Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Write a book in a year: the not-so-secret formula

I'm preparing to lead a writing retreat in December (this one is a private event for a group, but for those of you who've expressed interest, I'm working on dates & locations for a retreat that will be open to all, hopefully early next year).

Part of my preparation is thinking about TIME: how, when we take on a project of some magnitude (and I can say from experience that that writing a book is a PROJECT OF SOME MAGNITUDE) we need to carve out time to pursue it. Intentionally--not just in a hap-hazard, I'll get around to it at some point kind of way. There's a cost to pursuing any big goal.

Before Steve and I were married, I lived with a roommate who decided to train for the Boston Marathon. (She called her quest, "From the couch to the finish line!" because up to that point, the joke went, she'd only ever run to the fridge for a beer). Winters are dark & cold in Boston, and yet every night after work...and way too many Saturday mornings...she headed out to run, building up her mileage so she'd be ready for the big day. Ironically, the day of the marathon was unseasonably hot, so after four months of training in sub-zero weather, she sweated out her 26.2 miles in 92 degree glaring sun. But she did it. (Then she had a beer!)

For writers, our training looks a little different. We have to write. We build up pages, not miles. But if we don't do the day-to-day work, we don't even make it to the starting line. You can gimp through a marathon without training...but you can't fake a book. It's the one thing (other than being from Maine) I have in common with Stephen King: we both have to write our books, word by word. The adage about butt-in-chair/words-on-page is universal.

I have a post-it on my screen reminding me of the basic logistics of writing a book. It's from 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, where the author boils it down to this:

If you want to write a book in 1 year, you need approximately 75,000 words.
If you write for 50 of the 52 weeks, that's 1500 words/week, or 300 words/day.
In other words, totally doable.

Of course, if you're a memoirist, there's the pesky problem of needing to wait for each section of your story to unfold, if it hasn't already. But for the most part, anyone can do this.

And yet so often, we don't. If writing a book is one of your dreams, consider:
What would it look like for you to add "Write 300 words" to your to do list every day, in the category of things like teeth-brushing and food consumption where you don't go to bed until it's checked off?

Might be a fun experiment :)

4 comments:

Paige Jennifer said...

I've always been a writer who pecks at the keyboard in long stretches instead of smaller spurts. Sitting down to write 300 words would irk me, which totally explains why I doodled my way through writing exercises profs proposed during workshops. :)

Anonymous said...

After years of writing and many legal pads filled with notes/ideas/ramblings, I have completed my first novel (still looking for that special agent...). The recession was a blessing in disguise. My husband left his 9-5 mortgage loan officer position for a steadier pay check, but with that came crazy working hours for him - many at night. Schedules work for me, so every night around 8:30 I would tuck in the kids and go to work on my novel. I was amazed at how quickly the word count grew and before I knew it I reached my goal!

Trish Ryan said...

You guys make me feel so much better! I love the idea of 300 words/day. But can't imagine producing quality on that sort of plan, nice as that would be. I'm like you, Paige-the words come in long stretches. But sitting down each night at 8:30 might work...hmmm :)

Elizabeth@LongToLove said...

I think the longer stretches are ideal, but am wondering if I can dip my toe in the water with just 300 words a day to get started. Thanks for the encouragement Trish!