2,000 words, every single morning.
Reading books about writing helps me tremendously in the process of writing my first book. That’s why after Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Steven Pressfield's books, I wanted to reread On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King.
63 novels, 5 non-fiction books, more than 200 short stories: he is what we call a prolific writer. In this book, he recounts his childhood as an avid reader, his early writings, and his attempts at publication. But also and above all, he shares his toolbox.
Deleting useless words, banning adverbs, starting from a simple situation and letting the story build itself… The tips are countless.
Any writer should read it.
My favorite part was when King described his working routine.
Rain, snow or shine, Sunday or December 25th, he sits in his office every morning, closes the door, and doesn’t come out until he’s added 2,000 words to his current draft. Often by noon, sometimes not before tea-time.
When he’s done, his workday is done.
“If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” — Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I liked the challenge
“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.” — Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Getting a first draft on paper should not take longer than three months. Beyond that, King says, the story begins to “take on an odd foreign feel.”
2,000 words a day amount to 180,000 words after three months. The average word count for adult fiction is between 70,000 to 120,000 words, which makes three months more than enough time to write a novel.
In one of my past attempts to write a book, when I wasn’t yet fully committed, I set a goal of 1,000 words a day. I’ve always been fast. Writing those 1,000 words took me less than an hour.
When I quit my job to focus on writing, I increased that goal to 1,500 words a day. It was harder, but far from impossible. In just an hour and a half, it was done, depending on the inspiration of the day. On the other hand, however, my brain felt like it had been rinsed by a washing machine.
When I read about King’s 2,000 words a day, I liked the challenge.
Just before writing these words, I got that goal accomplished. This has been true for the last five days. I usually get stuck around 1,300 words and then manage to get the ball rolling again by getting up to make myself a latte.
You can’t write a book without passion
If you’re doing this for money, recognition, or success, save yourself the trouble: writing a book is not for you. It requires a faithful commitment repeated day in, day out.
You already know if you’re doing it for the right reasons. You can feel it in your gut.
Writing is not about inspiration. It’s about sticking your butt in your chair and getting to work, every day at the same time, even when you don’t have a clue what to write.
Even when you don’t feel like it.
You have to love the process. If you do, it gets super fun. If you don’t, it feels like torture.
One of the main keys to writing a book is to set a goal within your reach and stick to it.
A slow writer can be proud of adding 500 words a day to their draft. The same goes for someone who combines this activity with a day job. On the other hand, if the goal becomes too easy, you might as well increase it: it’s by pushing yourself to the limit that you get better.
Another thing about King’s routine is that he works every day, including weekends. He says, however, that a beginner can take one day off a week, but no more than that, after which the story flies away.
I used to work only Monday through Friday. As I read this, I figured that after all, writing was something I enjoyed doing, so there was no reason to stay away from it on weekends.
On Saturday, I added my 2,000 daily words to my draft, and I enjoyed doing so. Sunday, I decided to take the day off.
Let’s see if I can get to 7/7.
The bottom line
Stephen King’s routine seems to work well for me. I like that 2,000-word goal.
The bottom line is here: take inspiration from the routines of people you admire, as it can give you ideas and a sense of what it takes to reach a specific goal. But keep in mind that everyone has a different creative process.
Find what works for you, and you only.
Set a goal that is not too high or too low, and commit yourself to getting it done for as long as possible.
Just get the ball rolling.
That’s how books write themselves.