A tale of writing and running

A tale of writing and running.
Or how often should you write?


How often should you write?

To answer that, let me tell you a tale, a tale of writing and running (No, not at the same time; that would be hard to do.).

When I was in high school, eons ago, I wanted to be cool. It’s an unoriginal goal for a high schooler, but I was young and highly subject to the pressure of my peers. The one way a guy can become cool in American high school was to be a member of a sports team. I was already a member of the chess team, but for some reason that wasn’t working for me. So I tried out for the track team.

It turns out I wasn’t very fast. As a friend put it, “You’re faster than everyone in the high school, except the members of the track team.”

While I didn’t achieve my goal of high school coolness, being on the track team, working out almost daily for a year, had an unintended benefit – I became a runner. Running is very much a part of my life, now, and while I’m not world class or anything, I’ve run so much in my life, I probably could have run around the globe three or four times. Yes, that much. It’s the years, not the mileage.

If I go more than a couple of days without running, I feel bad. Running is part of me, who I am.

And that’s where I need to be with writing. I seem to have a call for it, since I write so much. But I wouldn’t say it’s a part of me, not in the same sense as my running. My writing is more driven by my story ideas. I read a new book and it inspires me, and that usually gets me thinking of ideas of my own. Then the three months or so of steady writing kicks in.

My writing is sporadic.

I can tell you as a runner, sporadic exercise doesn’t make you a better runner. Every time you start up, again, you’re retraining your body to run. You have spin up time, getting in shape, again, before you’re performing at your peak, once more.

While writing isn’t physical, it’s certainly similar. If you don’t use a skill for a while, those pathways in your brain, probably have to be redeveloped (I’m not a neurologist, but I play one on my blog.).

My goal is to become a better writer and, of course, an accomplished one. I know what I had to do to become a runner – I had to run almost every day for a year.

I’m pretty sure you have to do the same thing to become a writer – you have to write every day.



So far this seems to be working.

Just a short post, today.

So far starting this blog and putting myself on the spot seems to be working. There have been two occasions since I started it when I felt like not writing, I was tired or something shinier called, but I knew if I didn’t write I’d have to put some pathetic word count up on this blog.

So I sat down and wrote. No more 226 word days since the first one. I’ve been coming in regularly around 500 words.

August 24 – 600
August 25 – 450

(I’ll try to come up with a better way of logging the word count. Anyone have any ideas? Yes, I know no one is really reading this, yet, but should someone wander by and peek in the window…)

This is working on other levels, too. Since I’m rewriting my book, writing daily is keeping me in the story, keep the book fresh in my mind which should help make it better. Is it Harry Potter? No, probably not, but if you read my last post, I’m trying to shake off the burden of lofty expectations and just write.

So far, so good.


The crushing burden of our lofty aspirations.

Titian's Sisyphus
The heaviest burdens we carry are our lofty aspirations.

Right now, I’m working on a scifi book. It’s about 64,000 words at this point. I finished the first draft – a very rough one – in about four or five months. So I do have the discipline to do that much. I know I can almost finish a book. But then the ennui sets in, the feeling that it’s all too much, or I get distract by some other project – Oh, shiny! – and I just shove my unfinished book draft in the proverbial drawer.

That sucks on so many levels I refuse to explore how much it sucks.

Well, okay, maybe I’ll explore it a little. Just a little.

Most of us have trouble finishing what we start. That’s not unusual. If you’re not finishing cleaning the house or doing the laundry, no big deal, but if you don’t finish something special, like writing a book, that can weigh on you.

We all have dreams. If you know someone who doesn’t, who’s totally content with their lot in life, be sure to alert the police – there’s a renegade robot on the loose.

I want to be a writer. Well, a better writer. And while I had the discipline to finish a draft of a book, I didn’t have the discipline to finish the book.

