In the May and June issues of Romance Writer’s Report Allie Pleiter discusses the “chunky method of time management.” In summary, she suggests that we each have a natural rhythm when it comes to writing. We tend to “write ourselves out” at approximately the same number of words, regardless of circumstances. I found this notion intriguing since I remember, when I had a day job and had to interrupt my writing to meet a client, longing for the expanse of time to write until I had finished.
When I retired, I expected to write for hours, peacefully, productively and perfectly. Wrong! The truth is I run out of steam at just about the same word count whether I have more or less time available. I used to have a writing goal of 1000 words a day. The first 800 spattered onto the page like spring rain. The last 200 fell like drops of sweat in an ice storm. According to Ms Pleiter’s premise, my natural word count is 800 at a sitting. So, if it want to write a 70,000 word ms I need 70000 ÷ 800 = 87.5 chunks of writing.
I was intrigued by her math and decided to apply it to some famous novels. Charles Dickens wrote Bleak House over 20 months. Depending on how you count, the book has 353,000 to 356,000 words. For arguments sake, and simple math, lets say 355,000. 355,000 ÷ 20 months =17759 ÷4 weeks=4437.5 ÷5 days =889.3. So, assuming Dickens wrote five days a week, he and I have roughly the same natural writing chunk Wow! Of course, those were polished, publishable words in Mr. Dickens’ case. Mine need more work,
Margaret Mitchell wrote the 418,053 words of Gone With the Wind over a ten year period. Using the formula above, that means she wrote only 17 words a day. Of course, she may have written large chunks at a time, then ignored the ms for long periods. She wrote it for her own entertainment, never intending to publish it.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, 120,697 words was completed in draft form in one year, 453 a day, using a five day/week writing schedule. Of course, Jane didn’t have the benefit of a computer so we can forgive her tardiness.
In today’s writing world, there is a demand for “more.” More words, more books, more interviews, more social media time. Stephen King writes 2000 words a day. James Patterson, who published 15 books in 2014 has a team of writers working for him, in order to meet the demand. Readers seem to be insatiable (yay!) and publishers and writers are eager to sell into that need. Writers’ forums are filled with ideas to increase productivity. Recently I prolific author discussed using music to up her word count at a single sitting. Others chimed in with more of the same.
All of this emphasis on more and faster gives me palpitations. I like words. I like to savour them, them, finding the one that conveys just the right nuance, the right rhythm. I like to rewrite sentences, make them flow, make them poetic. I can’t do that in a hurry. Kudos to those who can but it’s not me.
So, I turned to another book on my desk, one thousand gifts, by Ann Voskamp. I read a passage about filling vessels with beauty. In short, she used to take a vase off the shelf whenever she had flowers to put in it. Her logic was “have beauty, must get vessel.” One day she turned it around and made the vases part of her everyday furniture. Now her logic reads, “have vessel, must find beauty.” My heart rate slowed down. I could draw a long breath. I remembered that writing is an art as well as a craft. My vessel is the empty page, I must fill it with beautiful words — at my own speed.