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07/06/2012

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Trevor Hedberg

As an add-on to rule #2 (write 5 pages per day), I was struck many years ago by Stephen King's description of how he writes his fiction in his book _On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft_. He says that he begins writing in the morning and continues until he has written 1000 words. Then he's done for the day. Sometimes, that takes him an hour or two; sometimes, he's still leering over a computer at 6:00 pm.

There is, of course, a big difference between writing fiction and writing philosophy, but considering that 1000 words is about 3-4 double spaced pages, the parallels are obvious. And regardless of whether one likes King's work or not, no one can deny that he's written a TON of stuff, so there's some evidence that this approach generates serious results. King also mentions other authors who have highers limits: some write 2000 words a day, for instance. It sounds like Marcus is pushing for roughly 1500 words a day in this post, and it seems like good advice.

It also reminds me of a conversation I overheard between an ABD student and a member of his dissertation committee. The professor told him that even as he was sending out job applications, he should be spending an hour a day on the dissertation. The professor warned him that if he did not, the dissertation would "get cold" and become much harder to finish when he resumed work after a long time away. This advice syncs up nicely with Marcus' notion that finishing a project as lengthy as a dissertation requires generating some momentum and then sustaining it for a long period of time.

Here's the Stephen King book I mentioned in case anyone's interested: http://www.amazon.com/On-Writing-Stephen-King/dp/0743455967

Argo

very interesting and somehow weirdly inspiring post. thank you.

David Morrow

I prefer to maintain momentum by insisting on a certain amount of writing *time* per day, rather than insisting on a certain number of words or pages. This worked for me when I was writing my dissertation and it's worked as a tenure-track faculty member. The trick, for me, has been to figure out what time of day is my most productive and set that aside to write. No matter what else is on my plate, I use that time (about two hours in the morning) to write -- not read, but write! If that means returning an exam later than I'd like or putting off responding to some urgent emails, so be it. I have to write.

Of course, if you suffer from serious writer's block, so that you spend your two hours staring blankly at the screen, this won't help. When that happens to me, I set myself small and manageable writing tasks to rebuild momentum: Summarize theory T. Explain X's objection to T. Explain my argument against X's objection. Defend the first premise of my argument. And so on.

One advantage of this approach is that it's usually easier to reach your goal of spending two hours writing than it is to reach your goal of writing 1,000 words, and so it's less common to feel discouraged about having failed to meet your writing goals.

Brad Cokelet

The advice to stop at five pages on a GOOD day has turned out to be excellent for me. Thanks so much for posting this Marcus. I have had several more good writing streaks since you posted this, thanks to my implementing a modified version of the "5 pages, rain or shine" rule.

Marcus Arvan

Awesome - glad to hear it! Perhaps you can share your experience with the rest of the Cocoon? If it has worked out well or you too, it could be good to share the word. Anyway, just a thought... :)

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