Saturday, November 3, 2012

About That Daily Quota

Following the advice of James Scott Bell and innumerable other writers' coaches, I've set myself a daily quota of words to be written. A modest goal, I grant you--just 350 words--but I'm amazed at how long I may agonize over that double-spaced page. And I don't write at all on more days than I'd care to admit.

At this rate, my novel of 70,000 words will take forever to complete!

So I did a crazy-gutsy thing last month. I accepted assignment to write a 50-page nonfiction e-book in ten days. Simple arithmetic reveals that's 5 pages a day, or 5 times my normal quota. And I completed the assignment on time.

This insane marathon taught me several things:
  • I waste a lot of time self-editing my first draft. Better to forge ahead and write that crummy draft (apologies to Anne Lamott) and deal with self-editing later.
  • I waste a lot of time with distractions. Checking my e-mail, checking my voice mail, checking my carrier-pigeon roost. (OK, I'm exaggerating, but not by much.)
  • I waste a lot of time with superfluous research--in the middle of a sentence! What year was it that my subject went to Argentina, etc.? I find that nagging detail, but uncover another curious fact in the process, which sends me down a rabbit trail of other trivia.
  • The long and short of it is, I waste too much time!
Perhaps my real problem is performance anxiety. October's forced march of 1,750 words a day certainly gave me no time to worry about how well I was doing. (I suspect this is one of the greatest benefits of participating in NaNoWriMo as well.)

The rest of the story: My client liked the first draft so much that he's asked me to double the length of the book (at more than twice the fee). He calls the first 50 pages "compelling." Go figure.

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Coordinator of Publishing for Church of God Ministries, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at


  1. If I didn't give myself a daily quota I don't think I'd get a thing done. Too many thing son the Internet to see and...LOOK! SQUIRREL!

  2. So what's the non-fiction book about that you mention, that you're being paid to double in length?? We reader-writers are a VERY curious bunch, you know. . . :-)

    1. Millie, it's a book about social entrepreneurs, people who build profitable businesses dedicated to meeting a societal problem (hunger, homelessness, pollution, etc.). The first 50 pages had so many interesting stories that I think they whetted my client's appetite for more. Let's hope that's true when he publishes the book, too!

  3. I relate to Karla's comment.

    I've tried to set a daily quota, a little more ambitious than yours at 500 (though Rick Barry suggested a 1,000 word quota). But like you, Joe, I don't write at all many days. Having three conferences in a month while dealing with a couple of other crises back at the ranch doesn't help.