Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Two Pages a Day

Newbies to fiction writing are often told to write every day. After "Write what you know," it's probably the most frequent advice given. So why did it take me so long to heed it? I'm not sure. Like everyone, I have plenty of excuses. Job obligations, family commitments, the joys of staying up late and sleeping in. Bottom line: I resist schedules and routines. Always have. Something in me bristles at doing the same thing the same way day after day. So I disregarded the advice and wrote when the writing bug hit or when I had extra time or when the stars aligned correctly. And I got stories and books published, so my approach felt justified.

Except my novels often stalled. Yes, shorter work could be completed in dribs and drabs, but longer works often petered out or weren't cohesive. Then last fall I watched a video featuring Kate DiCamillo. In the video she discussed her working habits, mentioning that each morning she got up, drank her coffee, and wrote two pages. And that's it. Two pages, singled-spaced, took her about an hour, and after that she was done. Even if she had more to write, she stopped. Hmmm. If this kind of schedule worked for Kate DiCamillo, a Newbery Award winner, maybe it would work for me. Two pages and an hour a day seem doable, not daunting.

And so I began. Each morning (excluding weekends), I brewed myself a cup of coffee and went straight to my desk. I did not check email or surf the internet. Instead I wrote for one hour, and by some miracle came up with two pages a day. By spring I had accumulated a 30,000 word middle-grade manuscript (and that was after abandoning 15,000 words and starting afresh). Now this first draft was as shitty as they come, of course. But that's what revision is for, right?

DiCamillo follows the same process when revising, with one small change. She revises two pages a day, but the pages are now double, not single, spaced. In this regard, I've parted ways with her. I revise for an hour each morning too, but I'll often go back and work some more in the afternoon.

So this once free spirit has become a creature of routine--and my writing has certainly benefited. What's your writing schedule and how does it help/hinder your writing?

Interview with Kate DiCamillo. Watch it!


  1. The most work I ever got done was when I was working in Boston and wrote for an hour first thing in the morning before I walked to work. That routine resulted in a novel of over 500 pages. It's a lesson I keep forgetting but am now inspired to start up again. One hour, 2 single-spaced pages (which can add up to 1000 words, nothing to sneeze at--an incentive to write lots of dialogue).

    I'd be curious to know how much thinking time you and she put in perday.

  2. I can't speak for DiCamillo, but I would think about where the story was going on and off throughout the day, especially on long walks. That helped the next morning when I sat back down at my desk.

  3. Kudos to you. I think this is wonderful. I try and write every day but, like you, I resist schedules so I don't do it at the same time. Maybe I'll start a similar schedule this summer but it will have to be after I come home from the gym. That is the one schedule I've managed to keep all year.

  4. When I was taking writing classes, there was little to schedule- When I didn't have to do other things, like parenting, working, and grocery shopping, I was always writing, or offering critiques. I produced a lot of quality work. Since then, I too often wait for the "muse" and my work has suffered. My output is slowed, and it takes time to re-immerse myself. Mostly, in the past three years, I've written poems. I like many of them, but I want to get back to novel length fiction. Two pages a day does not seem nearly enough. I like to write in "organic" units, a scene or a chapter- and I don't plan ahead. However, if it works, I really should try it.