The Supply and Demand of the Writing Life

by Leanne Sowul
published in Writing

There’s a common theory (presented here by my time-management guru, Laura Vanderkam) that suggests that book-lovers either fall into the “supply” or “demand” category of readers. A supply-side reader builds reading into her life and has habits and schedules that support reading. For example, a supply-side reader will always keep a book next to her bed, and plans to read for a few minutes every night before falling asleep. This person will always be in the middle of at least one book.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are demand-side readers. Demand-side readers devour books whenever they find one that they love. They read when books demand their time. A demand-side reader might not always be in the middle of a book, but after a trip to the library he’ll make time to read.

Those categories might help some readers figure out how to improve their reading lives. But today I’m questioning the theory. We need both supply and demand to be readers. We need to have habits in place to make our reading lives a valued part of our days, but we also need great books to encourage us to keep those habits.

The same goes for writing. Supply and demand are both operating in our writing lives, and we can only live our fullest writing life if we’re working both angles.

Supply-Side Writing

In order to supply writing, we must first supply time. You may have all the best intentions to write, but unless you set aside the time, it won’t happen. It’s too easy to get sucked into doing things that are important to others if you don’t set a clear boundary for the spending of your time.

Figure out when your creative energy is at its peak, and schedule time with your writing. It doesn’t have to be hours and hours; a focused thirty minutes can yield a satisfying word count. If you piece several focused sessions throughout the day, you’ll create plenty of time for your writing supply.

We also must supply space. This might be easy if you have a home office perfectly suited to your writing projects, but not all of us have that luxury. Where will you write if you don’t have “a room of one’s own?” Try various places in your home as well as in public. Find the coffee shop that has the right level of noise and the perfect latte; find the library that’s open late. The more space options you have, the more flexibility you’ll get when time becomes available.

Finally, in order to supply writing, we must have the right equipment. Ask your writing friends and favorite authors what they use to brainstorm, draft, and edit. (I personally use Rhoda dot notebooks and colorful Pentech pens for brainstorming; the voice recorder app on my iPhone to capture stray thoughts when I’m out; and Scrivener on my Macbook for all of my drafting and editing until it’s time to convert into Word.)

Demand-Side Writing

In order to demand writing, we need ideas. Ideas begin with inspiration. What’s influencing and exciting you lately? Cull the books, podcasts, articles, conversations, and music you’ve been consuming for themes and ideas that might spark your writing. Do pre-project writing, such as journaling, blogging and brainstorming, if you’re still feeling your way around a topic.

Once an idea has a hold on you, don’t let it go. Read more about the topic. Talk about it with your friends until they’re bored with you. Let the idea snowball in your mind. Talk to yourself when you’re out for walks; let the characters speak to you as you wash dishes. Start figuring out what you need to learn in order to write the piece.

Identify the moment when it makes sense to start putting words to your thoughts. This takes practice. Sometimes, if you start writing too soon, the spark flames out; other times, if you start too late, you’ve let too much pressure build and writer’s block ensues. Listen to your gut instinct. Find the moment when you’re feeling passion for the idea and a determined vision that will take you to the end of the process. Know enough to get started, but also prepare for doing more research along the way, if need be. Identify that moment, and let the writing demand itself.

All of the writing supply in the world is meaningless unless you have a creative idea and the drive to bring it to fruition. All of the demand for writing is meaningless unless you have the structures in place to supply the time, space and equipment. We need both to be happy, fulfilled writers. Are you getting all of the supply and demand that you need?

Leanne Sowul is a writer and teacher from the Hudson Valley region of New York. She’s the curator of the website Words From The Sowul and authors the “Be Well, Write Well” column for DIY MFA. She writes historical fiction and personal essay, for which she won the Scott Meyer Award in 2017; her work is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary Agency. Connect with her at leannesowul(at)gmail(dot)com, at, or on Twitter @sowulwords.

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