How long do you write?

I was on a panel not long ago, with several other mystery writers. Various people in the audience asked questions, and one wanted to know how many hours each of us spent writing every day. I answered, “six.” Whereupon one of the other panelists, (who happens to be a friend), barked out, “You’re lying.” (You might wonder what people who are not my friends say to me.) I pointed out that I wasn’t lying and that she was a bully and then she said… Well, never mind. Yesterday, though, when I did in fact spend 6 hours writing, I found myself thinking about the question and realized that when I say I’m writing, I don’t mean that I’m sitting at the keyboard typing for that six hours. I’m doing a bunch of things on top of that. 1. I’m thinking, which, to the naked eye might look like I’m looking out the window at the oak tree on my front lawn. But so much of writing is imagining, and so much of that is letting my mind wander. 2. I’m reading. Because the book I’m working on now involves a different historical period, I’m reading lots of books about how people in that time dressed and ate and talked. I’m also reading psychology manuals and trying to get a better understanding of why people do what they do. And sometimes I’m reading Agatha Christie or Louise Penny, just because I want to absorb their wisdom. 3. I’m outlining. I don’t write up a formal outline before I start a book, unless an editor wants me to, but I do like to jot down notes about what’s to come. Just in case I forget. Or I might jot down a bit of dialogue. 4. I’m drinking coffee. 5. And yes, I’m pounding on the keyboard. All of which takes six hours, or sometimes more, when everything is going well and I’m in that groove and I don’t even notice the time has gone by. How long can you write?  

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