Finding Your Pace

A few years ago, I attended a reading by novelist Percival Everett. He read from one of his published novels, then he read a bit from his current work in progress. Afterward, I commented to him that his draft seemed very clean. He said, “It’s the result of being a poor typist. I think about it so much before I write it down because I only want to write it once.”

Every writer has a comfortable pace. Stephen King writes ten pages a day. Elizabeth George writes five. Loren D. Estleman, who still writes on a typewriter, strives for five “clean” pages a day.

There are plotters and planners and there are “seat of the pants” writers. There are writers who hammer out a quick first draft then revise, revise, revise and there are one-draft writers like Everett who try to only write it once, then do an edit and a polish.

Finding your pace will help you refine your process.

You may write in bursts, pouring out pages and pages of manuscript in a marathon writing session. If that’s the case, then trying April Kihlstrom’s Book in a Week process or National Novel Writing Month might suit you. These processes challenge you to write quickly without worry.

Or, you may write more slowly, returning to the project day after day, week after week, month after month. You may edit while you write so that when you finish a draft it is fairly clean and doesn’t require very much revising. Using the techniques described in Evan Marshall’s The Marshall Plan or Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict might work better for you.

Whatever your process, you need to find your pace. When working on a project, how many words can you comfortably get down on paper in a day?

Finding your pace depends on how much time you have to spend on your writing each day. If you are not a full-time writer, you have to fit your writing into the rest of your life, which may include a full-time job, family or community responsibilities, exercise and errands. How much can you comfortably write in thirty minutes? Can you squeeze out an hour a day for your writing? If so, how many pages get written?

Make sure that you don’t set your sights too high or you will set yourself up for failure. Just because Stephen King can write ten pages a day don’t feel like you have to, too. Try for two pages a day. If that’s too easy, go for three.

Set a reasonable pace for yourself so that you won’t start avoiding your writing because it seems too daunting. Some days, you might write more. Other days, you’ll write less. But you should at least know what you minimum requirement is.

Runners have to pace themselves. If they start out too fast, they’ll get winded and won’t be able to finish the race. Writers have to pace themselves, too. If you push yourself too hard, you’ll run out of creative energy and will stall and sputter to a stop.

Whether you are a sprinter or a marathoner, pacing is everything.