The myth of “writing time”

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Image: Leonid Pasternak via Wikimedia Commons

The advice is all over writing advice sites: If you’re having trouble getting your book going, set aside a specific time (like 6 to 7 a.m.) every day to write.

This is bad advice, at least for nonfiction writers.

You cannot write unless you have something to say. “Writing time” presumes that what you need to write is bouncing around your head and you just need to have your butt nailed to the chair for it to come out.

That might work, but it might just generate a lot of drivel. And if you start typing that, it will demotivate you. Not a good plan.

But one thing is true: if you don’t carve out space to work on your book, it won’t get done. Setting aside time is smart. It’s setting aside time for writing that’s the problem.

So go ahead. Define your book time, whether it’s 6 to 7 a.m., every night after dinner, or every Saturday from 9 to 1.

What will you do in that time? It depends on where you are in your process. You could spend book time on:

  • Building your table of contents
  • Web research — collecting sources, quotes, and ideas.
  • Reading/skimming/highlighting related books.
  • Emailing potential sources. If you send 15 personalized email pitches in an hour and half, that’s a wise time investment that is likely to pay off in excellent book content.
  • Creating a fat outline for a chapter you’re almost ready to write.
  • Writing. That’s going to be a lot more productive if you’re ready to write because you did the prep work.
  • Editing what you wrote.

Set aside time and do whatever you need to do next to move your book forward. That will ensure you’re producing progress and not just a crap-ton of words you’ll never use.

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