A writer needs to write to be a writer, right? The obvious answer is “yes” but, as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, we don’t all have endless hours each day to dedicate to writing. Unfortunately, the average writer’s life involves much more than the pursuit of word counts, and yet we encounter all of these success stories in which writers claim to produce 20+ pages each day. Who can keep up with that sort of volume? More importantly, should all writers aim that high?
I read an interesting article on this matter on the website for Author magazine. In it, James Thayer outlines different examples of successful writers, some of whom compose(d) ridiculous amounts of pages each work day, others who are/were about as slow as a tortoise, and still others who fall/fell somewhere in between. Thayer points out that Ezra Pound produced eight books and a hundred magazine articles in just six years, Stephen King writes about 2,000 words a day, and that it took J.R.R. Tolkien eleven years to write The Lord of the Rings trilogy (which, at the time, was one long book).
Clearly, every writer works at his/her own pace. But how do you decide your own pace? Slow and steady like Tolkien, frenzied and frightening like Pound, or some middle ground like King?
In truth, no one can solve that riddle for you. Ask a hundred writers and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Ask people who don’t write? You can forget about that right now; they aren’t familiar enough with the process and certainly aren’t familiar enough with your process to help you make a decision.
For some writers, it may be best to not set a word or page goal at all. Some people don’t operate well under pressure while others need it to thrive. If you don’t do well with pressure–think back to timed tests in compulsory school–then you shouldn’t even bother setting that sort of goal. It may sound counterproductive and lazy, but sometimes a deadline or threshold isn’t needed.
If you do work better under some pressure and want to set yourself a goal, pay attention to how quickly you write. How many words or pages can you crank out in an hour? Two? An entire afternoon? Once you’ve figured out your pace, match it with the average amount of free time you can make in your schedule each day. Your rate multiplied by that time will get you your ideal goal.
You can even change your goal depending on the day of the week or the season. New commitments pop up all the time, making it unrealistic to try and maintain a constant writing schedule 365 days a year. Most people say a consistent schedule forms a habit, which in turn makes it easier for you to ensure you write each day. We all know that life doesn’t let much go as planned, so you have to be flexible.
While swimming through the sea of word counts and deadlines, don’t lose track of why you started this process: for the love of writing. Writing, like life, is full of trial-and-error. You can’t be too upset if you don’t make your goal a few days or you don’t write that bestseller in three months. It takes a while to learn your process; I’m still learning the best methods for my writing. Be patient and, while you shouldn’t let yourself get away with too much, cut yourself some slack every now and then.