SWCF manuscript pages

A Page a Day

Once again, I have a work in progress. It took me a while to assemble the story’s elements, but on December 11th, 2020, I started writing.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve realized I can’t depend on obsession to fuel my writing projects, which is what happened in 2000 and 2001 when I wrote The Friendship of Mortals. (Writing project? No, that first novel was a bout of delightful madness!) For me now the normal state of writing a novel is a long and weary slog.

First drafting is a draining experience. Except when a scene fully blooms in my imagination and simply must be written, bridging the gap between imaginings and words is hard work.

A neglected work in progress is an albatross, a ghost, a sinister shape seen out of the corner of one’s eye, a bad smell lurking in the corner. A neglected work in progress is a burden. The choice is to keep slogging or lay it down and give up.

Giving up is out of the question.

So I made a deal with myself–write one page a day. One page, that’s all. If I hit a point where the work takes off and I write more than a page–great! But one page is enough.

A page of my handwriting is between 400 and 500 words. I’m aiming for a 100K-word first draft, eventually to be reduced to between 85 and 90K. A page a day until the end of June should get me most of the way there.

I’m not saying this is the best way to write a novel. I haven’t tried this technique before, but it seems to be working for me right now. Most days I can find the time and energy to write one page. Often, the session extends to a second or third page. The work is coming to life and asking to be written. After 12 weeks, I’m at 40K words, approaching the halfway point of the first draft.

Fellow writers, do you speed through your first drafts or squeeze them out word by word? Do you have any tricks to make yourself keep writing?

49 comments

  1. I just keep writing for the first draft, but for the first time in ages I am not working on a novel. I am quite happy to be writing flash fiction every week- I could stick my regular real time Covid story characters in a novel – who would want to read about the pandemic later on!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Actually, the way all those short fiction pieces fit together is sort of like a novel. I recognize characters from previous posts and am interested in how things are developing for them.

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  2. Right now I have too much on my plate to even think of writing. The WIP is still there, lurking in the back of my mind, and I do intend to pick it up again, once the dust has settled…
    I like the sound of a page a day, surely I could find a way for that?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Albatross is right, a perfect description. Your handwriting is more compact than mine. My handwritten page is only about 300 words. Or maybe I cross out more stuff.:-) I think 400-500/d is perfectly acceptable. 500/d is what I’m aiming for in my current novella.

    This is not a trick to keep me writing, but rather a recognition: I’m concentrate better in the morning, so writing first thing in the day is helpful to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You are doing much better than I am, Audrey. All I do lately is work, work and more work. I can’t write in little fits and starts with an eye on my work email. I can blog like that so I’m keeping up with blog posts at least. When I write, I need to focus completely for a few hours. A page a day sounds like a reasonable approach to me.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I find short snatches of concentrated writing work better for me now than committing hours to it. Having no distractions is important too. My situation (retired, no children) makes it much easier. I’m always impressed by your productivity.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. The traditionally published author I follow on Youtube, with a day job, currently has a 600 word a day goal to finish her book before her publisher’s deadline. The six-figure self-publishing author I follow has a 5,000 word a day goal (five days a week) and a million plus word goal for the year.

    If you have the story in your head and can type a fairly modest 50 words a minute, you can crank out 3,000 words an hour. Having the story, and having the right words to tell it, in your head is the hard part.

    I don’t have a word count goal. When I am writing a story, I write for 1 1/2 to 2 hours first thing every morning, with an optional session in the evening. Time flies when I’m writing.

    That said, I think writing should be an enjoyable experience. I painted for many years. Indeed, I quit my day job to try my hand at making money as an artist. I have well over 1,500 paintings in my closet. But 5 or 6 years ago I started to run out of new ideas to paint, and so, I painted less and less, and enjoyed it less and less. These days I really don’t enjoy painting. Coming up with any sort of book cover is a chore I dread. I don’t wish to be discouraging. I’m just saying that the muse can come and go. And maybe come again.

    Both authors I mentioned talk about pushing through tough periods, so I don’t think your experience is unusual. And once you have that first draft in hand, it will get to be a lot more fun. June ain’t that far away.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It must be hard when one is writing to a contract and the muse becomes elusive. Or if one has an ambitious goal. That’s where being an indie not dependent on writing for an income is a happy situation. But of course without hard incentive, it’s easy to become lackadaisical about it, which is why I’m glad that my page a day thing has kept the work moving forward in what feels like a logical course. We’ll see whether I still see it that way when I go back to the beginning and type the thing into Word. You’re right–when I have a complete text to work on and perfect, I’m happy.
      Good luck with your latest cover!

