- by Megan Hart
A friend of mine said recently she was going to finish her book if it killed her, even if it meant doing it one page at a time. To which another friend replied, “isn’t that the only way to do it?” And of course she was right!
Some people can write twenty pages one day but nothing more for a week. Some do ten pages a day, three days a week. Some write less, some write more, and some writers write one page a day until the book is finished.
What’s important is not the amount of words we can get on the page, or in what amount of time, but that we write them. Writing is a game not of speed, but of stamina. Determination. Persistence.
This isn’t to say that sometimes, the books happen fast. My current WIP is a departure from the books I’ve been publishing up until now. I feel a little like I’ve stepped off the dock and into unexpected deep water — I know how to swim, sure, but I’m still in over my head. I love the story, love the freedom to deviate from what I’ve been doing quite a bit of. I’m floundering on occasion not because I don’t know where the story is going but because I’m able to tell it in a different way than my other books.
On the days I manage to write (in between household duties and children who seem to have a million days off from school) I’ve been putting out a steady page count of ten to twenty pages. The words are flowing, the story is there in my head, bright and shiny and ready to be told. The problem is not the daily word count, it’s how the story is moving from head into the document. Because it’s not the same kind of book I’ve been publishing (mostly erotic fiction and romance from Harlequin Spice, Black Lace, Avon, Berkley and Amber Quill Press) I don’t have to write this book the same way — so it’s coming out completely out of order! And I don’t mean one or two scenes, I mean vast, long chunks of prose that don’t actually happen next to each other in the finished story but are what felt necessary to tell the day I sat down to write.
I will have written this novel, first word to last of the first draft, in a little over two months, and I’d have finished sooner if not for the whole kids-out-of-school-every-week thing. It’s going to take a lot longer than that to edit it, partially because I have other deadlines to meet but also because this book, as fast as it’s come out, didn’t come out pretty. So, while I can pat myself on the back for pouring out the pages, when it comes down to making this book publishable, it’s going to take a lot more effort, time and sweat on the back end of it.
Coincidentally, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Seventy Days of Sweat with Sven is also going on. These are two challenge programs that encourage both newbie and seasoned writers to push themselves in their daily page count, to write every day, to keep working until they’ve completed a project. Excellent tools for people who need a kick in the pants to get started, or for those who’ve never written a novel before to see two things: one, it’s a heckuva lot of work, and two, it really can be done.
I admire both programs, but I think in the broader picture, the main goal can be lost. It’s not the 50,000 words that matter at the end, but that you wrote every day, or every day you could. That you started and finished a project rather than dumping it when it got too hard. That you not only spent a month making writing a priority, but that you make it a priority all year ’round.
I have many people say to me, “Oh, I’d love to write a book.” I usually reply, “So go ahead and do it. Sit down and write one page a day, and at the end of the year, you’ll have a novel.” I don’t know how many people take me up on that advice, but it seems to me still to be the only solid way to write…whether you finish twenty or fifty or ten or five pages a day, or you only manage ten words, that story won’t be written unless you keep working on it, and every book is, at its heart, written in exactly the same way for every single person.
One page at a time.