Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Do You Really Need to Write an Hour Every Day?

By Tom Angleberger

JH: Please join me in welcoming Tom Angleberger to the blog today to tackle that age old question—how much do you really need to write every day to be "a writer?"

Tom is the bestselling author of the Origami Yoda series. He is also the author of Horton Halfpott and Fake Mustache. Tom maintains the Origami Yoda–inspired blog He is married to author-illustrator Cece Bell and lives in Christiansburg, Virginia. His next book, The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett, will be out on August 6.

Take it away Tom...

The most common advice writers seem to get is some variation on "Write An Hour a Day Every Day."

Exactly why 60 minutes of writing is better than 61 or 63 is not clear. If 60 minutes if good, why not 120? Why not 372?

I mean, wouldn't it be best to write 24 hours a day? Why stop? Why not just write from now on? Your life can become one endless torrent of words.

Of course, that's absurd. But I'm not sure why it's any more absurd than this forced hour of writing every day.

I realize that may work for some authors—either that or they're just trying to sabotage everyone else with bad advice—but it's certainly not my way of writing. I often go a day without writing. Maybe even a week. Maybe even a month!

That doesn't mean I'm not thinking, formulating, composing, plotting, revising, etc... It just means I'm not typing.

If I don't have anything of interest in my brain yet, why should I sit down and type for an hour? Wouldn't a walk be healthier? It may also be more inspiring and thus more likely to result in me having an idea worth writing about later.

This all may go hand-in-hand with the second most common advice given to writers: "Write a lousy first draft." Why? Just so you can then spend TWO hours a day trying to revise it?

No thanks. I'll shoot for "good" with the first draft and then revise THAT.

Look, I used to be a newspaper reporter. I know what it means to sit down and crank it out day after day after day. But this often ends in "notebook dump," "spilt ink," "wasted pixels" and "pointless drivel."

The one problem this planet does not have is a lack of writing. (See: Internet.) So why do it without a compelling reason?

So—for myself—I reject the advice. And I reject the idea that I'm not accomplishing something if I come up short of this odd, wholly random "gold standard" of authorship.

I'm an author 24 hours a day... and a writer/typer when I actually stumble upon that compelling reason.

About The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett

Dark times have fallen on McQuarrie Middle School. Dwight’s back—and not a moment too soon, as the gang faces the FunTime Menace: a new educational program designed to raise students’ standardized test scores. Instead, it’s driving everyone crazy with its obnoxious videos of Professor FunTime and his insidious singing calculator! When Principal Rabbski cancels the students’ field trip—along with art, music, and LEGO classes—to make time for FunTime, the students turn to Origami Yoda for help. But some crises are too big for Origami Yoda to handle alone: Form a Rebel Alliance the students must. United, can they defeat the FunTime Menace and cope with a surprise attack from Jabba the Puppett?


  1. Hmm. I'm going to ponder this. I can see both points of view. Sometimes, I go days, weeks, and months without writing too. Other times, I do find making myself write a little as often as I can (not a specific amount of time, or even every day without pause) does help keep me thinking about my book, and working on the issues more consistently.

    I suspect different things work for different people!

  2. You just solved my guilt complex. I've NEVER written every day. In fact, I write maybe one week per month. I've always felt a tad defensive about this, but no more!! One week a month works for me!

    The other rule should be changed to "It's okay if the first draft is lousy."

  3. Sometimes I think these "rules" were created by people who think there's only one way to do anything. But without experimentation, things get stale and uninteresting. At heart, the "rule" if there were to be one, is give writing a regular place in your routines and thought life. That will look different at every phase of a project, and every phase of your career. And guilt is a terrible motivator, anyhow. :-)

  4. That makes me feel so much better about my sporadic method. Granted I generally do better if I put in a couple hours several times a week trying to write something down. I tend to think better when I see what I'm thinking. (The frequency also helps ward off Shiny New Ideas. With four novels still in first draft, I don't need any more.) But if I'm having an empty day, I don't need to feel guilty about stopping sooner than I'd planned or skipping altogether.

  5. Amen to that, and much success with your new book. It sounds hysterical. :0)

  6. I wrote my debut novel (now published) over the course of four summers. During the school year, I teach, and there just isn't time to write consistently. To Tom's great advice, I would add that it does help to make a schedule and do your best to stick to it. But that schedule should fit the requirements of your life!

  7. I think for some writers, a commitment to spending some time writing each day--or at least most days--helps to build up and maintain their writing "muscles." It also helps ward off writer's block.

    Personally, I'm like Tom and most of the time won't sit down to write unless I know what I want to write. But those times when I force myself to sit down, thinking I have nothing in mind to say, I'm sometimes surprised that I can be productive. So I think sometimes we don't know if we have anything to write until we sit quietly a few minutes and see.

    I think the biggest value in the "every day"--though not necessarily for an hour--guideline is to keep you from putting off your writing until your whole to-do list of life's chores is checked off. Which never happens. I am hugely guilty of this because I think of writing as a luxury activity that I can't allow myself to indulge in unless and until all my responsibilities are taken care of.

    I adore your writing voice, Tom. My son and I both enjoyed "Origami Yoda," and I'm just sorry I missed seeing you at Little Shop of Stories when you came!

  8. A writer from my RWA group taught us about her method of writing in chunks. Some are little chunk writers and write everyday, others of us write in big chunks and can churn out a couple thousand words on a weekend. It's helpful for me to see it that way because there is no right or wrong, but it's good to know how you work in order to estimate how long it will take to write a draft. I've been aiming for more smaller chunk writing, but I know I can still catch up on a late weeknight or a Saturday morning and get a bunch in.

    Love your advice about thinking and formulating. I let ideas stew for awhile, which to me is also better than writing pages of garbage that don't make sense until the fourth revision.

  9. As someone who tends to alternate between feeling guilty and feeling defensive about not writing daily (or keeping strict time/word count quotas), I'm glad to see someone standing up for the idea of following your own process, even if it doesn't fit the conventional wisdom. (And I also agree with shooting for at least a decent first draft.)

    I can understand using a daily writing practice as a way to just freewrite and warm up or uncover possible new material. In the past, I've tried writing at least one sentence on my work-in-progress every day, which did help keep my mind in the story world a little more consistently without feeling like a huge obligation. But sometimes a story needs to simmer and develop rather than be plowed through, and for me, that sometimes means being willing to wait.

  10. "I realize that may work for some authors—either that or they're just trying to sabotage everyone else with bad advice—but it's certainly not my way of writing. I often go a day without writing. Maybe even a week. Maybe even a month!

    That doesn't mean I'm not thinking, formulating, composing, plotting, revising, etc... It just means I'm not typing. "

    Funnily enough I made a blog post about this very idea just this morning. Although my thoughts were quite rambling, the bit I quoted above really distilled it for me. Thank you!