sometimes both. Vonnegut took breaks from writing to do pushups. Other writers type while walking on a treadmill.
There are plenty of ways you can incorporate physical activity into your day. And since there are a gazillion articles already out there with tips and hints, we won’t kick this poor, dead horse.
2. Put writing first.
Most productivity experts suggest you do the hardest, most important task first. Have you noticed how many writers get up early and write before noon? Writing first thing means you’re not struggling to find time to fit it in during the day. It also prevents life from getting in the way and leaving you with no time to write.
Do your most important thing first—write.
3. Embrace the hard work.
Writing, for most of us, is a struggle. So many famous authors speak of their daily struggle to do the hard work. Khaled Hosseini said in an interview with Noah Charney, "I find that writing a first draft is very difficult and laborious. It is also often quite disappointing."
Maya Angelou used to rent a hotel room in which to write. She would have hotel staff remove all the artwork and the television. It was the only way she could force herself to focus on her writing first.
And we all know who famously said, "The first draft of anything is shit."
4. Read prodigiously.
Keep your brain pumped full of new information. Read fiction, non-fiction, news articles, magazines, the dictionary—anything and everything. Prodigious reading is fodder for the writing mill in your head.
It’s astounding to hear a writer say, "I don’t have time to read." Reading and writing are synonymous with quality output. The more you read and write, the better a writer you become. Ratchet up your writing skills by reading like a writer.
5. Capture all your great ideas.
Don’t believe your brain when it tells you it can remember a great idea for later. It won’t and you’ll lose that great idea. Since most of us keep our smartphones always at hand, take notes in an app like Evernote or OneNote.
Or if you like the feel of a notebook and pen, keep a journal with you wherever you go. Don’t lose that great idea that strikes at the grocery store or the dry cleaners.
This doesn’t preclude the work you do in your head when you’re not actively writing. I can sit and stare out the window for hours, working a tough plot problem out in my head. But I capture my thoughts once the brain work is done.
Limit your writing time. Don’t try to push through too many hours even if you’re on fire. Like Hemingway cautioned, always leave something unwritten for the next day. You’ll know exactly where to start writing.
Sometimes, you can’t help working long hours, especially if you’re a copywriter with a tight client deadline. I’ve pulled all nighters in the past to get client work done by the due date. But it wasn’t my best work. And I haven’t done it since.
Let us know in the comments below how many hours you spend on your writing. Let’s see if we can find the "sweet spot" in our writing time.