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How Much is Enough?

Do you have to wait until you’re in the mood to write? Are you blithely making excuses for not writing? Is this non-writing the result, frankly, of head-in-the-sand stubbornness? Or are you writing regularly, but afraid it isn’t enough?

We all know prolific writers who seem god-like in their ability to write door-stopper novels every eight months. (Or worse.) Why can’t this be me?

Whether you’re writing enough or not, it’s easy to feel guilty about what you are or aren’t doing. Easy, also, to obsess over what other writers can accomplish. Friends, we gotta get out of this place. The writing life is challenging enough without this pin-headed monster breathing down our necks, whether we call it worry or guilt or laziness.

Fuzzy thinking

Guilt in the writing life is common. It stems from fuzzy expectations as much as from lack of commitment. You may well not be giving writing the time it deserves, but even if so, the first step is to decide how much writing is enough. It’s strange how people worry about this without ever defining the standard.

Here’s the only solution I’ve ever found: A personalized weekly page count. Determine a weekly number of pages–or word count–that will be your writing goal. Spend an hour finding the right figure, neither hopelessly ambitious nor foolishly small. What is a reasonable goal for you? If you work full time, perhaps your goal is four pages a week. How would you feel if you had been writing four pages a week for the past year? Would it be a significant improvement over what you actually did write in the past year?

So, given your circumstances and your level of experience in writing, what would be a respectable goal?

Making room for life

But remember: rewriting does not count toward the page goal unless it adds pages. Spell checking does not count. Research does not count. New pages count. So when you set your page goal, remember that there are a few other tasks you should allow some time for.

What happens when life intervenes? Well, this is a weekly page count, not a daily one. That allows for days when errands eat up your time, when you get a free lift ticket for skiing, when your dog has to go to the vet. Make it up over the next few days.

But what if, despite working a little harder on the remaining days, you still don’t make your weekly goal? Then the rule is you must write during your anticipated relaxation time. Sunday, let’s say. Or tonight after dinner. Or during Netflix time with the family tomorrow evening. A few weeks of that penalty, and you’ll begin to take the page count seriously. What if you seldom reach your weekly goal? Guilt? No, just revise the goal.

Now you never again have to ask yourself if you’re  doing enough. Did you make your page count? If so, you’re guilt free!


Note: I’ll be in Portland next Tuesday, April 19 for a fun

SFWA gig along with Jay Lake and Brent Weeks, best-selling author of The Black Prism and The Night Angel Trilogy. The three of us will read from our novels and comment on our work in light of the evening’s theme, The Familiar and the Strange.

Set in the pub-like atmosphere of the McMenamins Kennedy School, the event begins at 7:00pm and ends by 8:30pm. No tickets are required.


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