How would you, as a writer, quantify a productive day? Do you base productivity on your word count, or something else? On Pinterest, which is turning out to be an inspirational hangout for writers, I found an interview with Karen Russell in the Daily Beast. Russell’s first novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, and she now has a second novel. I’m always up for learning how successful writers write.
Noah Charney, the interviewer, asked Russell: How much do you have to write, in order to feel that you’ve had a productive writing day?
Russell says a productive day for a writer doesn’t necessarily equate a specific word count.
I know many writers who try to hit a set word count every day, but for me, time spent inside a fictional world tends to be a better measure of a productive writing day. I think I’m fairly generative as a writer, I can produce a lot of words, but volume is not the best metric for me. It’s more a question of, did I write for four or five hours of focused time, when I did not leave my desk, didn’t find some distraction to take me out of the world of the story? Was I able to stay
put and commit to putting words down on the page, without deciding mid-sentence that it’s more important to check my email, or “research” some question online, or clean out the science fair projects in the back for my freezer? For me, a good writing day is when I can move forward inside a story, because I take so much pleasure in tinkering with sentences that I often have to fight my own impulse to dither and revise in order to keep the momentum of the narrative going. So if I can move in a linear way through the story, and stay zipped inside the story, not jinx myself with despair or frustration or over-confidence or self-consciousness, and be basically okay with not-knowing what is going to happen from one sentence to the next, that’s a great writing day. Writers are such excellent self-saboteurs, though. I swear, I can hijack my own writing day in a hundred ways—I can eject myself from a story because I’ve decided it’s “going good.” There’s this excruciating aspect of joy, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, where you almost want to interrupt it. For me, the experience of losing myself in a character can feel intolerably wonderful. So I’ve decided that the trick is just to keep after it for several hours, regardless of your own vacillating assessment of how the writing is going. Is that setting the bar too low, Noah? Showing up and staying present is a good writing day.
I was so glad to read this. She’s right about the ways writers sabotage themselves. For me, counting words seems counterproductive because active writing is only a part of the writing process. Writing also involves research, plotting, note-taking, determining character backstory, and problem solving. Today, for example, I read a nonfiction book that relates to the subject matter for the novel I’m currently starting. I consider this part of writing.
You can read the rest of Karen Russell’s interview here.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love: a new contemporary fiction about love, lust, and family secrets.
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.
“Linda K. Sienkiewicz’s powerful and richly detailed debut novel is at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River, and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters