Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Daily Quota

I can always write chapter one. The problem is, I can't stop writing it. I re-wrote chapter one of my current work in progress for almost six months, despite gentle nudges from more accomplished writer-friends, saying that, really, I needed to move onward.

The breakthrough for me was the daily quota. I created it out of desperation, after watching so many of my precious days of unemployment benefits slip through fingers. Every day I sit in front of the computer for two hours or two hundred words, whichever comes first. And anything past that is gravy. As far as possible I do it at my best time of the day, which for me is the morning.

I’ve had many moments of boredom, self-doubt, and restlessness in those two hours. But I have also had lots of plot breakthroughs, character insights and lines of dialog bubble up when I thought I had nothing to say. You can apply this method to non-fiction. You can set an alarm. You can even change the size of the quota. The main thing is to define that bite-sized task and stick with it.

Do you have a daily quota? If so, how do you define it?


  1. I am writing a memoir, not a novel, so the writing process is very different for me. I am not writing in any sort of linear progression.
    I don't rewrite-- in fact, i do the opposite. I just write whatever comes to mind, even if it sounds like crap. I write by hand to avoid compulsive rephrasing, etc. then when i go back and type up what i've written I get a sense of where i'm going.
    and then i'll take a few weeks off writing if i need to and come back to it later-- that really lets me see what i need to work on.
    again i'm sorry i haven't been in touch-- i'd still love to be your reader, if you'll have me!

  2. Of course I would love to show it to you! Good luck with the memoir...

  3. do you really care or are you just asking the question to get comments?

  4. When I have been quota, the quota that worked for me was a very small one. Laurie Halse Anderson challenged writers with a 15 minutes a day challenge. That sounded doable to me, and so I made a commitment to do it. Of course, the funny thing was that once I made a commitment to writing 15 minutes a day, it was nearly impossible to stop at 15 minutes. Once I got on a roll, I just kept going. Which was awesome! (Thanks for the reminder about how very productive that daily quota was! I must get back to it! :o) )

  5. Jennifer-- As one of Ariel's fellow Paper Waiters, I could't resist answering your question. Yes, we really do care about your answers! The subtitle of our blog is "A critique group chats about writing for children. Join the conversation!" for a reason. When we started this blog, we thought a lot about what we wanted it to be. And we really wanted it to be a conversation among writers. Some times we achieve that goal, and sometimes we don't, but that is what we are aiming for. (And, as a Paper Waiter who is now on the other side of the country from my incredible former critique group, I am so very glad that I am able to continue my conversations with them and our wonderful readers on this blog. :o) )

  6. Thanks, Brianna.

    To reiterate:

    Yes, I really would love to know how other people approach this difficult and rewarding thing we're trying to do. Do you write?

  7. Brianna,
    Meant to say that 15 min is great if it makes you do it. But for me, I guess I was also sort of assuaging my guilt about losing this time that meant a lot to me. Glad you ARE still in the conversation! Wish I could meet you in person.

  8. I don't have a daily quota. What I do try for is a full chapter if I have a lot of time and writing until something makes sense if I'm cramped for time.

    Sometimes I may delete more than I write, but once I set the scene, I know I can come back the next day and write it.

    And Jennifer, writers write, and then after that, we talk about writing, or books, or other writers. We're kind of obsessive like that.

  9. I have not been using a quota recently, but you have reminded me that I should. It is one of my daily regrets when I don't get 'enough' done. But at least if I do my 15 mins (hopefully more) I'll have gotten something done, and sticking to it, I will get even more finished!

  10. Ariel-- I totally get it about wanting to make good writing use of a time period that means a lot. For me, it was when my son went to day camp for 5 whole weeks. I was so determined to make use of that precious writing time! A quota probably would have been a good way to do it. Hopefully I can put that plan into action this summer! (And I look forward to meeting you in person some day!:o) )

  11. RE Daily quota - This is the ideal practice - of chiseling out the time to actually sit and write daily! When I don't write I console myself that at least I know that numerous times during the busy day I have thought about my writing - the plot, character, a new turn of phrase or event....but its not the same as getting started at the desk! Thanks for reminding us to discipline our lives and schedules!

  12. Bite sized tasks are the only way I get through writing a novel. There are moments when the enormity of a project hits me over the head, and all I can do is breath and remind myself - small steps. One scene, one page, one chapter... Great post!!