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        1. This method works for me too, I “just write” the first draft down striving to catch at least the gist of the notion that impels me to create something. I write first drafts by hand with a fountain pen and hope I can read it later. I write the first draft as fast as possible, like a free write, pushing thru any questions raised. I’ll write “TK” in any spot that needs details, or research or illustrations so that the flow of writing the 1st draft doesn’t get distracted by the weeds of something. In subsequent drafts I’ll fuss over the weeds:word choices, illustrations, details needing research. Subsequent draft work sessions may be short snatches of work time but my mantra for each work session, however long or short, is “complete one thought”. Books, in my opinion, are made from a series of small thoughts stacked together which are held together by a mortar mixed of rhythm, syntax and sweat. The thought stacks border the garden blooms enabling others to see the flowers; the writer’s feelings, inspiration.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That’s a great metaphor for a book, Sue–thought stacks held together with “a mortar mixed of rhythm, syntax and sweat.” Getting that first draft done fast is important. I’m wondering if my page-a-day method might be too slow and the plot won’t hold together by the time I reach the end. But okay, it’s an experiment!
            Thinking of the images you post of your notebooks, I’ll bet your first drafts are quite legible!
            And I just noticed I had “fist draft” in my comment; considering the topic is handwriting, I wonder if that’s a Freudian slip!
            Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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            1. I think “fist draft” is quite apropos!! Re: your concern about one page a day being too slow… I use the “one a day” method, I find it helps me sustain creativity over a long project. In each work session I just try to express a complete thought and stop for a day when I’m wanting to do more. I like leaving my daily work on a “cliffhanger” so overnight I’m itching to get back to work tomorrow. This method also allows my subconscious to work on it too.
              You’ll find a pace that suits you…just keep working!!

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              1. Stopping at a cliffhanger point is a great idea. And yes, the subconscious must be busy with the work because when I get back to it I almost always come up with something. So far the page a day thing is working.

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  6. I have started a few novels and gave up about chapter 3–the characters were tedious and I had no projected resolution I was even aiming for. Nowadays, I stick with shorter writings like poetry, blog posts, and flash fiction–maybe the occasional children’s story. I’d still like to write, even an unpublished novel but not enough to put the work in for even the first draft.

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  7. I go with the flow, so whatever works is what I do as long as I do stuff when I sit in that spot reserved for the ‘writer’ and don’t do anything else. I change the way I do things on each story/book, so I tend to adapt to how the work happens and don’t worry unless it’s not happening — then I look for a new way to do things to ensure the words keep coming.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Writing is such a creative endeavor that no one formula works for everyone. If you have found something that works for you, then I say stick with it until it doesn’t work anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A page a day is a good plan Audrey, best wishes for the satisfactory conclusion.
    I continue with the highly NOT recommended, starting off with a theme and little idea of where it will go, charging along with plots and sub plots careening off in all sorts of directions then once an end is reached, the real fun begins with the re-writes, re-edits AND the WORD feature ‘Review’ & Read-Aloud.
    Target dates for completion and a set number of pages do not lend themselves to this method.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always thought it’s better to end up with too much material after finishing your first draft, than a skimpy work that needs to be plumped up. Of course, as you say, that makes rewriting and editing a bit of a challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Can be fun though (I won’t go any longer, lest I lapse into a Mary Poppins impression…shudder).
        Whatever I discard is often filed away for possible use as a basis for something else, though there is a certain amount of sifting out at some stage.
        Against all the odds, I love writing.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Because I still have a demanding day job, I write on the weekends. I find that it works best to set chapter or scene goals rather than pages or word count. At the end of the writing session, I record the goal I want to work on the following weekend. I could see the page a day method working for me when I retire.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your method sounds logical and effective. My page a day thing is a way to make first drafting a bit less onerous than if I had more ambitious goals. I have found that my writing process has been different with each book.

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  11. I can soooo relate to this! When I started writing, it was pure energy and excitement that propelled me onward. Now, it really is a “slog,” especially that first draft. One page a day is a great goal, and I’m not surprised that sometimes more pages show up. I try for 1000 words a day, but don’t always make it. And sometimes getting there is torture. Good for you! And great description of those lurking shadows of unfinished books. Lol. So true.

    Liked by 1 person

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