500 words a day (or so)

Wednesday August 20, 2008 @ 11:33 AM (UTC)

Of late, I’ve been listening to the Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing podcast (are podcast names italicized?). This only happens, say, while grocery shopping or folding clothes, so I’m plugging through them fairly slowly. However, it’s interesting and often inspiring.

This summer, they’re doing some contest which, in manner of crossover comics plotlines, is supposed to get AiSFP listeners to listen to sister program I Should Be Writing and vice versa. It has writer guests deliver ‘Keys to Publishing’ which we’re supposed to collect from both shows. Anyway, the first one, in Podcast 56, was delivered by Tobias Buckell and was, naturally, persistence. Always number one, that one, I thought, as I picked out green taco sauce for enchiladas, but when Buckell expanded, it turned out he was not talking about sending stories out doggedly (hey wait, how many stories do I have out? Maybe I need that pep talk too), but about writing doggedly. “I think a professional has to write a lot, and be persistent about it. It takes about 300 words a day or a page a day to create a novel in a year, and a novel in a year is quite often, you know, a rate that a lot of people have to hit in order to make a living at it.”

Obviously, this is good advice, as is the unpacking he does about practicing for productivity and practicing our craft in general, so I decided I would start writing 500 words a days towards a project I’m working on. If I only hit 300, that would be okay (I’ve discovered that setting goals works better if I don’t berate myself for falling short), and this is in addition to any other projects I’m working on. The first obstacle was, of course, that I do my initial drafts longhand. My Clairefontaine notebooks don’t have a word count function. So I chose a couple of pages and counted the words, estimated how many pages would make 500 words, and did that the first day, then typed it in (revising as I go, which is part of the point) and found it was 562 words. So far, so good – my goal is four pages longhand, not counting cross-outs.

I’ve been doing it ever since, though yesterday I tried to cram it in before bed and ended up with three pages (hopefully that falls within my 300 word range). With the exception of yesterday’s hiccup, what I’ve found is that it’s easy. I sit down with all the despair and feeling of dorkiness that besets a new project, unsure what scene to write on the heels of the one I finished the day before. But I get an idea, or maybe two before one sticks, and I write. Most days I have written well over four pages, written to the end of a scene or until looking at the clock in alarm. This is the mystical “butt in seat” that our faculty member David Long recommends in place of muse. This is doing the work. This is self-conscious and awkward, but it’s moving me forward to revision, to having made something, to the future.

Sometimes when established writers throw numbers around, it’s in the form of a rate, and it tends to cause panic in me and my fellows. But it doesn’t have to, if it’s not a rate, but a small, manageable goal. 500 words. 4 pages longhand. I can do this, every day.


As someone who berates herself for falling short on a daily basis, I can testify that it does not have a positive impact on productivity. Nor self-esteem.


Not to dishonor your opinion, but I find myself similar in nature, and have seen little impact on productivity. Can’t really comment on self-esteem, I can’t recall where I last left it. It does, however, seemingly allow for high self-worth regardless of self-esteem.

What I have found is that if I set a goal, fail in part or in whole, and then beat myself up about it, I am less likely to continue to work towards the goal in future. As if the energy invested in the resolution has been vented in self-upbraidment and has thus been released from the goal.

Thus, the ‘soft’ goal, which is a hopeful goal with an explicit “no kicking myself” rule. So far, so good.

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