Hamline University's MFAC program has a fairy godmother, and her name is Kate DiCamillo. Her name is whispered in the hallowed halls. Students love her, revere her, and yet she is approachable and friendly. She is a brilliant writer which means she is a hard-working writer. Her work is so full of heart that the reader can't help but fall in love with her characters and Kate, herself. She doesn't avoid the tough topics. She plunges right in.
She is generous in her role at Hamline. She is generous with the scholarship and award she offers. She is generous with encouragement and advice. She is humble and unassuming, yet when she speaks about her work, writers lean forward to catch every word.
So I was shocked when she told us that she writes only two pages a day. She said she writes EVERY DAY but only two pages.
Even Jane Yolen scoffed a little at those two pages. She writes 6-10 hours some days. Two pages? Kate, really?
I, who am no Kate DiCamillo, usually strive for somewhere between 1500 and 2500 words a day. 10,000 hours, man! I'm going for Beatles in Amsterdam (see the OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell if you don't know what I am talking about). Two pages is, like, 500 words.
For some reason, this tidbit stuck in my head. It's been torturing me for well over a week now. Kate DiCamillo (who won the Newbery medal YET AGAIN on Monday) writes two pages a day.
Am I some kind of wild, undisciplined writer who just pours out the words to count them? Am I encouraging mediocrity in my writing? Am I focused on quantity instead of quality?
I understand that everyone works differently. Sure. We all have to find our way, our routine. In Steven Pressfield's THE WAR OF ART, the first section "What I do" details his daily writing routine--mostly the things he does BEFORE he starts to write. I light a candle. Sometimes I draw or sketch or paint. Usually I drink coffee. No big secrets there. Mr. Pressfield's routines are a bit more elaborate and thoughtful (and maybe I'll try one of them...I especially like his invocation of the muse from Homer's ODYSSEY). By the time Mr. P and I have completed our little routines, Kate is probably FINISHED. Or maybe she has her own routines. Still, two pages, Two pages. It has haunted me.
So I did some math. If I write 2000 words a day (an average between the 1500 to 2500), that's 14,000 a week. At Hamline during the intensive, I wrote 1000 words a day, a low number, but attainable in that environment and still 7000 a week.
If Kate writes 500 a day, that's 3500 a week.
Wow. Big difference. And is there a difference in our writing? Um, yes, but somehow I don't think it's all due to word count. Ha ha. But stay with me.
So then I decided to be HONEST with myself. How often do I actually write 2000-2500 words a day? Well, every day. WAIT. Every day I write. You see, I need a block of time to do that kind of writing (especially if I listen to Robert Olen Butler). Sometimes I don't have a block of time that big, so what do I do? I work on research or brainstorm plot points or character traits or things like that. Maybe I fool around with a picture book manuscript on the piano or find music on youtube that will reflect my setting. If I have a doctor's appointment or the kids get out of school for snow or something comes up, I always WORK somehow, but more and more, it's not actually sitting down and knocking out the words. So, in the past few weeks, I have only written about 15,000 words on my novel. (I am not including pb words--impossible to count--different matter altogether). So that becomes a little over 1000 words a day. Now the intensive was in there, a tough time to write, but still.
There are WHOLE DAYS when I do not write a word on my novel. Why? Because I don't have that block of time.
WHAT IF I only wrote 500 words a day? What if I only wrote TWO PAGES a day?
1. I would NEVER have an excuse. I can write 500 words a day despite any schedule interruption.
2. I would keep my head in my story 7 days a week. That kind of day-to-day time spent on my novel will allow for fewer wasted words as I strive to 'get back into the story' or 'settle back into the voice' that I lose when I'm two days away from it.
3. I would gain a better routine. Surely, I can postpone or ignore almost anything until I've written 500 words.
4. I might conquer Resistance, that ugly fellow who feeds me all the things I need to do instead of write. What kind of argument is 500 words? Even Resistance would shrug and feel non threatened by 500 words
5. In the end, my work might be better for all the above reasons.
6. I might even (gasp) write more. Because 500 words, seven days a week adds up. Like a financial planner might tell you, slow and steady always wins.
7. I will avoid the guilt I feel when I don't reach my daily, often lofty, writing goals. I have NO EXCUSE to skip 500 words.
So , dear Kate. I do not mean any disrespect in comparing my writing life to yours. That would be like comparing me in my skirted swimsuit to a Sports Illustrated model in her painted on bikini. NO CONTEST.
But I want to thank you. I plan to lower my word count goal immediately, and in doing so, I think I will not only produce better work, but I will feel better about it.
Thank you for your ongoing inspiration, motivation and generosity. Thank you for all you give to the world of children's literature. I am grateful that you give your very best to the children of the world.
I am a fan.
My Mission Statement
I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.