Writing at Your Own Pace

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I’ll start by saying that I’m incapable of churning out as many words and pages as Catie has been writing the past few weeks.  I admire her ability to write that way; I know of many authors who write fast, and many others who write truly high quality books.  I can count on one hand the ones who do both.  Catie is one of them.

I go about my work differently.  I hunker down.  I plod along.  I use any other metaphor I can think of for writing slowly and steadily.  Last week I wrote a total of 9,000 words — thirty-six pages.  The week before that I wrote about 8,500 words.  The week before that about the same.  This week I’ll lose a day to the holiday weekend, but I should wind up with 7,000 words or so.  It’s not a lot.  But it’s enough to get me a hundred and twenty to a hundred and thirty manuscript pages a month.  And that means that I can write my 140,000 word novel in less than half a year.

The numbers can get a bit overwhelming, and I don’t mean to get bogged down in them.  My point is this:  Don’t be intimidated by what Catie is doing.  If 8,000 words a week seems like a lot to you, don’t be intimidated by that, either.  Catie and I are both professionals with many books in print, and yet our output is vastly different.  As I wrote several weeks ago, there is no right way to do this.  There is no threshhold page or word output that makes someone a legitimate writer.  Don’t try to write 20,000 words a week because Catie can; don’t try to write 8,000 words a week because I can.  Write as quickly or as slowly as feels right for you.

What does that mean?  If it means that you only write a page a night — 1,250 words for a five-day work week — so be it.  If it means that you struggle for days with a single paragraph, but finally get it right, that’s fine, too.

There are lots of writers — fellow professionals — who write faster than I do.  (There are also many who write slower)  Many of them churn out more books than I do and make a good deal more money.  But I can only write to my own pace.  And at my pace I’m getting my work done and putting out books that are as good as I can make them.  The key is to set goals for yourself that are realistic and achievable.  For me, there’s nothing worse than setting a goal and failing to meet it.  When that happens, when I find myself beginning the following work week already in a hole, I start to get discouraged, and then my work really suffers.

Writing a book is a huge undertaking.  It’s hard enough to get to the finish line while meeting your goals and sticking to a schedule.  But if you begin and end every day of writing feeling that you’re hopelessly behind, that you’re failing to do what you set out to do, that daunting task can become impossible.  Be good to yourself.  Enjoy the work.  Find your pace, accept it as your own, embrace it.  And then stick to it.  You might not get the book done as quickly as you’d like, or as quickly as some pros do, but you’ll get it done.  And really, that’s the most important thing.

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20 comments to Writing at Your Own Pace

  • Thank you. David. This is what I needed to hear this week.

    Wade

  • Great advice, David!

    Many years ago, I read an article in Writer’s Digest which quoted a bunch of published writers’ advice for the rest of us, and of all the quotes, the only one that stuck with me was Roger Zelazny’s – “Write something every day.”

    Even on my worst day, if all I manage is a paragraph, that’s at least more than I had the day before.

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for that post. I write slowly, and it feels like I’ve been writing this one book forever. I so needed to read this post. Thank you.

  • Be good to yourself.

    I wish I could do this. But if I don’t beat myself up, how will I ever get anything done? 😉

    I find it more useful (and less stressful) to measure my progress by scenes completed rather than a quantitative measure like words or pages. That way, I don’t pad my prose just so I can let myself off the hook sooner. Ultimately it’s a book that needs writing, not words.

    But when you’re first starting a new novel, I think word counts are a good incentive to keep moving.

  • Tina

    I remember Shelby Foote once saying that he wrote with a pen dipped in a bottle of ink. My guess is that his word count was much lower than 8000 words but he wrote some amazing history books and a couple of fabulous novels.

  • Thanks to all of you for your comments. Wade and Amy, glad this helped you both today. Writing a book is a struggle; it’s worth the effort, but it ain’t easy. Stick with it, and don’t worry about your writing speed.

    Jeri, hi! [waves] For those of you who don’t know Jeri Smith-Ready, you should. Terrific writer, whose latest release, WICKED GAME, kicks ass. I understand your point and can see where that might be a more constructive way to measure progress for some. I find that knowing how long a scene is taking to unfold (in terms of words and pages) helps me with my pacing. But again, writing is an exercise in idiosyncrasy. What works for some doesn’t work for others.

    Misty, I think the “write something every day” advice is pretty much the best that can be given to beginning writers. Word and page counts matter far less than making writing a daily habit.

    And Tina, Shelby Foote was a wonderful storyteller and a terrific writer. I don’t know how quickly he worked, but there can be no disputing the quality of what he put out.

  • Folks,

    I had the pleasure of meeting some of you at ConCarolinas a few weeks ago, where I took copious notes. :)

    I enjoy reading the records of your work and your thoughts. They help me see my own writing struggles with greater perspective.

