Thursday, November 16, 2006


Being a writer these days is the career equivalent of ADD.

Years ago, in the days of typewriters (note to newbies: a typewriter was a device like a computer, but without a monitor, memory, or Minesweeper) writers could sit down at their desk and just write. Then, when they finished writing, they could write their next book.

These days, not so much. Temptations and other work-related activities abound for the writer. There are dozens of opportunities to slack-off without even getting out of your chair.

  • Writing blogs
  • Checking for replies on blogs
  • Checking for replies to your replies on blogs
  • Computer games
  • Checking email
  • MySpace
  • Surfing the net
  • Message boards
  • Checking Amazon

And then there are the other requirements of the job:

  • Booksignings
  • Touring
  • Interviews
  • Conventions, conferences, and festivals
  • Library and school talks
  • Stock signings
  • Newsletters
  • Mailings
  • Websites
  • Blurbing

And, of course:

  • Other job
  • Family
  • Recreation

After finishing my 500 bookstore tour on August 22, I've managed to write 25 blog entries, visit 104 additional bookstores (I'm up to 608), do 19 events, and 7 interviews.

Writing? Who has time for writing?

Even when I do manage to sit down to write, the siren song of the internet calls, begging me to stop mid-sentence and research something, or check the blogosphere for mentions of my name, or catch up on my email.

So, in order to meet my 4000 word a day quota, I've had to get tough.

First, I don't automatically say yes to every speaking invitation I receive.

Second, I only turn on the internet when I take my breaks, every 1000 words.

Third, I keep working until I get my quota, even if that means I don't sleep.

When you're a writer, it's easy to forget the writing part. What are some of the things you do to stay on task?


Mark Terry said...

To-Do Lists, my friend. To-Do Lists. Every day when I'm wrapping up my work, I tear off the day's To-Do List (I have a yellow 5X8 legal pad right next to the computer) and I write up my To-Do List. Nowhere on the To-Do List is:

1. Write blog
2. Surf the net
3. Check out the girl of the day at

What is on my list for today is:

1. intv. Crosby 10:30
2. gym--early?
3. haircut--1:00
4. Shadows (my work in progress)
5. LIR (a newsletter I write)
6. Unique Opps (a writing assignment)
7. JAGT misc (a journal I edit)
8. web billing
9. call Mom
10. Quality report--due Feb
11. Reagent report--due May
12. mailing list (for flyers)
13. molec chapter (assignment)
14. prescription (gotta go to the pharmacy)

Will I get through all of them?

Hey, I wish. But I'd better get through 5 or 6 of them, and the most pressing are at the top of the list.

Mark Terry

Ed Brenegar said...

A better title for the post would have been "Discipline." Very helpful reminder of what it takes to get it done.

Jude Hardin said...

4000 words a day? You're kidding, right? That would add up to twenty 70K word books a year.

That's about 16 pages in TNR, 20 pages Courier. I can manage half that on a good day, when I don't have other pressing obligations.

That's a truly impressive quota, Joe.

Anonymous said...

One thing I do is force myself never, ever to stop when the writing is tough. Even if I stay up way too late or (gasp) go over my word count for the day, I write until I reach an easy or fun part. That way, getting started the next day is a breeze, comparatively, and I'm less likely to procrastinate if I know I can start off with something relatively simple.

Anonymous said...

For me it's all about doing "First Things First" (to borrow from Stephen Covey).

I have a list of 5 general things, in order of priority, I must get done each and every day. I start with #1 and work my way down, not allowing myself to move to the next item until the current one is completed:

1) Read previous day's work, and semi-polish it.

2) Write the next scene, at least 1000 words.

3) Workout.

4) Errands / Web Stuff / Return Calls

5) Clean house, cook dinner

6) Read fiction, or watch *quality* TV / movie with the wife and then read fiction in bed(quality as in "The Wire")

Some days, I don't make it through the whole list, but at least by doing the most important things first in the day, when I'm fresh, I'm always moving ahead on the stuff that really matters--that, and when all the "errands" start to pile up, and the house starts looking like a mess, it really motivates me to work faster so I can stop living like a slob.

