What You Can Learn From Stephen King About Writing More Fiction

“I used to tell interviewers that I wrote every day except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, and my birthday. That was a lie. I told them that because if you agree to an interview you have to say something, and it plays better if it’s something at least half-clever. Also, I didn’t want to sound like a workaholic dweeb (just a workaholic, I guess). The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday (at my age you try to ignore your goddam birthday anyway). And when I’m not working, I’m not working at all, although during those periods of full stop I usually feel at loose ends with myself and have trouble sleeping. For me, not working is the real work.”

–Stephen King, On Writing

The most immediate lesson to be learned from King is that consistency is…well, king. 

But there’s a trick to it, that I’ve learned from twenty years of trying to write more.

How Much Can You Write In An Hour?

Let’s say that you know that every day, you have two hours available to write new manuscript. 

You write 800 words an hour (which you know from your work logs), which means that every day, you can get 1,600 words written.

So, you set up your production schedule on the expectation that you will deliver 1,600 words every single day.

And therein lies the problem.

You hit your word count goal every day for a week.  Ha!

Then on the Tuesday of the next week, your partner phones just as you’re settling down to write.  The car has a dead battery, and you have to take the jumper cables to them and get the car started, so they can get to work.

That’s at least an hour lost.  Total word count for the day:  800.

But you have to make up that word count tomorrow, which means you need to write 2,400 words. 

Even if you find extra time to get the words written, it’s still a whole 50% more words than you’re used to writing.  You can feel a teensy bit of pressure in the back of your mind.

Tomorrow arrives.  You settle at the desk with grim determination and write your butt off.

When your writing session ends, you’re short 1,000 words.

Those words have to be caught up somehow, or you will miss your deadline (if you have them), or you’ll never get the book finished, because the word-count debt accrues interest just like your credit card. 

In this case, “interest” is stress.  The more behind you are, the more pressure you feel and the less you feel like writing.

And consistency goes out the window, as you find ever-more inventive ways to dodge writing for the day.  Because who really cares if your indie published novel comes out a month later than you told your readers it would be released?

Do I speak from experience?  Ah…alas, yes.  (Except for blowing the release date–I’ve never done that…yet.)

So, what’s the fix?

Write less to write more

You can write 1,600 words in two hours, every single day or workday?

Then you set up your production schedule based on the assumption that you will write 1,000 words every single day.  You schedule releases far enough apart so that if you could only write 1,000 words for a day, you’ll still make your deadline.

But you leave your two hours a day for writing on your calendar.

There’re three benefits to giving yourself this wide margin of safety.

1. When life inevitably throws you a curve ball, you’re covered.

When you “only” have to write 1,000 words every day, when you can easily write 1,600, then, when you hit a speed bump, as in our example, above, you can easily catch up.

In the example, you only got 800 words written the day your partner’s battery died.  But that’s only 200 words short of your daily goal.

The next day, because you can normally and comfortably write 1,600 words in your two allotted hours, you don’t even break sweat about “having” to write 1,200 today, instead of 1,000 words. 

And if you get sick or have to take a longer break from your desk than a day, you can catch up over a number of days.

And you’re still writing every day.  You’re still consistent.

2. You’ll mostly likely not stop at 1,000 words

Once the story gets rolling, you’ll hate like hell having to stop just because you’ve hit your word count for the day. 

On the other hand, some days the words will flow like treacle in winter. 

But on the days when you’re really rolling along, you don’t have to stop.  You’re banking even more words against the speed bumps and stop signs that life throws in front of you.

And you may even get the story finished ahead of schedule. 

Suddenly, writing consistently is easy

3. Because you’re consistent, you’re writing more total words

In the first example, when you schedule 1,600 words every day, and fail to hit that target every single day, suddenly you’re missing days, perhaps even weeks of writing time. 

You’re also resenting “having” to write so much, perhaps avoiding your desk, or worse; growing to hate the book you’re writing.

By the time you do force yourself back to the desk, you’re in such a stew that you’re lucky to get 500 words an hour done, and that’s after reading through all of the book you’ve written because you’ve forgotten characters and whole sub-plots and have to re-load the book into your head.

It’s entirely possible that the slower, consistent pace will actually outpace your top speed.  You’ll write more by writing less.

And even if the slow pace only matched your top speed word count or comes close to it, the slow, consistent pace of writing is a saner way to live. 

Do you really want your writing career to be a pot-holed, high-tension, angst- and resentment-filled practice?

What does Stephen King Do?

Stephen King “only” writes between 1,000 to 2,000 words a day (depending on who is doing the reporting). 

I could knock off that many words in about 90 minutes.

Yet King is one of the most prolific writers working today.  His books are door stoppers, and he’s writing way more than one a year.  Still, in his seventies.

As he said in the opening quote, though, he writes every single day

Consistency is King.

Try it and see.

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