Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Q & A Day: Page Counts and Processes

Today’s Q & A Day is brought to you courtesy of a colleague*, who asked me a questions, and as usual, I’m so darn long winded in my answer, it turned into a blog post. Yay!

So the question was: What’s your daily page goal?

The short answer is: Depends on when the book is due.

Though seriously, when I went up to OU last week to talk to the YA Lit class (*wave to Karin, Mark, and Courtney*), one of their questions was about my writing process. And I said, quite honestly, I have a wacky process that I don’t recommend to anyone.

However, I’ll share it with you, because I always hear people post their disciplined, 5, 10, 20 pages a day routine, or their 8 hours of writing, or whatever, and sometimes, if I’m not doing that, I feel like a failure, or an undisciplined hack, or both. Any of which might be true, but there’s no sense in making myself depressed over it. (/sarcasm. I know am not a failure. Though the undisciplined part is arguable.)

Usually when I start a book, I’ll write some chapters (which may or may not be the actual beginning of the book) do some research, write my outline. And then I’ll go into this phase where it doesn’t look like I’m working but I’m thinking about the book all the time. This is my germination period. For instance, before I wrote The Splendor Falls, I watched every ballerina movie I could get my hands on, and re-read my favorite gothic novels, and went and drove around Alabama (not something I always have the luxury of doing.)

This may go on for a couple of weeks, then I’ll usually start back in slowly and, to be honest, go in some wrong directions while I convert the internal process to an external one. Then things will get rolling. (knock on wood.)

During my active phase, my goal is usually "write every day." Sometimes I go on a research tangent, and end up writing one page. Sometimes I do a lot of thinking, running a scene different ways in my head, write barely anything, and then turn around the next day and write 20 pages. (That's what happened yesterday.)

When I do set myself a page/word count goal (which I always eventually do), it's usually because I'm letting myself get distracted when I really need to buckle down and get the story out of my head and on the page. In other words, I don't really NEED more research, but I'm using it as a procrastination tool. Or I'm second guessing myself, and I need to force myself to more forward.

So the moral of this story is… find what works for you, what motivates you, and what keeps you moving forward. For most people, it’s a combination of things. Give yourself germination time, but know when it’s time to turn incubation into perspiration.

I'd love to hear your creative process in the comments, whether it’s for writing or any other activity.

*Colleague is Tess Mallory who's time travel romances are being reissued from Berkley with awesome new beefy Scotsman covers instead of the old-fashioned clinch covers. (You know, with the flowing hair and awkward not-so-romantic grappling poses?) Anyway, I have a sekrit and ridikulous love for a good time travel romance.)


  1. I wrote a 50-60 page article on copyright in June after a long pre-writing period the first semester.

    My process (imposed upon me by my professor) was basically:

    1. proposal
    2. initial research
    3. detailed outline
    4. first draft
    5. polish and final draft

    The WORST step was going from 2 to 3. The detailed outline itself was 8-9 pages long! It took a month and was terribly painful.

    However, once I got done with that, the outline->draft step was painful but considerably less so than writing assignments had been in the past without the "detailed" part of "detailed outline."

    The part I think you learn over a career of writing is recognizing when to go off on a tangent as you're writing and see where inspiration leads you. In my case, it is novel legal arguments. In fiction's case, it may be a new character or plot twist.

    I think my experience with that is very similar to what it is when you hear authors talk about their own characters surprising them or taking on a life of their own.

  2. That's cool, Kyle. I never thought about tangents being useful in other than fiction writing, but I can totally see where they would serve the same purpose-- letting your subconscious, which is much smarter, at least for me, lead you to discover something you didn't know was a good idea until you wrote it.

  3. I'm writing a book currently (actually two books at once), and the way it usually works for me is I get an idea in my head, go to the computer, type like crazy until I get everything out, then I think about the characters, my incubation stage (this is currently in process, and the stage has lasted from December until now, I think it will last until summer). Also during the incubation stage, I create a vast amount of charts and explanations of the world I have created, a quick explanation of the characters' lives and an outline, however, most of it stays in my head, I never forget. Then this is the part I plan to do when the school year is over, write, write, write, eat, write some more. Write my butt off. This would be the part where I finish the book. I will then print it out, edit, re-type, edit, final!! Then, finally, type up query, send to editors, wait for reply, scream my head off if an editor wants to publish the book. I also go through a less complicated process for fashion designs and song writing, it mostly goes like this-
    1. divine inspiration (I can't just sit down, think and come up with something brilliant, it must be given to me by God through a miracle in my head)
    2. write/draw out the song/design (the song tends to be only one verse or a chorus).
    3. (For fashion design)- think about how the pieces of cloth will fit together to make the final design, this usually happens during bathroom breaks.
    (For songs)-
    Do nothing, wait for more divine inspiration, I can't force lyrics out, it will sound horrible if I do.
    4. Final product. I sew the design, or I finish the song, and record it on my computer to send to my friend for a review and a revision.