Writing 10+ Pages A Day

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — Administrator at 3:08 pm on Monday, August 1, 2016

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In July, I made a goal to complete the first draft of a new novel. I’d been working on a book for several months and I needed to finish it so that I could move onto other things.

So I increased the number of pages until I was writing 10 a day, sometimes even 15-20 pages when I was on a roll. I tracked my progress on Twitter.

It was a harrowing time. I wasn’t sure I would make it, but on July 31st, I finished the first draft of the book. It is 151,000 words, 530 pages.

Since I made my progress public on Twitter, lots of people asked me how I was writing so many pages in a day. Here are some thoughts on that.

I can’t stress enough that this was a first draft.
It will be a long time before I have a finished manuscript ready to send out for publication. For me, it’s easy to spit out a lot of words. It’s harder to edit them.

So, this draft is rough. Just because I wrote 10 pages doesn’t mean that they were all good pages.

I was motivated to finish because I took time off paying work.
I put aside my day job–writing articles–to spend a month on fiction. I can’t afford to do that often, so I made the most of my time, not only writing this first draft but working on short fiction as well. When I plan time to write fiction, I take it seriously.

I used rewards to motivate myself. My writing buddy and I agreed that if we met our July writing goals, we would get a reward. That was doubly motivating because I wanted the reward and I didn’t want to let my buddy (okay it was Marcia) down. Now we’re going on a road trip!

I used markers to motivate myself.
I find that visual evidence of progress is helpful, so I put a sticker by every completed bullet point on my outline and I made a dash on my notebook every time I finished a page, like so:

pages

I also wrote my daily word count on my whiteboard. This is for July.

board

You’ll see I started on page 342 and finished on page 529.

The more I wrote, the easier it was to produce pages.
When I started, writing this book was so hard that completing three pages was a decent day’s work. Then something clicked and I got used to writing a lot every day. It’s like any other discipline: You do something enough, you get used to it, and it becomes easier. It’s a shift in perspective.

Everyone works at their own pace.
Several people contacted me saying they could never write this much this quickly. There’s nothing wrong with that. Every writer has a different process, and it doesn’t matter if you do 10 pages or 2 pages as long as you write regularly enough to make progress on your work.

Now this book will have a long rest before editing. I find that my fiction benefits from distance. Letting a draft sit for a period of time makes me more objective, which means that I can look at the book with clear eyes and have a higher chance of knowing what to do with it. Therefore this book is going to sit in a metaphorical drawer for several months before I pick it up again.

And that’s just fine… I have plenty of other things to write in the meantime.

The Other By Ted Hughes

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — joy at 9:30 am on Friday, January 29, 2016

She had too much so with a smile you took some.
Of everything she had you had
Absolutely nothing, so you took some.
At first, just a little.

Still she had so much she made you feel
Your vacuum, which nature abhorred,
So you took your fill, for nature’s sake.
Because her great luck made you feel unlucky
You had redressed the balance, which meant
Now you had some too, for yourself.
As seemed only fair. Still her ambition
Claimed the natural right to screw you up
Like a crossed-out page, tossed into a basket.
Somebody, on behalf of the gods,
Had to correct that hubris.
A little touch of hatred steadied the nerves.

Everything she had won, the happiness of it,
You collected
As your compensation
For having lost. Which left her absolutely
Nothing. Even her life was
Trapped in the heap you took. She had nothing.
Too late you saw what had happened.
It made no difference that she was dead.
Now that you had all she had ever had
You had much too much.
Only you
Saw her smile, as she took some.
At first, just a little.

Suiting Up For Battle

Filed under: Novel,Writing and Publishing — Administrator at 7:19 am on Monday, March 2, 2015

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I looked down at my hand while I was line editing and had to chuckle. I look like I’ve had an injury, but in fact the three band-aids I have on are to protect my fingers from writing calluses. Who says editing a book isn’t physically taxing?

A Tip For Making Writing Goals And Being A Happier Writer

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — joy at 9:14 am on Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here’s a tip for making writing goals in 2015: don’t focus on accolades and publications. Instead, focus on output.

As a writer, you have no control over what people think of your work. That means you have no control over whether an editor accepts your submission or whether a judge awards you a prize or a grant. What you do have control over is the amount you write, the amount you submit, and the quality of your work. This is what I mean by output.

For me, the switch to becoming a happy writer occurred when I began focusing on output.

Instead of saying, I will get into X publication this year, I said, I will submit to X publication Y number of times.

Instead of saying, I will win this contest, I said, I will submit my best work to this contest.

Instead of saying, I will finish my book, I said, I will work on my book X number of hours a day until it’s finished.

This attitude has made all the difference in my peace and productivity as a writer. Sometimes when you try to do something, you fail. But at least this way, I know I’m trying. I’m holding true to what I said I would do, and I’m showing up every day to do it. I’m covering my end of the bargain.

All you can do is write good work and put it in front of people. The rest is up to them.

