Monday, June 27, 2011

When Do You Write?

I've noticed something in my query inbox lately that I find interesting. In the past two or three weeks, my request rate has dropped dramatically. Or, I should say, it's dropped back down to normal. I didn't even realize I had been requesting fewer manuscripts until I saw that from June 9 to June 21, I received 0 material due to lack to requests. This lag between requests isn't uncommon, especially after I compared it to other months. The reason it felt so wrong to me, though, is because for the entire month of May, and the first week in June, I had requested at least one manuscript (sometimes more) almost every single day.

This means that a) my reading pile for May was massive - yes, I am still getting through it; and b) the quality of the queries, and the writing, that month was noticeably higher. Most of what I received were from people who clearly did their homework, knew what I was looking for, what I might like, and delivered. I can only assume they spent an entire winter researching only me; that's how well-matched many of these queries were to my personal tastes.

The bulk of June hasn't been like that, and I'm starting to wonder if it's a summer slump. (Note: There were, of course, some gems, regardless of whether I had requested or passed on them.) Does the slowness of June mean writers are taking a break from querying? Was that request-rush in May just a fluke that may or may not happen again?

Or, have writers toiled away all winter to finish their masterpieces so that queries could be good and sent by the time summer hit? Alternatively, have they all left for an exotic writer's retreat on the beach, where they will spend every day of the summer simultaneously working on tans and new novels to query by winter?

I'm not sure, and the reason is more likely that this was simply a slow month that will pick up again by July. But, it's made me wonder when writers write. Are there better times than others? Are certain seasons more inspiring, depending on the project? Or is it a less exciting matter of simply when you find the time?

You tell me, writers. When do you get your best work done? And when do you decide it's time to query that work?

(Blogger's note: Speaking of summer, I'll be on vacation beginning mid-week, so there won't a publication this Wednesday, and no regular posts until July 6. Enjoy your 4th of July weekend, everyone!)


  1. I find it hard to write during the summer. It's especially busy for parents because the kiddos are out of school for the summer. Winter is my best time. It's wonderful writing with a cozy cup of Joe in the coffee shop :)

  2. I think a lot of writers assume that agents and other publishing professionals will be taking their summer vacations, so maybe some are waiting until fall to sub.

    Hopefully that will help you tackle your request pile!

  3. I've found that for whatever reason I usually have a WIP ready for editing at the beginning of the summer and then often I start a new one in the Fall (before NaNoWriMo). I'm not entirely sure why this pattern developed...but it did.

    Good luck with that request pile! At least the extra time will help you tackle those last few samples.

  4. Being a husband to a very interesting and lovely woman, and we being parents to six delightful and small-ish children, along with my having a full-time+ day job, make finding quality time to write very difficult. I've found that the most effective time for me to write is in the margins of my day: evenings after kid bedtime and early mornings.

    This makes for slightly less sleep, but I have my priorities. As for what season I do my best writing: it's definitely in the summer, since I run more often and my creative juices flow more. The fall too, since harvesting my garden and hiking in the nearby mountains always bring vivid sensory experiences. Winter as well, due to the darkness and cold keeping me cozy and near heat sources like my laptop.

    I don't write much in spring. That's planting time.

  5. Unless I'm taking a break for whatever reason, I've generally always written year-round. But then again, I've been childfree a lot longer than I expected, so I'm able to devote a lot more time to writing than I would be had I started having kids younger! I've never given much thought to when in particular I do my best work.

    BTW, I'm just wondering what your response time is for submissions to the blog. I sent something on 15 June and was just curious when I should expect to hear back either way. I don't mind waiting awhile, but I'd just like to know.

  6. I do most of my writing during summer break, Christmas break, and spring break. As a teacher, I am blessed to have time to write during the evenings most days. Still, I write constantly during breaks.

    Hmmm...I did write a huge chunk of a novel in January while I was in a non-motion cast for my broken foot. I don't think I'd like to repeat THAT, though.

