Just Two Pages – Front and Back

One of my goals for 2008 is to write my first manuscript. I decided that “Publish my first book” would be a foolish way to word this goal because I’ve never written anything longer than a short story. Therefore, believing that I could successfully write a manuscript and that it would be good enough to publish would be a blatant demonstration of naiveté — kind of like setting a goal to win the lottery without taking the first step of playing it.

So how does one write a book? Well, what I remember Stephen King saying in his autobiography is that he starts with a situation: What would happen if a girl received telekinetic powers when she reached womanhood? (Carrie) — What would happen if a vampire left the familiar hunting grounds of Transylvania and inhabited small town USA? (‘Salem’s Lot) — What would happen if a supervirus killed off 99% of the world’s population? (The Stand)

Once he has an idea that he likes, King creates characters to experience the situation, and then he lets these characters write the story for him. In other words, he imagines ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances, and then uses common sense to determine their course of action.

After establishing the characters involved in the storyline, it’s just a matter of writing about them every day. In “On Writing,” Stephen King’s memoir of the craft, he says that he writes twenty pages a day. Sometimes he’s finished this daily task by noon, and sometimes he won’t finish until supper. Either way, he strives to write out this minimum number of pages every day. Within a few months, he’ll have a finished manuscript.

Of course, I am not Stephen King. Although King may be capable of churning out twenty pages a day, I cannot — the notion of writing even ten pages a day seems physically and mentally exhausting to me. After all, I’ve spent the last 10 months trying to earn a living as a professional blogger and I considered myself lucky if I could produce a two page article every other day — meaning I averaged only one page a day.

So although posting blog content and writing a manuscript may be two completely different animals, I’m aware of how the writing process tends to kick my ass. Consequently, I did not begin my first day working towards this new goal with the far-fetched, intimidating, and frustrating minimum of twenty pages. Instead, I’ve started with a reasonable daily minimum:

I wrote two pages, front and back (a.k.a. four handwritten sheets).

It’s not a story. It’s not a chapter. Hell, it’s barely an introduction — but it’s something, and that’s the point. I know that if I attempt the unrealistic goal of writing twenty pages a day, I will fail to meet that minimum, get frustrated, and give up. Since writing my first manuscript is something I truly want to accomplish, I knew it would be wiser to attempt a more realistic goal.

Two pages may not seem like much, but if I continue to write just two pages for every day in January, then I’ll fill over 60 sheets by February. Furthermore, I’ll become accustomed to the habit of writing fiction every day and will be able to increase my daily minimum as times goes on.

Starting in February, maybe I’ll increase my daily minimum to three pages. In March, I can increase it again to four. By next year, perhaps a daily minimum of writing twenty pages won’t seem so unrealistic.

Happy New Year.

Update 1-10-2008: If you’re interested in reading the first 18 pages of my rough draft, they have been published in this article.

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9 Responses to “Just Two Pages – Front and Back”

#1 Kelly Petrucci on 01, Jan, 2008 at 8:12 pm

Good idea Shaun. I always wanted to write a book too and just maybe you have inspired me. I think your outlook is good. Start small and build up. I think writers do that then they get so wrapped up in their book that they can not stop. Happy writing.
Remember I want a signed copy for my shelf.

#2 Hunter Nuttall on 02, Jan, 2008 at 12:43 am

I think it’s very reasonable to start at two pages a day, or even one page a day. Going for 20 pages a day at this point is way too much.

I make a distinction between benchmarks (minimum required standards), goals (what I’d like to accomplish), and stretch goals (things I could possibly do, but longshots).

#3 MaxBro on 02, Jan, 2008 at 1:39 am

Good luck with your writing endeavor, Shaun.

I’ve discovered that there is a marked difference in writing non-fiction as opposed to fiction, that manipulates your page count. When I wrote the first draft of my book last year I could write anywhere from 5 to 19 pages a day. There were even some times I churned out 10 or more a day in a row. However, I’ve always found it difficult to skip along like that when I’m writing an article or anything non-fiction.

I think this is because when writing an article you are forced to make a specific point about something and then elaborate with supporting evidence. Whereas with fiction you are limited only by your imagination. Non-fiction generally incorporates more research, although there are plenty of fiction writers who research heavily before they write (John Grisham, James Michener).

