The equations that keep us writing.
Something we talked about during the Book Club for Writers meeting on Sunday was what I like to call writer math. As in, the equations some of us writers use to set goals for our writing projects.
I love hearing writers describe their personal writing equations:
500 or 1,000 or 1,500 words a day
1 or 5 or 10 hours of butt-in-chair writing time each week
20 or 50 or 100 pages per month
To me, these equations have always sounded more like magic spells.
I’ve heard writers take similar approaches with submissions and applications:
10 submissions per month
5 grant/workshop/fellowship applications per year
one rejection in, three submissions out (similar to the “one in, one out” approach to decluttering)
Novelist Haruki Murakami, whose book we were focusing on during our book club discussion on Sunday, produces about 10 Japanese manuscript pages, or 1,600 English words, every day. It takes him 4-5 hours of early morning writing to get there.
One book club member said she’s aiming for 200 hours of writing time in 2024. It’s the best kind of goal because it’s an attainable push. In true Hurley Winkler fashion, I obviously suggested this writer make a very fun chart to track this the way I did with my swims last year.
Another book club member emailed me yesterday to say that our discussion helped her cracked her own code: reframing daily writing not as a number of pages but as a number of hours. Since realizing that, she’s written every day. Yes! Hell yes!
My own personal writer math equations vary based on what I’m aiming for.
Writing a draft involves setting a daily word count (usually 1,000 words). This way, I won’t get too precious choosing my words.
Revising involves setting a daily page count to rewrite (usually somewhere between 5 and 10 pages) in order to keep moving forward, not backward.
When I’m not on deadline, I like to spend 30 minutes to an hour a day with the work, tinkering and staying immersed in it so I’ll be ready for the next steps.
Writer math isn’t for every writer. After all, we’re word people, not number people. But if you’re anything like me—if your perfectionism and fear and doubt ever keep you from getting words on the page—a little math may not hurt.
My therapist has a saying: “look where you want to go.” She’s from Nebraska, and she told me that her dad used to say that whenever she’d drive in the snow. “If you hit black ice and spin out,” he’d say, “just look where you want to go.”
In the chaos of writing, I think equations help us look where we want to go. And they can help us get there, too:
I wrote 1,000 words a day for 90 days and finished a draft of a novel.
I took my revision 5 pages at a time for two months and rewrote the whole thing.
I opened my document for 30 minutes every day for two weeks, and now that I have notes back from my reader, I can hit the ground running.
When I interviewed Matt Bell for The Creative Independent last year, I asked him about running: something he does avidly along with writing, just like Haruki Murakami. I think about this part of our conversation constantly:
“There’s a book on ultra-running called Relentless Forward Progress, and that’s all you have to do: continue to move forward at pace for a long time, and you can run any race.
I think there’s something similar in the writing light. It’s not about who writes a book fast. It’s not about who publishes first. You just continue forward in your practice over time.”
BOOK CLUB FOR WRITERS
What it would take for us to “remain in the ring” and keep writing.
The writing process vs. the living process.
And much more!
Paid subscribers can find the replay link at the bottom of this email.
OUR MEETING SCHEDULE FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR
Wednesday, April 24, 8-9:30 PM EST: You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir by Maggie Smith
Sunday, July 28, 1-2:30 PM EST: 1000 Words: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round by Jami Attenberg
Wednesday, October 30, 8-9:30 PM EST: Writing Wild: Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature by Tina Welling
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