The Ideal Writing Pace

Writing is a different experience for everyone. Just check out the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter and you will see authors hitting 50,000 words in two weeks…and in two years.

So how long should it take to write your book?

Stephen King claims to give up on a book if you can’t finish the first draft in three months. Others claim a book is rushed if it doesn’t demand years of your attention. But here’s the deal—

I used to run in Track & Field, and Track & Field taught me something important that I think the writing community could benefit from. (Stick with me for a second, okay?) I competed in races all year long. I thought I knew what the end-goal was in Track & Field… Whoever was fastest was the best. And the fastest girl on our team was a girl I’ll call Darla.

Darla was fast—like super fast—and since I was running long distance for the first time (when I was used to sprinting races), I tried to keep up with her. She was the fastest, after all, and I was able to run at her pace. (Not that I enjoyed it.) One time, while we were running a practice race (and I was majorly struggling), she turned to me and asked why I hadn’t found my own pace. My own pace. This concept blew my mind. I never considered how fast I “wanted” to run or what speed I was comfortable running. No way! I had only considered the start line, the finish line, and nothing in between…you know, because this was a literal race. But this was Track & Field. Your team isn’t judged for each little race, but rather all of your team’s races combined. It was about winning together as a team, not competing against one another, and above all, we were supposed to enjoy the run. (We were in seventh grade, after all, but twelve-year-old Shannon was just as competitive and way-too serious as modern me.)

That being said, I quit Track & Field the next year. Not because I wasn’t fast enough, but because I finally found my pace. And my pace was writing instead of running. Though, I admit running was still my exercise of choice growing up, I learned an important lesson from running that I’ve carried into my writing life.

Finding my own pace is key, not only for my health but also for my happiness.

If that means I write 50,000 words in two weeks, awesome. But it’s also awesome if it takes me two years.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with this. It took me two months to finish my first manuscript of 2017, including a significant amount of editing. Two months. And now I’m halfway through June without a second manuscript. That’s four months on one project. I’ve been working on it twice as long as my previous project, but I’m barely halfway through a first draft. (This is probably the opportune time to mention I’m slightly obsessive about numbers… and I’m a competitive person by nature, so I’ll turn anything into a competition, including competitions with myself. So, sigh…) I feel as if I’ve been writing sooooooo slowly. And I’m struggling with that confession.

As someone who is competitive, I understand how overwhelming seeing others’ word counts can feel. Sometimes, word counts can start to feel more important than feeling good about those words you wrote down. But I try to keep that Track & Field lesson in mind.

We’re in this together. Some of us will write 50,000 words in two weeks, some of us cringe at that idea, but we will all reach the “finish line” together. And the more we enjoy the middle, the better the “race” will feel. Though…I forgot to mention the most important fact about this post. Writing isn’t a race at all. This is a journey. There isn’t a set finish line. There isn’t even a solid start line. (I often can’t tell you when I first got an idea for a specific project, for instance.) But your happiness should matter. If it takes two months or two years, it shouldn’t matter. What matters is how much you enjoyed the writing process.

Find your writing pace, and enjoy your journey.


24 thoughts on “The Ideal Writing Pace

  1. Love the analogy. Seems with writing that a page can change too. Like some years we straight marathons and other years are obstacle courses. Not sure if that worked. Running and I have never had a full understanding.

      1. I figure I go up and down the stairs enough at night to cover that. Walking around here in the evening just means I’ll come across one of the many ice cream trucks.

      2. They’re playing mean this year. Been hearing them around 8:30 pm. Although, that is a little creepy too. I’m sure somebody has written a horror story with that as a premise.

      3. Melanie Martinez has a creepy music video that revolves around an ice cream truck. Super dark. But I love her music. The song is called “Tag, you’re it” if you’re interested.

      4. That’s interesting! I wish I could remember where I came across her. I think Pandora? She is a little pop-y, which isn’t normally my thing, but I like how her albums tell a story.

  2. Once you do find your pace, though, you might have to accept some realities of our profession. If you want to write as your sole source of income, you have to write fast, write more than one genre, and make deadlines. If you’re like me, and it takes two years to write a novel, I’ll always need a day job because I just don’t write that fast.

    1. Absolutely. There are deadlines and other requirements to keep in mind. For instance, the project I’m struggling with still has a deadline of July 24. I still have a set goal and a pace for this book, but if I were on deadline with someone else, I would definitely change my “pace.” This is more about when you’re setting goals for yourself. 🙂 But excellent point! Thank you for bringing it up.

  3. I loved this post. Coincidently I’ve been wondering about my writing pace this week. I tend to do well if I write 1000 or over words a day, sometimes it’s less. I have a notebook for every book and write the date at the top, and when finished the date again, lol, the word count and add it up at the back of the book. This is how I write but it can be bad if on one day life just keeps knocking on the door. I laughed at one quote I’d written under a page. 608 words “interrupted by Carol at the door.” and there we have it. Find your pace indeed but be prepared for life not agreeing. lol xx

    1. Absolutely! I have word count goals marked on my calendar…and now they are scratched out and replaced by new goals. Sometimes, things change. It’s okay to adjust (and better to adjust than to harp on not meeting the original dates). 🙂 Thank you for reading and commenting!

  4. Such a great post! My dad used to run cross country and he would tell me how you had to pace yourself throughout the race. Some people might start faster than you but they burnt themselves out halfway through the race and gave some kids in the back a chance to pass them. Just because you aren’t writing as fast as someone else, doesn’t mean you won’t finish one day and that it won’t be great. Write at your own pace– great advice!

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