Thursday, April 30, 2015


by Alan

When you’re in writing mode, do you follow a word quota, a time quota, or do you just wait for your muse to arrive, words in hand?

If I waited for my muse to arrive, I’d be a very old man before I’d have anything written. (My muse must be named Godot.)

When I’m in writing mode, I follow a strict word quota. Here’s my process:

With my premise already in mind, I take about a week before I actually begin writing to formulate an outline (not very detailed) and complete character sketches of the main characters. Then I determine when I want to finish my first draft, and divide by the number of writing days until that deadline (usually I plan to write five days a week).

That gives me my daily quota. When I first started writing and didn’t have any other writing-related tasks (promoting, blogging, Minesweeper, procrastinating, answering emails, etc.), I’d usually settle on a 2000 word/day quota. Now that I have other junk very important marketing and promotion things to do, my quotas are usually somewhere between 1000 and 1500 words per day.

better Monkey-typing When my writing period begins, I employ BICFOK. Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. In other words, I sit there until I’ve achieved my quota.

Some days, if the writing is like shoveling sludge, I’ll get up the instant I reach my daily goal, even if it’s in the middle of a sentence.

After I’ve attained my quota, I’ll move on to other things (and I’ve got no shortage of other things on my to-do list).

Once in a while, life gets in the way and I don’t reach my daily quota. That’s what weekends are for—catching up.

The great thing about his method is that I know, with a great deal of certainty, if I meet my daily goals, then when I reach my deadline, I’ll have a complete first draft. Something else I know with a great deal of certainty? The manuscript will smell to high heaven, but at least I’ll have a first draft I can carve to pieces.

Muse? I don’t need no stinkin’ muse.

I’ve got BICFOK.


Paul D. Marks said...

Alan, I think your engineering background is showing :) But you're right, waiting for the muse is like waiting for Godot. So your method of BICFOK is the way to go.

Art Taylor said...

Good post! And good advice to others too. :-)

Susan C Shea said...

Some good tips, Alan. One I've never tried is naming the deadline and setting the word count specifically to it. Good idea. I'm only 6,500 words into a new manuscript now, not in contract, and I think I'll try your deadline strategy just to keep me from backsliding. Thanks.

RJ Harlick said...

Like your BICFOK approach, Alan, although it does sound slightly obscene.

Alan Orloff said...

Paul - Sometimes I put all my word counts on a spreadsheet, for real.

Art - Of course, this method works for me. Others, probably not so much. You gotta do what works for you.

Susan - Deadlines, real or imaginary, do help some people, me included.

RJ - Only "slightly" obscene? I need to come up with a better acronym then!