Tennessee Williams wrote from sunrise until noon, had lunch (washed down with lots of bourbon), and then edited all afternoon. Meanwhile, novelist Walker Percy did his writing in bed.
Toni Morrison does hers sitting on the sofa, in longhand, and while wearing a robe. E.B. White worked in a sparse wooden cabin by a lake. Stephen King and Susan Sontag surround themselves with clutter.
What’s the parallel between writers? No matter how different their writing routines, each of these writers — and thousands of others who actually produce — had just that: a routine.
A little over 2300 years ago, Aristotle called it the “soul of genius.” He wrote extensively about “habits of virtue.” And if you’re serious about what you do — no matter what it is — you’ll go out and get yourself some of those virtuous habits, too. And don’t think that aiding and abetting those virtues with a few of the regular kinds of habits is such a bad idea.
For instance, if you need a favorite writing hat or a lucky pen, go ahead and get one. Even better, if you’ve got a place you like to write, stick to it. Go there at the same time every day. And write. Here’s something more: Make sure you stop writing at the same time every day too. The routine is actually better for your productivity than allowing yourself to rely on working overtime.
That said, here’s another lesson we can borrow from other writing realms: set a goal.
For example, author Evelyn Waugh sat down to write every day and refused to get up until he’d cranked out at least 2,000 words (roughly five typed pages). And Hemingway didn’t call it a good day’s work until he had worn down seven number-two pencils.
Then there’s Anthony Trollope — who pumped out 47 novels while working in the post office — wrote exactly seven pages every day except Sunday, 49 pages a week. Never more, never less. How? Trollope started writing every morning at 5:30 am. And stopped at the same time, just a few hours later, to go to his regular job as a postmaster. He did this without fail for 33 years — and became one of the most prolific writers in literary history.
The message: Setting a regular writing goal can work wonders.
So… how many hours should you, a copywriter, aim to write per day?
That answer might surprise you too. I’m going to suggest… four.
Simply because writing — actual writing — is fatiguing work. If you’re doing it right, you should be wiped after a four-hour stint. But hang on. Because before you head off to happy hour at lunchtime, remember that there’s plenty more you can and will need to do — including more research, meetings, and yep… sure… even answering email.