Most of us are time crunched, and squeeze in 30 minute or one hour writing dashes one or more times a day, getting books written in increments.
And this is absolutely a fantastic way to write in the cracks and margins of you day and still have a life.
There are some serious side benefits to arranging very long writing sessions for yourself.
What is a really long writing session?
If you only get to write in 15-minute stretches, then three whole hours is going to seem like a lot.
Some authors manage to clear two-hour blocks of time each evening, so a four- or six-hour writing session seems incredibly long.
Basically, any amount of time spent writing that makes you feel a little awed at the commitment involved is a really long writing session. I would say that at a minimum, you would need to write for at least two or three hours to gain some of the side benefits of really long writing sessions. If that’s an average writing day for you, double the time.
I’m writing full time, these days. I have for several years maintained a six-hourly writing session at least every weekday and sometimes on Saturdays, too. (From 6am to noon).
But just recently, I switched to an insane schedule that includes eight hours of writing, and a minimum of nearly 10,000 words, six days a week. At least, it felt insane for the first few days.
I’ve settled into it now, and the switch to even longer writing sessions has reminded me of some of the benefits of long writing sessions that I had forgotten about. I thought I’d list them here.
How do you arrange really long writing sessions?
You can benefit from really long writing sessions even if you have a day job. You won’t be able to write for six or eight hours a day, every day, as I do, but you can take advantages of weekends and long weekends, public holidays and more, to arrange one-off dive-in-deep sessions.
- Negotiate with the family, or perhaps send everyone else to a movie + dinner for the afternoon and into the evening (or morning + lunch and into the afternoon), for a Saturday or Sunday. Clear off your commitments for the day, make sure everything is done ahead of time, then sit down and write. (Note: Yes, this is a pre- and post-pandemic suggestion. If you’re still in lockdown, like me, then maybe buy them two or three of the latest movies to watch as live streams, while you write upstairs.)
- Is there a long weekend coming up? Can you make it two days in a row where you write all morning and into the early afternoon?
- Have vacation days owed to you that your employer is nagging you to clear? Clear them, and while the rest of the family is out at school/work, you write all day long. Even just one vacation day spent doing nothing but write can reap benefits.
- Take advantage of unexpected days and big chunks of time that suddenly open up. If you keep watch and think sideways, you’ll spot the moments: Cancelled events, a spouse’s business trip. And right now: If you’re in lockdown and forced to stay home.
If you’re writing full time, you can also rearrange things to make extra long writing sessions for yourself. This is one I use often:
- For a whole day, do nothing but admin and business; clear the decks for at least two days ahead. Then you get two full days of all-day writing sessions.
- You can also take advantage of lulls in business matters/release schedules to push aside administration stuff and write your guts out.
Regardless of whether you have a job or not, really long writing sessions work well when you are fully into writing a book—the plot is outlined, you know exactly where you are going, and can just write.
Having said that, though, I have found that one of the best ways to get into a new book is to make myself sit there and painfully chunk out the first few chapters in one monster writing session. Once I have a few chapters down, I’ve moved past all the heavy-duty decision making, the characters are settling in, and the story is flowing. This works because of a couple of the side-benefits of really long writing sessions, which I’ll get to below.
And those same benefits will also help if you use your really long writing session to plot/outline/structure/brainstorm your book.
Really long writing sessions require some creative thought and a bit of pre-planning, I do admit. But the benefits are worth some pre-strategizing.
The Benefits Of Really Long Writing Sessions
You Learn How To Start, Over And Over
A couple of weeks ago, I did a longish post about just starting, and the benefits of mini-habits.
Very long writing sessions are not eight hours of solid writing. You simply cannot go for eight hours without an interruption of some sort.
I learned this myself when I switch from six hours to eight hours per day. When I was writing for six hours a day, I tried to insist that everyone in the house observe my writing hours and minimize their interruptions, etc. – everything the productivity books tell you to do.
When you switch to very long writing sessions, though, that insistence upon severe isolation becomes unrealistic. I accepted the reality that my eight hours were going to be a long series of interruptions. In that case, the trick is to just start, and to keep just starting over and over again.
