When Do You Stop Writing?

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I've gradually refined my working method, since returning to creative writing three years ago. With my first novel, I did some editing as I went along, but the bulk of it gripped me like a grizzly bear after I'd typed 'The End'. Five months of editing saw me interacting with my story as a recalcitrant object, rather than an interesting psychological thriller, as I hunted down punctuation errors, repetitions and clumsy phrasing.

These days, as I tackle my third novel, I edit assiduously as I go along. Some writing experts recommend using a word processor not connected to the internet, which I understand if you're easily distracted by emails and social media, but I prefer to research facts close to writing about them. I do tons of fact checking beforehand, two months worth for my WIP, but there are still times when details need refining.

In this way, I don't trouble myself with reaching a set word count each day. Nor do I worry about finishing a chapter. Instead, I've taken to leaving off writing when I reach an intriguing development that poses questions of the protagonists. This usually happens after many hours of writing, when I'm also feeling weary.


Several famous authors recommended a similar approach, including Ernest Hemingway, who stopped when he still had an idea about what might happen next, but didn't want to empty the well of his imagination. There's a difference between dropping anchor to moor safely, and foundering on a reef.

I've also adopted a trick suggested by Thomas Edison: Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious. In this way, my brain sometimes offers solutions to a predicament while I sleep, that I wouldn't have thought of when awake.

When do you stop yourself writing?
I am an unrepentant, incorrigible pantser - I only stop when some other aspect of life (wife, dogs, work, etc.) demands my attention away. I don't worry about word counts, chapters, running out of ideas or anything, I just write while I can and return when I can again. I usually end up with 3 to 4 chapters' worth of work, and then go back and decide where the best breaks are later.
Each time I make a major step forward -- eg finishing a draft -- the WIP gets put away for at least a couple of weeks while I do something else. Fresh eyes show / suggest all kinds of things.
I stop each day when I need to get the kids for school. But I also take many mini-breaks throughout the day. An observer might say I'm procrastinating when I stop to make a cup of coffee, check on the livestock, pick up the mail, take down the laundry...but they're important thinking times for me. I'll wrestle with a phrase or a bit of action while I'm on my 'break', and usually come back with it all figured out. If I stay at the computer, I can often get stuck. Something about the physical activity or change of scenery helps.
I stop when real life intervenes, as seems to be the case with many here.
Now and then, I have the time but words don't come. I work on several writing projects, so when one hits a snag I shift to something else.
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Two new author interviews...

Facebook, anyone?