I don’t know why. There’s probably lots of psychological reasons why we don’t finish stuff. Yes, it’s easier to sit on my ennui and never have to face the fact that maybe I’m a sucky writer or don’t have the chops to write something others will enjoy.

The heaviest burdens we carry are our lofty aspirations.

We all want to be the next Tolkien or J.K. Rowling or Ray Bradbury.

That’s the problem, I think. Those are seriously lofty aspirations. Maybe I’m the next R. A. Salvatore (Yes, that would be awesome sauce.). Maybe you’re the next Philip K. Dick or Ursula Le Guin. But thinking you are, holding yourself up to those standards can be intimidating. You might finish a draft of a book – like me (Yes, I know it’s “like I,” but no one says that casually, anymore.) – read it over and say to yourself, “Well, this sure isn’t Tolkien, so therefore I suck.”

Yes, that’s what goes through my head. I’m going to bet it goes through yours, too, either consciously or unconsciously. Psychologically, that’s the Sisyphus stone we all carry. It’s crushing and discouraging and if you focus on these lofty goals, just like Sisyphus, you’ll never reach the top.

So let’s not do that. Let’s start with baby steps. Let’s set our goals a little lower and start with something we should be able to manage. Let’s just start writing regularly.

Our first, modest goal is to write 500 words a day.

So far, I’m doing pretty good with that. Yes, it’s only been a few days, but it’s a good start. My word counts per day (Blog entries don’t count; it’s non-fiction.) is listed below.

August 20 – 226 words
August 21 – 451 words
August 22 – 550 words
August 23 – 510 words

No, it’s not Stephen King output, but I’m not trying to be Stephen King. At least, not right now. And neither should you.

Right now, just focus on becoming a writer. Once you’ve got that down, then you can be Stephen King or J. K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien or anyone else you aspire to be. But first, let’s just be a writer.

226 words a day is not enough.

How many words should you write a day?

Yesterday, I wrote 226 words. That’s not enough. But what is enough? Should you be writing a thousand words a day? Two thousand?

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says, “I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to about 2000 words a day. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book…”

Yes, that’s quite the “goodish length”. That’s actually quite long for a book – maybe not a Stephen King book – but it’s still it’s up there in the long novel category.  But it’s not too long for a Stephen King or a fantasy genre book. You just have to go look how thick George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons is to realize fantasy book lengths can get up there.

If this is your goal, it can be intimidating. It’s like saying you’re going to run a marathon, start training two weeks before the race, running ten-milers when all you’ve done before is go jogging for a couple of miles. Chances are you’re going to hurt yourself and stop running while you nurse your injuries. You’d feel dumb and depressed and discouraged.

You wouldn’t train for a marathon without working your way up to it, so don’t train to be a writer without working up to it.

So let’s not hurt ourselves. Let’s start with a more reasonable goal, one that every writer should be able to do.

If we’re not going to write 2000 words a day and produce a epic fantasy book in three months, what should our writing goals be?

Let’s make our goals a little less lofty. Let’s not go crazy and try to pump out a book in a month (Hello, NaNoMo. I’m talking to you.), fail, then get discouraged, think we suck and will never be writers. Let’s try for a more modest goal. Let’s run a 10K before we try to run a marathon. Let’s try to write the first draft of our book in six months. That shouldn’t be too hard.

How long is a book?

There’s a lot of discussion on the net about what the average length of a book is. NaNoMo puts it at 50,000 words, but that’s actually a bit low. For our purposes, let’s say it’s 80,000 words. That’s about the length of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s 309 pages. There’s about 250 to a printed page, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on type face, etc. So that puts the word count at 77,250. Total wild-ass guesstimate, but it’s probably close.

Writing an 80,000 word book in six months, means we have to write about 450 words a day. Rounding up a little, let’s just say 500 words a day. That’s two pages a day. That shouldn’t be too hard. Even the most out of shape runner, er, writer should be able to do 500 words a day.

So 226 words on my book was not enough. I have, however, written 500 words on this blog post.