How many book pages a day should you write?

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A hard reminder: if you really want to write a book (even better, get it published), the whole writing issue is up to you.

Novelists often write two to five pages a day, unedited. Old veterans can plunk out 10-20. Nonfictionfolk pretty much write once they have the facts. Somebody wrote the story of the seven-day war in five days, at least it’s said in publishing lore. Some seasoned writers work rain or shine, probably indoors. Some rest from writing on the Sabbath; some rest a lot more than they write. Most rest when the Bears play or the Ladies Math Society meets.

My observation? The more days you don’t put in at least an hour or two on your book, the less likely it is to ever see literary light. If it never appears, that proves that you are as unreliable, devious, lazy, and dim as the public says.

The remedy for such false talk is to determine how many days you will write per week and how many hours on those days. Create a pace you will sustain, set completion goals, and reward yourself. Some use fine food, sex, or a couple of days of fun when they hit key milestones.

If you fall behind, don’t quit. Pick up where you left off. A measuring tool for many writers is this: however long it takes you to write the first draft, double it and that will be how long it will take you to send the final, proofed, ready-to-go masterpiece to your chosen publisher.

So you need a calendar, conviction, captured words, and marked goal dates. You fill in the rest.

If you are interested in my system, I speed the process up by working in chunks. A chapter is a chunk. So I plan to complete a chunk a week, although some gnarly chapters might earn two weeks. I usually write from first chapter to last, but I might change the chapter order as I’m writing. I do no research when I’m actually writing. I have either completed the basic research or if I find a black hole (something unknown I must find later, in my own time). I write down a ____ line and next to it a [box] in which I write what I’m looking for. Then I keep going.

In the first draft my purpose is to get the book blocked out and starter words inserted. So I mostly write as I think. Those words get on the paper–and stay there forever. I don’t worry about spelling, grammar, details, synonyms. It’s as if I’m nailing down the boards on a back deck. My job is to get the boards nailed down as I designed them. I don’t nail, then unnail, turn the top to the bottom, sand a rough edge, paint a bald spot, … It all gets nailed, then I add the frills.

First draft is to get the boards (or words) down using the best ones at hand. I will mull over word choices, which use of words, tense and gender, and so on in the second draft. I will turn this rock into a jewel in the final, third draft.

Speed counts in draft #1 because nothing is sacred and I assume that lots of those words and phrases will change later.

There is one exception to the plow-forward, get-it-down dictum. If I start writing a word or phrase (or even several sentences) and as I am writing I think of a better words or phrase or sentences, I type / … / marks around what didn’t work and then write down the better idea, word, or words. I just keep going. It’s awkward at first but I soon see that when the first draft is completely typed out, on the printed copy of that first draft I will take a red felt pen and cross out all of the / … / segments, leaving the prose that worked. Mind you, I leave the red cross-out on the paper and in the digital text on the long shot that in that red rejected pile there are a few words or ideas I may want to recall later when I edit the final work. That way it’s a lot easier to find that particular gem again than it is to dig through last week’s trash to recapture that renegade idea or text.

How many book pages must you write a day? They asked Abraham Lincoln (a super writer) how tall he was, and he replied that he was tall enough for his feet to touch the ground. My only answer to everybody is that you must write enough words for the book to cover its ground–and probably add a few more to make it shine.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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1 Comment to “How many book pages a day should you write?”

  1. By Tina Chan, May 27, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing this article. I agree, plowing through the first draft is vital. Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue and get through it.