  7. I write the most on my breaks from school; I squeeze in as much writing time as possible while in Ithaca, but I'm most productive on breaks. My plan right now is to have my current wip ready for querying by the time I go back to school at the end of August.

  8. I do most of my writing during the school year, because it's hard to squeeze it in when the kids are at home during the summer. In addition to fiction, I also write for magazines, so I sent out a mad rush of queries at the end of May when I had time. Maybe others are doing the same with their novels?

  9. "Speaking of summer, I'll be on vacation beginning mid-week, so there won't a publication this Wednesday, and no regular posts until July 6."

    There's your answer. People are writing, they're just not querying. They know you're likely to be on vacation, or at a conference, or what-have-you, and they figure they're better off waiting until fall. The advice I've gotten on when to query goes:
    -Don't query in the summer, because agents are at conferences or on vacation.
    -Don't query after Thanksgiving, because the combination of the holiday season and a deluge of NaNoWriMo entries means agents are quicker to reject.
    -Don't query in January, because mailboxes are clogged with New Year's Resolvers.

    So to "do it right", you query in the spring or the fall. At least, that's what I've heard. Does this track with your experience?

    Lupines and Lunatics

    P.S. If you need a good manuscript, I'll gladly send you mine. ^_^

  10. I write 5-6 days a week, almost always at the same time: When my kids are napping :) I do take off during the Christmas octave (the week from Christmas to New Year's), and I am taking a week-and-a-half break this July when I go on a trip with my husband, but other than that, I pretty much just stick to it.

    I know some people have said that they prefer not to query in the summer, but I actually like querying this time of year. I know that many agents are off on conferences and things at this time, but I always figure that means y'all are feeling extra inspired and ready to find the next exciting project or new author, and I find the energy flying around the interweb to be really inspiring at this time.

    But, I'm pretty sure everyone's story is unique. Anyway, hope that helps :)

  11. @LupLun - I can't speak for all agents, but I disagree. Of course you should still query in January and in the summer! The response time might just be a little slower is all. As for after Thanksgiving, same rules apply. The holidays slow everything down because most people have just enough time to catch up on what happened in between Thanksgiving and Christmas before our offices close again. It doesn't mean you shouldn't query at all. We read queries in the order they're received, so yours will still get read, albeit maybe a little later than usual.

    But yes about not querying NaNo projects, unless it's the one you did the previous November that you've had time to revise. That has less to do with when to send, and more to do with the quality of what you're sending though.

  12. I find that if my MS takes place in a particular season, then I write better in that same season. Regardless, I try to write at least 5 days/week, year round. I will take a break in September when the school year starts and thing are busy.

    Have a great vacation!

  13. Most of my writing is done on the weekend, and with the amount of rain we've had here in the Midwest, yardwork has been ferocious this year.

    As for querying, I've had my best luck and fastest response times in July. :)

  14. My productivity seems to peak in late spring. I write steadily through the rest of the year, but I have the most drive and enthusiasm and energy (which results in the highest output) during April - June.

    I have no idea why.

    Regarding querying, I had the most requests and fastest results last year during July and August.

  15. I write whenever my schedule allows. Right now, I'm working on the third rewrite of my science fiction novel, turning it into a completely different novel with a completely different main character, based on suggestions from Editor Alan Rinzler and several beta readers. At the same time, I've also written several new short stories.

    Do you think the decision by many good writers to self-publish has affected the number of query letters agents receive? I'm not sure how many writers are suddenly turning to self-publishing, but with all the recent exciting news in self-publishing, I personally know many authors who have suddenly stopped querying, going from submitting many query letters on a regular basis to going cold turkey and walking away from all that, suddenly self-publishing. Many of these writers are good writers, getting requests for full manuscripts. It's an exciting time in publishing right now, with many more options than there used to be.

