One question every writer gets at every public event is what is our process, as in how do we write our books. For example, how many words do I write every day? I always answer in pages, lately five pages a day. I’m aware that that is an oblique answer, but there is a reason. Read on.
Suddenly in 1991 I had a three-book contract, of which only the first book was written, and Berkley was expecting two more within the next year. I had no idea I was writing a series when I wrote A Cold Day for Murder (it didn’t even have a title when I sold it, it was called “Mystery” in my WordPerfect files), and I didn’t have outlines for them, or hell, even ideas for plots.
But there I was, on the hook to deliver two more in the series, and both already had due dates which I was now contractually obliged to meet. To say that I was panicked is putting it mildly.
And then I thought, “What are other writers doing?” So I went down to the Book Cache Bookstore on Fifth Avenue in Anchorage to find out.
I headed straight for the wire racks on the wall under the sign “Crime.” (Look left in the photo below.)
There were about six vertical rows of racks with maybe ten paperback mystery novels in each row. I pulled down a dozen of the titles and looked at the last page of each to see how many pages each title had, and wrote the amounts down. On my way home I bought an annual calendar.
On the calendar I marked the due dates for A Fatal Thaw and Dead in the Water (also without titles at that time). I added up the pages of the books I’d pulled at the Book Cache and divided the total by 12 for an average page count, which came to 200 pages.
How many pages did I have to write every day to make my deadlines, including rewrites and edits?
Ten. Ten pages every day.
The average word count of a typewritten page, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins and a Courier New 12 font? Two hundred fifty words. So I had to write 2,500 words every day, which is your straight answer to that question above.
And I did, no matter how long I had to sit in front of my computer every day (and sometimes into the night) to get it done. I made my deadlines. This continued for the next two 3-book contracts, Kates 4-9. I have never worked harder or longer hours in my life.
Note: All the Book Cache images come from an archived article on its founders in The Redoubt Reporter. I still miss that store.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.