The Romans had a quote about artistic productivity that goes “Nulla Dies Sine Linea”—“No Day Without A Line”. It applied to painters, not writers, but the principle translates to writing just the same. I’ve adapted it for myself as “No Day Without A Page.”
One page a day—that’s my minimum quota for new fiction. A page is not a whole lot of writing. Actual word count depends on your handwriting or font settings, but on average, a page comes out to roughly 250 words.
There are few days when I get only 250 words down on paper. Most of the time, I overshoot that minimum goal by a fair margin, because once I’m on a roll, I get a lot more done before reaching a natural stopping point. On most days, I get between 3-5 pages done, which comes out to 750-1,250 words. The “page a day” rule is a mental trick to get started, because I know I’m allowed to quit after a page, and because I know I probably won’t. Still, there are those days when your brain feels like it’s been coated in a viscous mix of molasses and Novocain, when you have to wrestle every new word from your synapses in a mental struggle, and on those days, I’ll take the 250 words…but not a word less. That pen doesn’t leave my hand until I’ve covered a whole page in words and sentences, with a minimum of crossed-out stuff.
It doesn’t take very long to write 250 words. On the computer, I can do it in ten minutes. By hand, it takes more like twenty, but it’s still a manageable slice of time that most anyone can carve out of their day, regardless how busy their schedules are. Twenty minutes—that’s part of a lunch hour, or just a cup of tea at the end of the day, or getting up just a bit earlier than usual. A page a day is not a prolific rate of production, but it’s like the race between the turtle and the hare—slow and steady gets you to the finish line, too, and more reliably than not starting the race at all. If you only manage a page a day, you know what you’ll have in just a year? A 90,000-word novel, that’s what.
(As an example of scale: this post comes out to 430 words, almost twice the “page a day” minimum. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? Think that’s a manageable amount of writing for a day? Then don’t use—or buy—the excuse about “not having enough time to write.”)