In many of life’s major, endurance-related endeavors, pacing is the difference between success and burnout, achievement and frustration.
Start a marathon at a sprint, and you may enjoy an early lead but run out of steam halfway through. Start too slowly, and everyone may have gone home by the time you reach the finish line.
Writing a book is like running a marathon. Finding the right pace is key.
In my experience, a book project requires a more than one speed. I often switch between three general speeds in the course of one project:
- Slow background work: Idea collection, research, consideration
- Active work: Researching, note taking, early drafting, as well as revision and self-editing
- Intense immersion: Serious drafting as the major focus of my work; revision often entails immersion
Authors often talk about the immersion part of the process, sharing stories of their sacrifices. This is the phase that that scares many writers from writing a book. So, let’s tackle what’s going on in immersion and how to make it less painful.
Immersing yourself in your writing
Immersion happens when you’re working on the book long enough and frequently enough that it becomes the main focus of your brain’s thoughts, even when you’re not writing.
Your brain keeps toiling away when you leave the keyboard. You wake early thinking about the book. When you sit to write, you get into the work quickly because your brain has been processing it.
Some people think the only way to achieve this focus is to dedicate all of their time to the book. (That may well be true for them.) Some writers rent cabins and retreat from the world. Others shut their doors to family and work commitments and do nothing but write their books for weeks or months on end.
If you want to know what an author’s immersion process is like, read the acknowledgments section of their book. The ones who need total immersion usually apologize to their loved ones.
Total time commitment is quite effective. But not everyone can do it—and it isn’t always necessary.
Everyone’s immersion pace is different
You might be able to achieve immersion with smaller, dedicated periods of time. Like that marathon runner, find a pace that you can maintain while making progress.
I’ve spoken with many authors who have written their books while holding down jobs. One author told me that she found that she needed a minimum 90 minutes a day, 7 days a week. (She would write longer more if the spirit moved her.) Another scheduled two-hours blocks three times a week. Some people write for a few hours every evening and manage to publish excellent work.
There is no minimum time commitment that meets everyone’s needs. Find your own combination of length and frequency that tips you into an immersive state.
In my own experience, I know that if I spend at least an hour and a half a day on a project, it begins to generate its own ideas and the work becomes easier. But sometimes that time is spent researching, outlining, or exploring the ideas I want to cover. It doesn’t always look like writing.
There will be sacrifices, but you need not sacrifice everything.
How to make immersion less onerous
Writing a book is a major project, but it doesn’t have to be painful. It might even feel joyful, if you find a good balance.
Here are a couple ideas to ease your path and adjust your pace.
- Try sprints: Choose short deadlines and work in immersion on them. Then come up for air for a few days or weeks before diving back in.
- Be intentional about incubation: One key benefit of immersion is the offline incubation it delivers. If you become more intentional about incubating ideas, you can reap those benefits with fewer hours in the “struggle” phase. See my webinar on intentional incubation.
You will have to sacrifice something. But don’t sacrifice sleep, sanity, health, or important relationships.
Change speeds when you must
Many of the writers I know are struggling to get their work done during this shelter at home time. Maybe they’re occupied with kids attending school at home, or dealing with anxiety or loss. Maybe they’re simply not able to focus.
Anxiety adds a cognitive load to your day, reducing the cycles available for writing.
When you’re running up a steep hill, on uneven terrain, you may need to walk to get to the top. Keep heading up the hill.
Maybe you’re on an uphill path now.
You may not be able to work as hard, or as long, as you want. But at some point, you’ll crest the hill, and your effort will pay off.