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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