How many hours a day should a writer work? What’s too much (or is there such a thing?) What’s too little?
On the one hand…Deep Work and Flow
I’m a big fan of the concept of Flow, a concept that features in the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yes, I know that’s quite a name). Flow is “optimal experience,” the time when you are most creative. It’s that time when you are so immersed in your work that time passes and you don’t realize it; it’s a time of deep involvement and enjoyment. For a quick overview of the concept of Flow, see the author’s TED talk.
A recent FastCompany article includes the concept of flow to show that an optimum number of hours of creative work should be about 5 hours a day. It’s about what Cal Newport calls deep work. Newport defines deep work as “cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.” Newport says we waste our creative time doing shallow work (like emails, blogging, etc.) when we should be doing deep work, to improve the value of our work, increase the volume, and create more satisfaction. He says skill trumps passion and the only way to get skilled is through deep work.
So, 5 hours a day? Does that mean I’m not doing good work if I stop at 1000 words a day?
On the other hand…Write a Little a Day
Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.” (Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen)
Stephen King (On Writing) tells fiction writers to aim for a target of 1,000 words a day, six days a week. Sounds good to me.
Leo Babauta at Zenhabits says that writing daily is life-changing. It clarifies your thinking, makes you a better writer, helps you break through writer’s block and come up with new ideas regularly. encourages you to start small. Maybe that’s less than 1000 words. It doesn’t have to be 5 hours!
And Colin Nissan at McSweeney’s has an even better reason to write a little every day: It strengthens your writing muscles.
In conclusion – a balance
A little a day is what I can handle. 1000 words on one novel, some work on another. I have a life, even if I’m retired. But on some days, when I have time, I can set aside 5 hours or so and see what happens. Maybe a little a day PLUS some “deep work” days is the secret.
More on daily writing: Daily Writing Tips