Thursday, June 30, 2022

I’ve Grown Accustomed to My Pace from James W. Ziskin

 If you could easily change one writing habit, what would it be? Starting earlier (or later) in the day? Become a plotter or pantser? Rush through a first draft or edit as you go? 

I’m not sure I would want to change anything about my habits. But since the question has been posed, I’ll offer some thoughts on a couple of things. 

Speed of writing. It would be great to be more efficient. To write every day of the year. But in truth, I write when I’m ready to commit to the sprint. That intense period of two or three months when I churn out a first draft. Usually, I manage to average 1,500 words a day for sixty or seventy days. Ninety or 100,000 words. That’s a book. The rest of the year, I’m letting the ideas marinate or I’m revising what I’ve written. This process works for me.

I kick into my sprint gear when I have a deadline somewhere on the horizon, and I’m probably averaging 2,000 words during that period. The average is lowered by my less productive periods earlier in the writing process. I wrote the first draft of Bombay Monsoon—115,000 words—in eighty-seven days. Approximately 1,300 words or four pages per day. But by day thirty-four of my “sprint,” I had only written 7,000 words or 206 per day. That’s when I got on my horse. Over the next fifty-three days, I wrote 108,000 words or 2,000 per day. 

As I’ve written here before, I maintain a spreadsheet to track my progress. I find it’s a great motivator when I’m feeling tired and not in the mood to write. It’s one more little trick to get your butt in the seat. “Must maintain my streak,” “Must raise my average,” for example. That keeps me going.

Here’s a look at Bombay Monsoon’s progress over the last thirty-four days of my sprint, by far my most productive period of the entire project:

As you can see, in little more than a month, I wrote 81,000 words. Thirteen days of those thirty-four I clocked more than 3,000 words written. That’s how you get a book finished fast. (By the way, the abbreviations in the column headers are EOD=End of day, SOD=Start of day, and WPD=words per day.)

So, no, I don’t think I need to change my habits, at least as far as productivity is concerned. Yes, my progress is slow at the beginning of the first draft, but it naturally picks up as the direction of the plot becomes clearer. And that brings me to another habit to consider: I’ve become a pantser.

I used to plot. Now I pants. Not sure how I ended up in this situation. Both methods work. One is perhaps more efficient, but both work. Would I like to go back to plotting? Not really. In a sense, I now plot as I write. So I’m happy with that habit, too.

Last, I suppose there is one writing habit I’d like to change: the habit of not writing international bestsellers. Yes, that’s a change I could live with. And I’m happy to share that advice with you: Commit to breaking the habit of writing books that aren’t bestsellers! Do it today!

1 comment:

Brenda Chapman said...

I like your productivity and your advice - making a note to self - only write New York Times bestsellers. If only :-)