The first time you have to start, when you’re staring eight hours in the eye, can intimidate the shit out you. But if you know that something will interrupt you, sooner or later (and have you noticed that it is always sooner?), you can draw a breath, then dive back into the writing.
That takes the whole ominous marathon burden away. You just have to write until the next natural interruption occurs.
It’s a trick, though. Once you’re writing, you’re rolling and don’t need to be interrupted.
But when you are interrupted, tell yourself simply to start once more. And you’ll be back into it in no time.
Really long writing sessions will teach you very swiftly the art of Just Starting. And once you have the hang of it, you’ll be surprised by how many other things in life work extraordinarily well if you can just get started.
You Lose Track Of The End Time
I’ve noticed when I do a one- or two-hour stint of writing, that the whole thing is a sprint. I’m holding my breath, waiting to hit the finish line so I can stop writing.
When you’re completing a really long writing session, you stop looking at the clock. After all, the end of the writing session is so far away, you’re in no danger of running over time.
You also stop looking at your word count, too.
This frees you to become truly immersed in the writing process and the story itself. More on that in a moment.
You Don’t Have To Keep Picking Up The Story Strings
Every time you start a new writing session, there is a period of “coldness”, while you’re easing back into the story, picking up the strings: what happens next; what you were thinking when you had a character say that, yesterday; where this scene is going; the pace and tension of the scene; theme considerations; what the principal characters are feeling and thinking right now.
You could have three writing sessions of two hours each: If you spend fifteen minutes picking up the strings and warming up your writing muscle, that’s 45 minutes of making yourself write.
Or you could have a single long writing session of six hours and have to go through that warm-up only once. 15 minutes out of six hours of writing, and after that, you’re flowing and won’t want to stop.
If you schedule a few very long writing sessions each week or month, you’ll find your hourly word rate creeps upwards, because you’re not constantly having to warm up.
They Train You To Write For Longer Periods In One Sitting…And Also How To Write For Shorter Periods
It actually takes practice to write for six hours at once. You have to learn to stick with the work. You have to learn how to just start, over and over. There’s a physical toll you have to adjust to, including keeping your fingers moving for so long.
The more really long writing schedules you plan and execute, the better you’ll get at getting through them, and the easier they’ll become.
Then you get the opposite happy affect, known as Priming: Now, a two-hour writing session is something you can do standing on your head. One hour? A complete doddle. You won’t even hesitate to write for an hour. And your word counts will spike heavily.
You Make Huge Progress On The Story
I’m currently writing 10K per writing session. In just four days, I’ve written a short book. In seven days I’ve written a thick novel. In ten, a door stopper.
You make serious progress on a story when you use a really long writing session. It’s super motivating, too. The story you were just breaking ground on this morning is now fully into the second act and just rolling along.
Being able to see the finish line the day you start a novel will kick you into a higher gear than you ever thought you had in you.
You’ll Be Immersed in the Story. For hours.
This is one of the things I love about writing full time. When you write in bits and drabs, an hour here and there, you’re constantly watching the clock and you can’t settle into the story and just write.
But when you stop watching the clock, don’t care about your word count, and you’ve got the whole story in your head, you will reach a flow state when everything drops away. You forget where you are, what time it is, and how long you’ve been writing. Time, contrariwise, flies. And it also seems to crawl.
When you are in flow, so that the only thing happening in your head is the story itself, these are some of the best hours of your life. You will always emerge from a long writing session when you’ve reached flow feeling a tug of regret that you can’t stick with the story a bit longer. And you’ll itch to get back to it.
Get to a flow state often enough, and the final pay off for long writing sessions starts to make itself felt:
You’ll Learn To Love The Process Of Writing
You get the high of writing while in a flow state, PLUS all the other side benefits of writing for a long time. You also get a big dopamine hit when you’ve finished the really long writing session.
Then you get to tote up your word count for the day, and get another dopamine hit as you put it in your word count log.
This adds up to learning to love the writing process (as opposed to merely liking having written). It is the most powerful, addictive inducement to keep writing known to man.
Give it a try. Set yourself up for a very long writing session (defined by your current regular schedule) and journal about it afterwards.
Then try a series and see if you don’t like some of the benefits that come with really long writing sessions.