Many authors worry about how many words they write every day. Some even post the tally on Facebook as if they’re in some kind of competition.
And if they’re not writing at least 500 or 1200 or 2000 words or whatever quota they’ve set, they feel miserable. Why aren’t they working harder? Why are they stuck? What’s wrong with them? How come everyone else is racking up the pages?
If that kind of system works for you, fine. But I think too many writers are somehow caught in the assumption that if they’re not actually physically writing a set number of words every single day, they’re not just slacking, they’re falling behind and even betraying their talent. Especially when they read about other people’s word counts on line.
Many well-known authors like Ann Lamott advise beginners to hold to a daily minimum, but some days it’s simply not possible. Hell, for some writers it’s never possible. Why should it be?
Other writers advise that you if you’re feeling “stuck,” or to warm up, you should re-type what you wrote the previous day. Well, even if I weren’t a slow typist, that’s never had any appeal for me or made much sense. I’d rather switch careers then do something so mind-numbing.
I don’t advise my creative writing students to write every day; I advise them to try to find the system that works for them. I’ve also never worried myself about how much I write every day because I’m almost always writing in my head, and that’s as important as putting things down on a page.
But aside from that, every book, every project has its own unique rhythm. While recently finishing a suspense novel, my 25th book, I found the last chapter blossoming in my head one morning while on the treadmill at the gym. Though I sketched its scenes out when I got home, I spent weeks actually writing it.
Some people would call that obsessing. They’d be wrong. What I did was musing, rewriting, stepping back, carefully putting tiles into a mosaic as it were, making sure everything fit right before I went ahead, because this was a crucial chapter. I was also doing some crucial fact-checking, because guns are involved and I had to consult experts as well as spend some time at a gun range. It took days before I even had a rough draft of ten pages, yet there were times when I wrote ten pages in a day on this same book.
The chapter was the book’s most important one, where the protagonist and his pursuer face off, and it had to be as close to perfect as I could make it. So when I re-worked a few lines that had been giving me trouble and found that now, they finally worked, that make me very happy.
And if I didn’t write a word, I knew I would be soon enough. Because the book was always writing itself, whether I met some magical daily quota or not.