Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How Productive Do You Want to Be?

I recently came across a fascinating blog post, subsequently turned into a more fully developed e-book, from author Rachel Aaron, entitled "How I Went from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day." She attributes her leap in writing productivity to three things:

1. Knowledge - "Know what you're writing before you write it."
2. Time - Monitor your writing output to find the times when you are most productive (in her case, afternoons, writing at a cafe without WiFi).
3. Enthusiasm - Those boring scenes you can hardly bear to make yourself write? Skip them! If you can't stand to write them, the reader probably can't stand to read them.

These are all excellent pieces of advice. I, too, find that I write much more quickly and effectively: 1) when I'm later along in a book, so that I have a much better sense of what is going to happen next; 2) first thing in the day before I get sidelined with other distractions; and 3) when I'm writing something I love.

But my idea of a productive day is not a day spent writing 10,000 words, or even one spent writing 2,000 words. On a productive day I write 1,000 words. That's it.  Usually I write considerably less. My self-imposed minimum is a handwritten page a day, and as my handwriting is extremely tiny and cramped, this usually translates into two typewritten pages a day, or about 500 words. These days, I'm on a writing roll, so I'm getting through a five or six page chapter every day. And of course, I only write for an hour a day (see this blog's title!), so if I wrote for a full day and could sustain this pace (which I greatly doubt), I'd write a lot more.  But even if I wrote 1,000 words an hour, for eight straight hours a day (never gonna happen), I'd still only top out at 8,000 words, 2,000 short of Rachel Aaron's average.

Yet I can't make myself feel bad about this, not at all.  At my current pace, this month I have written SEVENTEEN chapters of my novel-in-progress (the time travel cookie jar book).  How much more than that do I want to write?  At 1,000 words a day I can write a first draft of a 50,000 word manuscript (once I get some momentum) in less than two months. But none of my books for young readers are that long. My forthcoming Zero Tolerance, my longest book, came out to 44,000 words.  My chapter books for third graders (like Kelsey Green, Reading Queen) are more like 15,000 words.  This means that if I wrote as fast as Rachel Aaron I would finish an entire draft of a chapter book in A DAY AND A HALF!

That does seem awful fast, doesn't it?!

I want to live in the world of a book that I'm writing more fully than that. I want to inhabit the lives of my characters over a longer stretch of time. I want to have that wonderful experience of finding so many of the things that happen in the rest of my life making their way in some form into my story.

So I think Rachel Aaron's writing advice is brilliant, especially her third point about harnessing our own writing enthusiasm and giving ourselves permission to write only scenes that we love.  But every writer is different, and I'm never going to write 10K words a day. Not even close.

And that's perfectly fine with me.


  1. My goal is 400 words a day, but I keep starting over. Darn kids just have to eat (-: Slow and steady, I'll get there.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Angela, my whole career has been based on slow-and-steady. My role model is Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope who said, "A small daily task, if it be really daily, will outdo the labors of a spasmodic Hercules."