I think you’ll find that writing fiction will allow you more flexibility in your writing, and eventually motivate you to write more and more pages a day. Provided you write everyday, it can become quite addictive.

#4 Swombat on 02, Jan, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Good luck with the writing!

FYI, “X pages a day” is not that far-fetched a goal. Fiction is a lot easier to write than articles, once you get into it, because it doesn’t require so much context switching. I spent most of a summer averaging 2k words a day (which can be any number of pages, depending on your font, line spacing, etc – I suspect Stephen King is talking about typewriter pages with double line spacing for revisions). I was 18 at the time – I’m sure you can do it too!

How long have you been writing short stories for? If you haven’t published any, I would suggest you change your goal to:

* write one good short story that you can be proud of, per week
* get at least 5 of these stories published

This will help your fiction writing ability tremendously, will get you into the habit of writing regularly, will give you a weekly goal to strive for – and on top of that, published stories will give you “street cred” when the time comes to send the longer manuscript out to editors and agents.

Good luck with it!

#5 Ben on 03, Jan, 2008 at 1:08 am

I realized the same thing just today but not with writing…with finding a girlfriend. A year ago my goal was to have a girl friend by 08. I went on exactly zero dates and thus have no girlfriend. This year my goal is to go on a date a week. If a girlfriend comes along great if not I’m at least making progress.

I think pushing yourself occasionally (thinking bigger than your comfortable with) is good too, it can speed up the process. Instead of two pages a day for a month, instead do two pages a day per month then pick one day a week that you tell yourself you’re going to write 5 pages that day. A lot of people worry too much about what they write/draw/create, but I think it is more important to create and do it as much as possible, which sounds like what you’re working toward. Good Luck! I’d love to see some of your two pages a day writings… so please share if you feel so inclined! Happy New Year to you as well!

#6 Bjoern on 03, Jan, 2008 at 7:49 pm

Just wondering, how does rewriting enter into the equation? It sounds like a good plan to aim for a minimum amount of pages per day, but maybe on some days the time would be better spent rewriting old stuff? It would be bad if the habit would get into the way of creating quality.

#7 WereBear on 06, Jan, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Don’t rewrite until it’s done. Period.

When we are drafting, especially if we haven’t written a book before, we can only draft. Write the story, Just write the story. Things happen to the characters, and they react to them, and then we have more story because things react back.

It doesn’t matter if you threw them into a volcano and the next morning you realize that was a wrong decision. Don’t even through out the volcano stuff; it will be useful, LATER. Just start again where you diverted, and keep going.

Just keep going.

At the end, you will have a book. It doesn’t matter how messy it is. You now have something worth rewriting, which in turn is much easier because you have something you can edit.

Just put your head down and write, every day. If you get in trouble, just write your way out of it. It’s the only way to get to the end; which is the hardest part.

With that behind you, you can say “Now it’s a book!” and the thrill will take you through the editing process.

#8 Shaun Boyd on 07, Jan, 2008 at 3:42 am

@Bjoern and WereBear
In my post Nothing I Write Will Ever Be Perfect, I mentioned how the first time I tried writing a book I couldn’t get past the first chapter because I kept rewriting it. WereBear is right — write first, rewrite later. Allegedly, after Stephen King completes a first draft of a manuscript, he stashes it away in a drawer until he’s forgotten about it. Once he looks at an old manuscript and realizes that it’s become something of a stranger to him, he knows it’s ready for rewrite. I think that’s a fascinating method — waiting for your own words to appear as if they’re someone else’s.

#9 Author on 22, Oct, 2010 at 3:18 am

Stephen King has a writing quota of 2000 words per day, not 20 pages. 2000 words equals about 8 pages at an average of 250 words per page (double spaced at a 12-point font). He writes everyday and finishes a 180,000 word book in about three months.

Ray Bradbury writes 1000 words–or four pages–everyday before breakfast, which takes him approximately one hour.

The trick of writing is to do a little everyday, without hope and without misery. If it’s only 250 words per day, which takes about 15 minutes when the flow is going. Little by little, like pennies added to a jar, it starts to add up.

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