Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Writers Write - but when and how? Are you a professional writer?

"Writers write everyday." A statement we writers often hear, made by other well-meaning writers.

Recently a writer friend told me how upset she was by that statement, because it didn't allow for life to happen. The insinuation is that "professionals" write every day, through every situation and storm in life. Nice if it works for you.

If you're a writer, aspiring or published, you have to learn a pace and a rhythm that works for you.

I agree, writing means you have to write. Duh. There are people who call themselves writers, who do a lot of talking. Talk about writing, talk about what they've learned, talk about the book they're plotting. But writing is hard work. And the cut between the writer and the talker is clearly defined by pages. Pages, manuscripts, queries and submissions. SHOW ME THE PAGES!

That said, you can accumulate pages without writing everyday. What!? Sacrilege, you say? I used to beat myself up because I didn't have the same schedule that the "professionals" have. I've sat through workshops and author interviews where the eager newbies in the crowd are asking, "How many hours a day do you write?" And the typical interviewer inevitably asks, "Describe a typical day in your life."

Some days I write a little. Some days I think and plot. Some days I go to garage sales. Some days I sweat bullets over a scene. Some days I sit with a friend who needs me. Some WEEKS I tally pages like there's no tomorrow. On deadline, I sometimes write all day and half the night. This week I am working 15 hour days. I started at seven yesterday and stopped for the Bachelorette (we all have our limits) at seven pm and then went back to the story for a couple more hours before dropping into bed.

However, some days I watch movies or read a book. Does that mean I'm not working? Does it mean I'm not a professional?

Okay, I'm not Nora Doesn't-Need-A-Last-Name (sort of like Cher) but neither is anyone except Nora. And I've heard her talk about her days - she exercises and has a family and a life. Honestly, I don't know how she does it. I have a friend who admits she has no life other than her writing. Does she produce a lot of books? Yes. Do I want that for myself? No.


This book helped me realize that I'm creating all the time. Even if I'm painting a room or arranging flowers or shopping at a flea market, my brain is processing ideas. I may not write for a couple of days, but when I sit down and open the file and put my fingers on the keyboard, the story flows out.

I'm not one of those people who plan the story all out head of time. More about that another time.

Occasionally I receive a commemorative pin from my publisher, acknowledging and celebrating the publication of milestone books. The accompanying letters say, "This is a significant achievement." I think so, too. I consider myself a professional. I've written thirty-eight books since 1993. Sometimes two, three or four in one year. Did I write every day? No.

My husband once spent a couple of weeks in the hospital. I took line edits along with me while I sat with him all day. One summer my daughter, with her family of six, lived with us for five weeks while their new home was being finished. Do YOU think I wrote everyday? We moved to a new home and the next week I went to RWA national conference. I got a new knee last December and did a whole lot of recuperating and physical therapy. (Not to mention the drugs.)

I have a life, with a husband, family and church.

I don't always write everyday. But I'm a writer. The pages are the proof.


  1. Wonderful advice, as usual :) Sometimes, if I'm stuck, it's better NOT to write. Then I'll be standing in the shower and think 'ah hah!' The plot-problem will have solved itself.

  2. Well said! A professional in any line of work, doesn't do their thing for so many hours of every day. That's just life.

    I'm proud to be a writer. And... I've got pages!

    Sherri--isn't amazing how many problems the shower has solved? For me it's often the drive to and from weekly critique.

  3. Sometimes its very hard to get that daily word count in. I so agree. The best thing we can do is to try. The worst thing we can do is not attempt. Life is at the whim of the muse. For my part, I like your pages of proof... sort of like the pudding.


  4. I enjoyed your last book " Marrying the Preaches Daughter", very much.I have never written to an author before, I am not a writter. I wondered if you had someone to proff read your materials? I found a biblial err on page 73 concerning King Solomon. If scripture is correct David the psamlist is King Solomon's Father, not the other way around. Thanks for listening. Shirley

  5. Hi Shirley,

    Thanks for posting. You are not the first person to point out that mistake. As many times as a book goes through editing, there are still things the author and editors miss, and to be completely honest, I was recovering from a knee surgery at the time I wrote it and I'm feeling fortunate that was the only glaring error.

    I hope it didn't spoil the book for you!
    Cher :-)

  6. Hi all,

    For me, it's not a race. Do you know how long it took Margaret Mitchell write "Gone with the Wind"? It took years to complete.
    I can't write every day. I have many obstacles.
    First, I need to conduct research. That means reading a lot of books. I won't probably use everything in it, but I would not know what I will miss if I won't read them.
    Second, life happens. Working full time and being a mom to two small boys doesn't leave a lot of time on my hands.
    Every writer is unique. What works for some, doesn't necessary work for others.
    I need to feel inspired when I write. I can write up to 5,000 words a day if I just feel inspiration. I may write nothing on other days.
    I do descipline myself. But I need to devide my time equally. I have no choice.

  7. After 38 books, you're allowed a typo! Especially after such a traumatic experience. You are truly an inspiration. I wish I could get through ONE DAY without a typo....I can't even get through an email :)

  8. Hey Shirley, I was just wondering if you had a book you have written that I could read?? Oh that's right YOU are not a writer. It's easy to criticize people for things you have never done.

    Cheryl-- Your book was amazing as all of your 38 published books have been!!

    Your Biggest Fan,

  9. Some writers are talented to write a lot of good books. Some might write many pages, but it might be useless like talking too much.
    For me, quality of work counts, not the page count.
    But I do consider writing as an exercise as well. How can you excell without any practice?

  10. I loved stumbling upon your blog. I think new writers sometimes get caught in the nitty-gritty details and forget that it's their writing life. They have to find the rhythm - as you said - that works for them.