Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On Writing: The Speed of Write

The first time I interviewed mystery author Robert B. Parker, maybe 12 years ago, he told me he wrote eight pages a day, every day.
“Maybe it takes me two hours, maybe it takes me all day,” he said. “Either way, I don't get up until I have eight pages.”
The last time I interviewed Parker, when he came to Manchester to be honored by the city's library about five years ago, he gotten that number up to 10 pages a day. Same plan: get up, walk the dogs, eat breakfast, then ass to chair as long as it took. Once he hit 10 pages, Parker hit the gym.

Writing came fairly easy to Parker. He was a craftsman, with few illusions about what he was doing.
“I think I write well,” he said. “I think I know my characters well. Coming up with interesting things for them to do is the hard part.”
Writers Stephen King and Graham Greene (no relation) are/were also sticklers for consistent output: 1,000 words a day. (For those of you counting, I'm at 180 words in this blog post so far. Go me.) That's about four, double-spaced pages, or the equivalent of two average-length stories in the newspaper.
I probably average 700 words per writing day. Some days are good and I hit 1,000 easy. Other days are bad and I have to struggle to make 500. The difference between good days and bad days are more a matter of my will than the work. I try to write every day but I'd be lying if I said I did. I let things get in the way, and writing moves down the to-do list until it slips to the page marked “tomorrow.”
I seem to be able to write anywhere, a gift of more than a decade spent in loud newsrooms. Usually I write in bits and pieces, 15 minutes before I go to work in the morning, 30 minutes during my plan time at school, an hour after work. During the summer I have more time, but I find it difficult to sit still for more than an hour or two. It's likely just a matter of endurance and chores outstanding. Lately (since Sunday), I've been trying to break it up: 90 minutes in the morning, then another 90 after lunch. The second writing block may or may not be used for a completely different project. (401 words, so far in this post). I'll let you know if this schedule works.
No matter how or when you do it, the important part seems to be making sure you are making with the clickity-clack sounds regularly, instead of waiting for the Muse to alight and inseminate your head. Then eight pages a day, or 1,000 words a day, you get your story out at the speed of write.
How do you folks get it done? (Yes, this is an invitation to comment and share your good habits and advice.)


  1. I'm not consistent at all. I'll hit a groove, fly through 20 pages in a day, then won't write for a couple. I tell myself to put ass to chair every day, but sometimes the only words I get out are facebook or twitter posts.

    56 words here, but three are numbers. Only 941 to go.

  2. Unemployment reaps some rewards ... 1,000 per day easy (sometimes as high as 3,000, although the bulk of that usually gets whacked the following morning during edits). That aside from other projects (Plays, my dopey blog, short stories, etc.). I do write something every day (just about), but the focus shifts once I’m into one particular project more than another. The crime stuff I can usually call on at will; this literary stuff is a much tougher task for me and the editing is usually brutal the next morning. It's been a lower output the last few days (mom in hospital) but today I bring a writing pad and Mitch Wieland's God's Dogs (which is writing so good I'd give one of my feet to achieve some day--I'm past my prime and can handle a wheelchair, if anybody up there is listening). -- Charlie Stella

  3. I am definitely not consistent. I can write 20 pages in a day, then go weeks without anything to say. I guess it all works out in the end. And Charlie, I agree, God's Dogs is amazing.

  4. I write err... maybe 4 pages, sometimes 5 or more. My problem is I go back over what I've written twenty times before I'm satisfied with it. The next day I go back over it again. Ghee-sh somebody knock me upside of the head, because I'll do it again and sometimes the whole damn thing changes. :)