Using a Quota to Get Through the First Draft

by Meredith Cole

Once upon a time I tried all three techniques. I find that I rely on my muse more for great ideas than I do with actually creating a draft because it’s frankly very unreliable. I think I waited for my muse to arrive for about a decade in my twenties, and I never managed to write a book. So I fired my muse and decided to try something else.

The time quota was next. When my son was just over a year, I won a NYFA grant for screenwriting. I used the money to join The Writers Room in Astor Place and pay for a babysitter two mornings a week. I would drop my son at the sitter, hop on the subway, and, when I arrived at an empty desk at the studio, I had exactly 2 hours to write. Some days I would end up writing notes or revising something. Other days I would create new material, but it was never that great. I ended up spending most of my time making tea, staring out at the view of the Empire State Building and wondering what everyone else was writing. But I eventually finished my draft so I guess it did work. Sort of.

Once I had a contract (and a deadline) I no longer had time to dither. I also didn’t have the same kind of blocks of free time that I had before. I needed to get my book done as quickly as I could. So I tried word quotas. And that worked for me.

As I write a rough draft of a new book, I play with different word quotas until I find one that’s both achievable but will help me make significant progress on my book. Right now I can do about 1,000 words a day. If I don’t get it done in the morning before I go to work, I need to do it at lunch or in the evening. But I need to get it done. The word quota helps me to keep going even when I’m not “in the mood,” forces me at times to write more than I’m comfortable with, and often pushes me beyond what I already know in my WIP.

The best part of having a word count is that if I write fast, then I’m done for the day sooner. I can keep writing if I have the time and I’m excited to continue, but I don’t have to. And I can go through the rest of day without any guilt about my writing progress. Now I just need to find a way to get it so I can be guilt-free about all the other stuff (social media, email, etc.)…

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