...But what I really want to know is how long it takes you to write 4,000 words a day? Man, that's a boatload! Is that rough stuff you come back and rewrite? or almost-ready-to-print prose? Very curious.

~Jeremy James

Anonymous said...

Oh, Joe, you're so right. I've got to stop saying 'yes' to everything. And someone really, really needs to turn off my internet connection!!!

JA Konrath said...

I write about 750 words an hour, when I'm really cranking.

In an 8 hour day, it isn't hard to do 16 pages (250 words per page.)

I take a few breaks, and often get up to do something like eat or bathe or let the dogs out or check the blog...

Tom Schreck said...

I've learned to not try to compare when it comes to how I write.

I work a full time regular job, teach two college courses and do a lot of freelance writing. I also work a few times a year as a professional boxing judge.

I just make sure I'm always writing something. I listen to books on tape to keep up on fiction and read magazines in the hot tub.

I also can't write for long periods of time--I write for an hour or less which is plenty if you do it almost everyday.

If I try to write more the work sucks. Though I try to avoid rationalizing more than a day off here and there. I have little patience for people who have to "feel" like writing.

I AM struggling with figure out how to promote myself and market myself. I don't like doing things that have an uncertain outcome.

PJ Parrish said...

Joe sez "First, I don't automatically say yes to every speaking invitation I receive."

You guys should know, however, that Joe will be conducting a special workshop at SleuthFest next April on marketing and all his usual good stuff. (We're in Miami Beach this time!)

We made him an offer he couldn't refuse: hotel room on the ocean, a mini-fridge full of Green Lizards and twin Swedish models from a South Beach agency.

Seriously, we are so glad he's coming down.

JA Konrath said...

Hey, I said the twins had to be French, not Swedish.

And also, I was promised pie.

Mark Terry said...

I'd go with the Swedish, but that's just me.

Mark Terry said...

And just go there to see Joe's swedish twins.

JA Konrath said...

Damn! I love a woman who can bake!

For all who care, I hit 2200 words today between 9am and 2pm, but have to quit now to hit 7 bookstores and teach a night class.

That said, without prior obligations, 4000 a day is a snap.

Trish Ryan said...

I can't get wireless internet at the house for exactly this reason - I'd spend my whole day (and word count) on other blogs. I'm pretty sure that won't pay the bills :)

Martha O'Connor said...

I unsubscribed from my two writing forums, at least for November so I can crank out my NANO words.

It's working really well for me. After about a day of withdrawal, everything seems so quiet and peaceful.

Quitting drinking freed up a lot of time. LOL.

Back to work! :D

Martha O'Connor said...

And yeah-4000 words is pretty amazing achievement on a daily basis. I get days like that once in awhile, but they are evened out by the days in which I write 12 words, in which I write nothing at all, or in which I write a negative number of words--that happens to me all too often!

Anonymous said...

At the risk of providing another distraction, do you know about coComment? It's a web service that tracks your conversations/comments in one place and you can subscribe to a feed of it. You can even track conversations you haven't commented in.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, my parents (who are very supportive of my non-existent literary career, haha) insist that high school comes first.
Homework, then track, then violin, then more homework, then studying, then making sure my friends don't kill each other, then more studying, and then I can write.
At two in the morning.
And then my French teacher asks me if I've had enough sleep, makes me go get a drink of water, then I have to catch up on work, then I find out my friends are fighting again, and the whole cycle starts again.
Who needs sleep anyway?
I usually disable my internet, even if I'm DYING to get on for its thesaurus.
Which reminds me...I think I have a chem test to study for...

moonhart said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
moonhart said...

Mark, I am not so amazed at the 4K a day as the fact that a call to your Mom ranks 9 out of 14.

You are obviously =not= of Italian lineage.



Clay said...

I guess that's where I'm lucky...I tip the hat to my career as a journalist, but I'm very good about planting my ass and cranking out words. I'm also very good about ignoring writer's block.