  16. To a certain extent, I agree with LupLun. I haven't queried this summer because several of the agent I'm targeting are currently closed to queries and many more are off to conferences. I'm using the time to spit-shine my MS (and write the next one). I have no preference for writing, but it is harder in the summer with the kids home from school. Perhaps that's a contributing factor to your slump.

  17. I write all year ~except for the summer. Kiddos at home, vacations, and visitors keep me from my MS. Other than that, I can write anytime.

  18. I tend to query in the spring (April/May) and October.

    I write all the time on my shorter projects (articles, short stories, flash fiction.) And use the summer months of July and August(When the weeds and yard work has settled down from the spring) and the winter months (January/February/March) to work on the biggest full manuscript upheaval revisions. Those seem to be the times when I have less distractions with other things. Ironically, if I'm going to sell something, nine times out of ten, it sells in May. My first short story sold in May six years ago, and it's a pattern I've seen repeat. I always get excited in May thinking, I wonder what it will be this year!

  19. I write year round. I get up at 5.30am to write for an hour or so before the kids get up, and then late at night when everyone has gone to bed. And on the days I don't work, I try to cram a longish session in when I can between chores. Otherwise I steal moments from other parts of the day - at work between jobs, at home between chores and entertaining small kiddies, at poolside during swimming lessons, just any time I can grab.

  20. I write daily. It's like coffee: if I go a day or two without it, I get twitchy, irritated, and I feel, well, uninspired and flat. I'm not querying as widely this time around, though; I'm more careful (second time querying; different project) and am considering any feedback and making the necessary revisions if I agree with the thoughts before sending out another single query. Maybe everybody's just being extra cautious, Sarah? Or maybe you got us all hooked on your favourite TV shows and we're all lazy writers? :)

  21. I write every week (somtime just a little) and try to send at least one query eveery week. But two literary agents that I followed asked to wait till August, so I guess some agents take part of the summer off. Sarah, your e-mail box will be full soon, and enjoy your vacation.

  22. Interesting that things have shifted for the summer! I write every day but Sunday (or try to), rain, shine, winter, or summer. And then I query when my critique group doesn't have much left to say about the book...possibly because they're just sick of it, but I'd like to think because it's ready to query. :)

    Enjoy your vacation!

  23. Ha. Just last month I finished another round of revisions. If I hadn't already queried you twice over the past 18 months I probably would have sent a query to you again.

    Maybe it's just that May is when the weather gets nicer, so people feel motivated to get something done? They know bikini season is coming, so they put in months of intense preparation so that when they walk their MSes past the agents who are lounging by the pool, they can glance back and catch them staring.

  24. I write (and exercise) first thing in the morning (except Sundays) so at least there's something done for that day no matter what else comes up. I sent queries in batches when my novel was ready in order to have time to work the next one as well as a screenplay. Stopped when I found a pitch conference and that worked out well: 3 editors want to see it. Just returned from NYC & need to decide whether to just send it or query more agents to find one to send the material. (first waiting to hear back from the agent who has the full mss) So glad I found your blog via retweet from @agentgame

  25. FALL.

    It's all about the fall.

    I'm on this insane Hemingway kick lately, so now I have to share with you Ernest's views on this (in a letter to Scott Fitzgerald in 1929):

    "Summer's a discouraging time to work. You don't feel death coming on the way it does in the fall when the boys really put pen to paper."

  26. Fall, winter, spring, I'm writing...but come summer vacation for kids, I take a break and formulate what comes next if I'm working on any novels, or come up with new concepts I'd like to explore more.

    More interesting is knowing there's a bit of a slump...will writers take advantage to query you now, or no?

  27. I'm sometimes hesitant to query during summer months because I tend to envision that agents are vacationing in the Hamptons rather than at their offices :)

    I write equally year round, but always afternoon to night -- I'm not at all productive in the morning!

    I tend to alternate between screenwriting and fiction writing... this past winter/spring I was very focused on screenwriting, but I'm getting back into novel writing for the summer.