And I’m okay with that.

Happy New Year!

JRR Tolkien Was Adorable.

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — joy at 10:04 am on Monday, June 2, 2014

I post this video as evidence:

My AWP 2014 Seattle Tips And Or Advice

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — Administrator at 8:31 am on Tuesday, February 25, 2014

For months, people have been posting advice for going to AWP in Seattle. I’ve been ignoring it because I don’t like thinking that far ahead about things. But now the conference is tomorrow, so I finally read some of the advice. It made me nervous.

A sampling of the advice:

* Take a nap and don’t leave in the middle of panels.

* Get gel inserts and don’t sleep with random people.

* Skip the readings and panels and just hang out in the book fair.

* Don’t expect to get a feel for the conference the first time you go because so much is going on and it’s overwhelming.

* Bring business cards when I’ve been using my business cards to write notes and lists and little poems, so I probably don’t have that many left anymore and does anyone really want a business card these days anyway?

The collective anxiety is paralyzing. I can understand being apprehensive if you’re reading or speaking on a panel, but if you’re just going to hang out and glean knowledge, you’re going to be one face in 13,000 people. You’ll blend in. No one is looking at you.

Here’s my AWP advice:

DON’T be creepy. Here are creepy things I’ve witnessed at past AWPs: One lady was licking a tissue and wiping it on her hand like a cat licking its paw. Don’t do that. At a dance, a guy pinched my butt and ran away. Not cool. I was talking to a friend and this guy started walking behind us so he could eavesdrop on our conversation. When we stopped, he stopped. When we started, he started. It was strange. Don’t do these things.

DO stress yourself out. A lot of articles tell you it’s okay to just see one panel a day if you’re tired or overwhelmed. So you’re flying all the way to Seattle to see one panel a day? No, that’s wrong. See MANY PANELS a day. If it’s stressful to see a panel, do it anyway. You can sleep when you’re home. Or dead. Whichever.

DO be friendly. Smile and chat with people. Don’t worry about getting something out of people through networking–that’s not going to work at this conference. But on the other hand, don’t be a turtle and hide in a shell either. Have thoughts and opinions ready to share. Maybe write them out beforehand and memorize them?

DON’T complain about being overwhelmed. Writers are introverted. None of us wants to get out of the house and talk to people. Therefore, talking about being shy is redundant. You don’t want to be a cliché, do you? Keep your tiredness to yourself.

DON’T have regrets. If you want to talk to a writer you admire, talk to her. If you want to ask a question at a panel, ask it. Skip panels if you feel like it, leave the conference if you want a break, dance, cavort, laugh! Drink that frothy glass of milk that is AWP down to the last drop.

That’s about it. So in general, carry water, eat a low-fiber meal, buy a ton of books, and don’t drink too much alcohol. When feeling tired, repeat to yourself: sleep when I’m dead, sleep when I’m dead. And remember, no one can make you sing karaoke if you don’t want to.

Every Day Failing For Five Years

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — joy at 8:29 am on Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Here’s part of an essay by Junot Diaz about the difficulty he had writing The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. It’s pretty astounding what he went through.

This essay originally appeared in Oprah Magazine.

Becoming a Writer by Junot Diaz

It wasn’t that I couldn’t write. I wrote every day. I actually worked really hard at writing. At my desk by 7 A.M., would work a full eight and more. Scribbled at the dinner table, in bed, on the toilet, on the No. 6 train, at Shea Stadium. I did everything I could. But none of it worked. My novel, which I had started with such hope shortly after publishing my first book of stories, wouldn’t budge past the 75-page mark. Nothing I wrote past page 75 made any kind of sense. Nothing. Which would have been fine if the first 75 pages hadn’t been pretty damn cool. But they were cool, showed a lot of promise. Would also have been fine if I could have just jumped to something else. But I couldn’t. All the other novels I tried sucked worse than the stalled one, and even more disturbing, I seemed to have lost the ability to write short stories. It was like I had somehow slipped into a No-Writing Twilight Zone and I couldn’t find an exit. Like I’d been chained to the sinking ship of those 75 pages and there was no key and no patching the hole in the hull. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, but nothing I produced was worth a damn.