It probably comes from a gin soaked city editor early in my career who screamed at me daily, "I need 11 more GD inches Morgan. 11 more inches even if you have to make it up."

Rob Gregory Browne said...

ADD. You said it, man. Right now it's three in the morning, I'm getting ready to work on the new book, yet I'm taking time to catch up on the blogs I've been neglecting during crunch time, check the stats, do a quick pass of the myspace page, work on some Authorbuzz material AND get ready for a telephone interview for a magazine this morning.

My head hurts.

Oh, and that thing sounds tempting.

Mark Terry said...

You're confused. Joe does 4000 words a day. I do, hell, I don't know. For my fiction I aim at 5 completed pages, which would be about, hmmm, 1250, but by completed I mean I write them and rewrite and tinker with them.

On the other hand, I'm a fulltime writer and editor, so a typical day may also bring in several thousand words or I may spend it interviewing or editing or whatever.

As for calling Mom @ #9, well, she has Alzheimer's and lives in a dementia unit, so she may or may not know who's calling on any given day, so that does tend to bring it down the priority list a bit.

Anonymous said...

To stay on task, I think about sending out resumes and having to get a real job. Does the trick every time.

Bob Liter said...

My method is simple. I write first thing after I get up five days a week. Since I'm 83 years old I have few distractions anyway.
Bob Liter

Stacey Cochran said...

Talk about distractions!

This site is taking over.

For example, check out this latest video of me talking about my querying literary agents.

Of course, I'm able to justify this by telling myself that ultimately the path to bestsellerdom is through television and film. And I'm serious about doing a documentary of my first book tour.

I'd love to broadcast a joint author book tour. Get like 4-6 authors to do a thirty-city tour, film it like a reality TV show, and sell it to Fox, NBC, or CBS.

I mean if Dog the Bounty Hunter can have a reality TV show, why the hell shouldn't a few up-and-coming writers as well.


Anonymous said...

Authors do what they have to do. Writer do what they have to do. Joe is an author, I'm a writer, we do different things. He signs books...I try to write them. The shoes I wear are different then the ones on his feet. If you are a writer, follow your own path. When you're published, follow Joe's. Until then do your own thing.

Aimlesswriter said...

I get up, get coffee and write.
I go to work and curse for six to eight hours then come home and write.
Sometime the people who live here think they need to eat so then I might cook dinner.
Then I write.
Then I fall asleep and start all over.
I have one question for you Joe; When do you sleep???

Lisa Hunter said...

Writing? You mean that thing I used to do before I became a publicist/speaker/interviewee?

I vaguely remember...

Anonymous said...

Joe, you so nailed it on the head.

Anonymous said...

JA, you are a machine! LOL

PJ, you are so lucky! I hope y'all have a fabulous time together!

Stacey, I think that is a fabulous idea!

Best wishes to everyone for a glorious week and a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the internet, which allows me to read all of these great posts and learn so much from fellow authors!

Anonymous said...

I have the best of both worlds.

I get up first thing in the A.M. and write for an hour and then I surf on the internet for three.

I am sure if I cut back on the internet I could triple my writing time and be an author in no time.
Ha ha ha.

Rita Carbon said...

I highly respect your dedication to 4000 words per day. It creates a great pace. But it feels like a double NaNoWriMo every day. Do you ever have vacations?

Unknown said...

Stay on task, are you kidding?

It's hard enough to admit I'm a writer out in public, much less actually do some writing during the day.

Seriously, though, I have to tell others that I'm actually working on a book. That way I get friends and family who faithfully check on my "progress" regularly. In other words, I force the guilt trip upon myself. If I haven't written anything in a while, their well-intended questions tend to prompt me to actually put a few words down on paper (computer screen).

It also doesn't help that I'm ADHD already, and I want to be a successful writer too. (Go figure.)

Unknown said...

This may sound silly, but it works for me.

When I want to focus on writing, I listen to a recording of rain or ocean waves. The pleasant sound is relaxing and it keeps my brain from wandering off.

Thanks, Kerry