Better Writing: How long should a writing session be?

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From Jordan’s email: “I’ve read all kinds of advice about how long a writing session should be. Some people talk about three or four hours. Others talk about 20 minutes. What do you say?”

This is a question that calls for that all-purpose business answer: “It depends.”

It depends on a lot of things. It depends on how well you work and your experience. It depends on the piece of writing you’re working on. It depends on whether you’re fresh or whether you’re tired. In other words, there are a host of things that will make a writing session on a particular project on a particular day different from a similar project on a different day. That said, here are some guidelines.

What Most People Do

In my experience as a writer and as a writing coach, writers have two common work patterns. Some writers write best in short bursts. For most of them, those bursts seem to be somewhere around 18-20 minutes. Some people use the Pomodoro technique. Others work the same number of minutes without calling it anything special.

Other people write in longer blocks. Those blocks run somewhere between 50 and 60 minutes before it’s time for a break. Breaks run from 10-20 minutes.

For me, the project tends to dictate which method I use. Sometimes, I write in short bursts. Other times, I write for about 50-55 minutes and then take a break.

It Will Change for You

No matter where you are in your writing development, the way you write and the length of time you write will probably change. Don’t worry about finding the right answer and then sticking with it forever. Figure out what works for you now. You’ll probably change in increments. Don’t worry about that. Just make sure what you’re doing is working for you today.

Pay Attention to Energy More Than Time

I tell clients not to worry so much about the specific time that each writing bit takes. Instead, pay attention to your energy. When you’re fresh and rested and the words are coming thick and fast, work until you feel the energy start to drop. Then take a break. You’ll find that some days that means you write more than 50 minutes. Other days, you’ll only be able to manage about 20 minutes before you need to take a break.

Before you break, make sure you know what you’re going to write when you start again. That’s the way you keep the momentum going.

Takeaways

The best amount of time to write depends on many factors.

Most people either write in 20-minute bursts followed by a break or 50 to 60 minute bursts followed by a break.

Don’t worry about what other people do. Find the best writing interval for you right now.

Your writing pattern will evolve.

Pay attention to the energy in your writing rather than the length of time you’ve been writing.

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