Words, Pages, or Time

Of great interest to me lately has been becoming more productive in my writing life. For years the best advice I felt I ever got (mentioned in the post The Best Advice That I Can’t Give) has been to make sure you write every day, at least a page a day, to complete the first draft of a book in a year. I’ve always treated that as a minimum and did more, but that hasn’t been cutting it for me lately. So I’ve been trying to read everything I can find about ways to up productivity.

A lot of the stuff I found was about writing those very short non-fiction books that abound on Amazon, usually for about 99 cents. But because I am, to date, strictly a fiction writer, I didn’t find much help there. I did buy a book for 99 cents on Amazon (me being one of the last big-time spenders) by a fiction writer, with a title that promised to increase your word count to 10,000 words a day. That sounded good to me. It used to be, in the dark ages when typewriters were used, that the average word count for a page was 250 words for a double-spaced page; 10,000 words would mean 40 pages each day. (Not that I use a typewriter, and it seems unlikely anyone else does either anymore. Well, maybe Herman Wouk still uses one. He’s in his late 90s and still producing books, but then it seems I’ve read he was planning on e-publishing an indie book, so maybe even someone his age has switched to a computer-based word processing program.) I currently use Word set at 1.5 line spacing and that seems to average around 400 words a page, which would make 10,000 words a day yield 25 pages. Not bad.

The book wasn’t bad either, the writing both straightforward and entertaining. But the secret to the 10,000-words-a-day success was basically outlining. If you have everything planned out beforehand, when you sit down to write, you’ll be able to speed your way through your novel. She also suggested keeping track of your writing and notice at what times of the day your writing is most productive, and schedule your writing at those times.

It’s not bad advice but it’s not particularly useful to me. While I am very organized (almost to the point of OCD in some regards) in the rest of my life, I am more of a ‘let’s sit down and see what’s going to happen today’ kind of writer. My ‘outline,’ if you can call it that, for my current WIP consists of about four sentences (or phrases if I’m being honest). When I begin a book, I know where it starts, where it ends, and a couple major events in the middle. The rest — well, doesn’t most of the fun of writing come from those moments when your character does something entirely unexpected, that you didn’t even know he/she was going to do?

I do think I got a good take-away from reading that book, however. It made me examine my m.o. of having a page quota. I never extended it past that, in that I didn’t estimate how long the book would be or how long it would take me to get there. This time I did. I knew the length I wanted it to be, and I knew when I wanted to complete it. Because I’d actually counted (or used Word’s word count tool) to estimate the average number of words per page, I could calculate how many pages I needed to write each day to meet my time goal. Eureka! Doing that was something that had never occurred to me. While the number I came up with was over my standard two-page-a-day minimum, it wasn’t that much over (about 3.5 pages) and so far has been achievable. It’s by no means 10,000 words a day, but it’s certainly more than I was producing before, and on days when both time and inspiration are with me, I try to surpass the minimum.

However, scheduling writing time in general won’t work for me. The author of the book was a full-time writer. I don’t think there are many people who can claim that distinction, and our schedules can’t be worked around our muse. Even on days off that should theoretically give us more time for to write, there are always other obligations too. So I write when I can, and make sure I get my quota in — more happily now that I know there’s a finish date I’m aiming for, and should make.

I will continue to read any helpful articles I come across. There’s no telling what hints I might pick up and tweak to work for me. A combination of words and pages works for me, but time doesn’t. It may be entirely different for you.

I’m happy to be coming to the end of this post. Something about the title I gave it has made Michael Bolton’s old song, Time, Love, and Tenderness, start playing repeatedly in my head, and I can’t wait to send it elsewhere!

Happy writing!

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