Want to talk about stubborn? I kept at it for five straight years. Five damn years. Every day failing for five years? I’m a pretty stubborn, pretty hard-hearted character, but those five years of fail did a number on my psyche. On me. Five years, 60 months? It just about wiped me out. By the end of that fifth year, perhaps in an attempt to save myself, to escape my despair, I started becoming convinced that I had written all I had to write, that I was a minor league Ralph Ellison, a Pop Warner Edward Rivera, that maybe it was time, for the sake of my mental health, for me to move on to another profession, and if the inspiration struck again some time in the future…well, great. But I knew I couldn’t go on much more the way I was going. I just couldn’t. I was living with my fiancée at the time (over now, another terrible story) and was so depressed and self-loathing I could barely function. I finally broached the topic with her of, maybe, you know, doing something else. My fiancée was so desperate to see me happy (and perhaps more than a little convinced by my fear that maybe the thread had run out on my talent) that she told me to make a list of what else I could do besides writing. I’m not a list person like she was, but I wrote one. It took a month to pencil down three things. (I really don’t have many other skills.) I stared at that list for about another month. Waiting, hoping, praying for the book, for my writing, for my talent to catch fire. A last-second reprieve. But nada. So I put the manuscript away. All the hundreds of failed pages, boxed and hidden in a closet. I think I cried as I did it. Five years of my life and the dream that I had of myself, all down the tubes because I couldn’t pull off something other people seemed to pull off with relative ease: a novel. By then I wasn’t even interested in a Great American Novel. I would have been elated with the eminently forgettable NJ novel.

So I became a normal. A square. I didn’t go to bookstores or read the Sunday book section of the Times. I stopped hanging out with my writer friends. The bouts of rage and despair, the fights with my fiancée ended. I slipped into my new morose half-life. Started preparing for my next stage, back to school in September. (I won’t even tell you what I was thinking of doing, too embarrassing.) While I waited for September to come around, I spent long hours in my writing room, sprawled on the floor, with the list on my chest, waiting for the promise of those words to leak through the paper into me.

Maybe I would have gone through with it. Hard to know. But if the world is what it is so are our hearts. One night in August, unable to sleep, sickened that I was giving up, but even more frightened by the thought of having to return to the writing, I dug out the manuscript. I figured if I could find one good thing in the pages I would go back to it. Just one good thing. Like flipping a coin, I’d let the pages decide. Spent the whole night reading everything I had written, and guess what? It was still terrible. In fact with the new distance the lameness was even worse than I’d thought. That’s when I should have put everything in the box. When I should have turned my back and trudged into my new life. I didn’t have the heart to go on. But I guess I did. While my fiancée slept, I separated the 75 pages that were worthy from the mountain of loss, sat at my desk, and despite every part of me shrieking no no no no, I jumped back down the rabbit hole again. There were no sudden miracles. It took two more years of heartbreak, of being utterly, dismayingly lost before the novel I had dreamed about for all those years finally started revealing itself. And another three years after that before I could look up from my desk and say the word I’d wanted to say for more than a decade: done.

Jack London’s Writing Advice

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — joy at 11:00 am on Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jack London may have been frequently drunk but he was also like the Stephen King of his day–the most famous, highest-paid writer around. He wrote 1,000 words a day, 6 days a week. This discipined practice allowed him to be highly productive and no doubt contributed to his success.

Here is a short essay by London about writing. The advice seems pretty sound:

From “Getting Into Print,” 1903
By Jack London

Don’t dash off a six-thousand-word story before breakfast. Don’t write too much. Concentrate your sweat on one story, rather than dissipate it over a dozen. Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will none the less get something that looks remarkably like it. Set yourself a “stint,” and see that you do that “stint” each day; you will have more words to your credit at the end of the year.

Study the tricks of the writers who have arrived. They have mastered the tools with which you are cutting your fingers. They are doing things, and their work bears the internal evidence of how it is done. Don’t wait for some good Samaritan to tell you, but dig it out for yourself.

See that your pores are open and your digestion is good. That is, I am confident, the most important rule of all.

Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.

And work. Spell it in capital letters. WORK. WORK all the time. Find out about this earth, this universe; this force and matter, and the spirit that glimmers up through force and matter from the maggot to Godhead. And by all this I mean WORK for a philosophy of life. It does not hurt how wrong your philosophy of life may be, so long as you have one and have it well.

The three great things are: GOOD HEALTH; WORK; and a PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE. I may add, nay, must add, a fourth—SINCERITY. Without this, the other three are without avail; with it you may cleave to greatness and sit among the giants.

It should be said that by the time London died at the young age of 40, he was churning out hacky writing that he didn’t even bother to edit anymore. The policy of WORK ALL THE TIME has some drawbacks, I guess. It can burn you out.

In conclusion, here is a picture of Jack London wearing a bikini made of human hair.

Jack London Is Drunk

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — joy at 4:29 pm on Friday, November 8, 2013

“I’se so drunk right now.”

“Iz this sail-ma-bob thing help me stand?”

“Whee I on a tree bench!”

“Look at ma bootiful body. Athlete.”

“These guys are the BEST. Best guys, youdon’tevenknow.”

“Okay, horsie, you hold still, I’sa goin’ ride you. ‘K? You hair so soft. Soo soft, horsie. You like whiskey?”

BAM! Take that, man who has been dead for 98 years.

But seriously, that Jack London, swell guy.

White Whale

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — Administrator at 7:32 am on Monday, April 22, 2013

One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk.

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.–Herman Melville

I am three-fourth of the way through Moby-Dick, and I am shocked to find that I’m really enjoying it.

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