08/02/2010 01:17 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Making of a Novel: Reaching Toward the Big 5-0 (Pages, That Is)

I don't have a set number of words or pages that I commit to writing each day, but I do pay very close attention to the accumulating page count on a work-in-progress. It's very satisfying for me to write all morning, look down at the page count, and see that I've added four or five pages. I like the feeling of forward momentum. There are often days or even weeks when the page count doesn't grow -- either my writing doesn't produce many words, or I delete more words than I add -- and I've grown accustomed to that ebb and flow. It feels natural to me, like the rising and falling of a river. (This is primarily the reason that the "nanowrimo" concept makes me nervous. A writer who has committed to writing 50,000 words in a month isn't going to be very willing to throw out a few paragraphs, let alone 200 pages -- although I suppose that there is something to the "just do it" school of first-draft writing. You can slap that draft down and then go back and prune it. I just know that for me, personally, if I were to take that tack, there would be very few salvageable pages, so the process would be frustrating. The fact is that writing a novel is an inherently slow process and I don't think there are any shortcuts.)

This weekend, I wrote for long periods of time on both days, and after all the deletions and additions, my page count is at 30 (which meant an addition of 9 pages over two days.) I'm excited about 30, because it's more than halfway to 50, and 50 is a big milestone, in my mind. I believe that if I can write 50 good pages, I will be able to write a book. At 50 pages, an idea has taken root, and sent up shoots and is reaching for the sun. I have a very busy week ahead, but the 50 pages milestone is a siren song that's calling out to me, so maybe I'll reach it this week.

There is a lot of inspiring information on the web for writers interested in the concept of counting words or pages, or in writers habits in general:

  • Julie Cameron, author of The Artists' Way, urges writers to write every day, first thing in the morning, as a way of getting in the habit and getting in the mindset and getting the words out of your head.
  • I love Inkygirl's "500 Words a Day" challenge because it's realistic and it lasts a year. What that's doing is establishing the habit of writing, and there's nothing more important for a beginning writer. There's also a "250-words a Day" challenge and some great plug-in word counters you can add to a blog or website. If 250 words a day is still too much, check out The One-Minute Writer. And if you'd like your prompts delivered daily to your in-box (coolest thing ever), go to The Daily Prompt.
  • You can spend whole days reading about the habits of writers at The entries are organized by habits such as nap takers, procrastinators and night owls.
  • There's a great blog called WordCount which isn't specifically about word count but is about the business of being a writer. There's a great entry on "writing fast" -- why it's difficult, and how some writers still manage to pull it off.
  • For some daily writing prompts that might help you get into your writing every day, check out The Creativity Portal. They have lots of great daily prompts, including a picture a day. There's also an interview with me that just went up today.

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