    Regards,
    Mike

  • Thanks for the kind comment, Mike. We’re glad to have been of some help, and I’ll look forward to seeing you at future cons.

    Good luck with your writing.

  • […] a look at for everyone out there who, like me, are aspiring writers. The whole thing can be found HERE. digg_skin = […]

  • Hi David,
    Great post.
    I have another friend who writes a bit like Catie — fast, faster, and fastest. It’s tough to be the slow one, but even as a turtle I can reach the finish line. Eventually.
    Faith

  • It’s a bit like Nemo “just keep swimming” Just Keep Writing, and eventually you will fulfill your commitment to yourself of finishing the novel/project.
    Says she who needs a big kick up the bottom for procrastinating. Have been trying to limit myself internet time until I finish this project, but you know what it’s like, I get caught up reading peoples blogs…lol, stop blogging everyone so I can finish this thing.

  • All right, Natalie, now I have Ellen Degeneres’ little song going through my head. And you know it will be there all day long…. 😉

    Thanks for the comment, Faith. Just keep your eyes fixed on that finish line. That’s what I’m doing.

  • Michele Conti

    I think that it really shouldn’t matter how quickly one writes, as long as the product is good. Granted… that’ whole money needed to survive can make things difficult I’m sure and make someone want to speed up more. Or deadlines and whatnot. But really, if the product isn’t good after a speedy delivery it disappoints the fans. Which makes that money factor go down. SO really… if you can write fast, and produce high quality writing. YAY… less time for us fans to wait. If you need to take your time to create the next book in a series… so be it. Although I’ve been waiting for one book for around 6 years. I think that’s dragging on a little bit… hehe.

  • Interesting post. I wonder how much time is taken on average preparing to write – i.e. building the world background, characters, plot etc. I’m currently working on a novel, but about the last 6 months has been working out all the background stuff. I had started the work about a year ago and written a complete first draft, but I felt something was lacking and I realised that it was a real sense of the background and the reality of my fantasy world which hadn’t been filled in. I decided to go back and really work at that as much as possible before writing again.

    I’d be interested to hear how others work.

  • Michele, I agree with you. I want to write faster because from a career perspective it would help. But I won’t sacrifice quality for speed.

    Mark, a lot of this depends on the world you’re creating, of course. But I have spent several months worldbuilding for a new series. I took that long with the Forelands world because I did lots of research and a tremendous amount of background work. The Southlands worldbuilding took less time because I had so much of the imaginative infrastructure already in place from the Forelands series. But taking the time you’re talking about isn’t at all out of line. Just remember that worldbuilding can sometimes become a trap. Eventually you have to stop and get back to writing the thing. Worldbuilding is fun; writing is hard work. But you have to get back to that work.

  • Wow. I was going to make a post along these lines, David, but you said it much better than I would’ve.

    I write fast. I write *ridiculously* fast, by almost any standard. I’m lucky that that works for me, that I can keep up the quality as well as the quantity. I would never in a million years expect anybody else to maintain my writing pace (I know one person who writes at almost exactly the same rate I do, and we’ve had fun this year going neck-and-neck with our year-to-date word counts, but she’s an alien, too), and sometimes I feel sort of like a terrible snot by announcing this week’s word count or page count. I don’t mean to be obnoxious; I just write fast. But at the end of the day, as you say, all that matters is that you write.

    When people go augh at me because of my writing speed, I usually point out to them that a page a day is a book in a year. A paragraph a day _gets the job done_. We all write at different rates, and lucky for all of us, this isn’t a competition.

    Wow, again, David. Great post. :)

    -Catie

  • Thanks, Catie. Hope the move has gone well and that you’re writing again.

  • Michele Conti

    *poke* *Poke* How about that editing pace? Teehee.

    I’ve actually got a stack of books that I have yet to read through before my boyfriend will allow me to buy more. It’s quite funny, though, I’ve got this stack of books that need to be read, on one shelf. Then I’ve got my discard pile, on another shelf. The *must keep* shelf has oh…about a dozen books on it so far. I should really not buy books unless I really want to read them. Maybe I’ll start getting books from the library first, and THEN buy them if I like them. Nope…wouldn’t work…they don’t give you enough time to read a book.

  • […] @ A Dribble of Ink points me to a post called Writing at Your Own Pace by David B Coe. Now then how far would writing 10 words a week get […]

  • MichaelM

    Hi.. Ive read all your comments and I’d like to expose my case. Im 16 and I write in greek. Ive already published a book which hasn’t exactly been a success but nevertheless was finished in 3 months. Lately ive been trying to achieve the perfect scene and plot and sometimes i think by doin that, i just have lack of inspiration afterwards. My new book is a new male teenage version of sex and the city almost autobiographical and I just want everything to be perfect. However does our need for perfect organization and research destroy true inspiration? I wonder
    Thanks Michael