Manuscript Mondays: Finding a Writing Rhythm

Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.” So, since I’m neck-deep in a book project, I’m going to start writing about that process on Mondays.

My next major book, on the atonement, is coming out in February…2015. That’s right, 2015. Seems like a longs way off, doesn’t it? It does to me, too.

I work best under deadline. A book I’m editing that is a tribute (aka, festschrift; aka liber amicorum) was due last Thursday. After putzing away at it here and there in the preceding months, I buckled down and worked on it night and day for the ten days prior to the deadline. And it got done — done well, I think.

There’s a certain kind of rush that comes when a deadline approaches. My creative adrenaline spikes. I become singularly focused on that project.

However, when the deadline is months away, there is no such adrenaline, no such focus. That’s especially true when the book manuscript is due over a year before the book will release, because I know that there’s lots and lots of time to edit the book, to fix mistakes, and to tighten up the prose.

So here are some things I do:

Schedule Writing: I don’t make enough as a writer to write full time, so I work 3/4-time at sparkhouse. Most weeks, that’s Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. So Mondays and Fridays and some weekend days (when we don’t have the kids), I write. It’s on my Google Calendar now, every Monday and Friday between here and Christmas: “7am – 2pm Write.”

Multi-Task: I don’t need to focus solely on writing when I’m this far out in from of a deadline. I’ve got to write 1000-2000 words per day. That’s not an overwhelming amount for me (my record is 19,000 words in 24 hours — that’s another story for another day). So, today as I’ve been writing, I’ve also been canning and baking. So far, I’ve canned four jars of dill pickles, and made bread dough, which is now proofing. The great thing about baking bread, for instance, is that it’s got to proof for at least 5 hours, which gives me plenty of time to write between tasks.

Set Artificial Deadlines: In order to hit word count thresholds, I set alternate deadlines for myself, in advance of the Big Hairy Deadline of January 1. For example, I bought a plane ticket to go see my editor early next month. I know that I’ll be terribly embarrassed if I don’t have ample progress to show him, so that meeting will spur me on to have the book at least 1/3 complete by September 9.

Those are just three things I do to keep the writing coming. A lot of you are writers as well — what are your tips?

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  • Ratchet

    Looking forward to reading about your writing thoughts & progress on Mondays. I agree with your tips–I use them too–but I also find they don’t always work for me. I find it easy to ignore my own deadlines–artificial or real! I use the multitasking one well: laundry and cooking + reading & writing go well together.

    I’m looking forward to the story about 19,000 words in 24 hours!

  • cameronhorsburgh

    I often need to be able to get up and walk around to straighten my thoughts out in my head. Having odd jobs around the house to do is often a good substitute. That said, interruptions that actually require me to interact with others takes me right out of the zone. So the phone has to go off, the wife has to be banned from coming home for lunch and Facebook has to be blocked.

    If my thinking is clear and interruptions minimised I’ll average about 500 words per hour.

  • At least you’ve the opportunity to publish lots of academic books, I don’t now if I will be one day in such a position.

    Lovely greetings from Germany
    Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • I need to take breaks through my writing life (which has been just recently these past 4 years)…. Breaks during the day, during the week, each month, and so on, against set writing times from early morning to late morning or early afternoon. If I don’t I get worn out and my writing creativity diminishes. Within those writing sessions are my deadlines… whether a topic, an article, doing research and reading, preparing an outline, etc. I found that blogging works best because then those deadlines become a daily habit. But blogging can distract because it then becomes a beast in itself where creating whole books becomes secondary to daily writing and research and life itself. As you have noted setting personal deadlines with reflective interaction are natural enough, but writing intensely can often be the most fruitful and personally rewarding… but at a cost of personal exasperation where books and deadlines no longer are Spirit-driven but are spirit-avoided. Methodical balance with personal passion and rest will keep the wellsprings alive. God bless. – Russ

    • I agree, Russ. I go through dry periods. I used to get really anxious when this would happen, but now I embrace it. When it happens, I’ll go hunting or fishing for a couple days, or I’ll start a big project on the house.

  • Good insights. Helpful, Tony. Thanks. I’m enjoying the Twin Cities–getting ready to teach courses at Bethel Seminary–talked with Doug Pagitt the other day at Bethel. Will come and visit Solomon’s Porch sometime. Grace to you. – Andy