Blog in Progress: First Month – First Forty Pages



“For last year's words belong to last year's language 
And next year's words await another voice.” 
\u2015 T.S. Eliot




A new year is almost upon us, and while January offers no organized writing challenges – nothing like November’s NaNoWriMo, or my BoNoProMo challenge in May – I think the start of the new year is an even better time to re-commit to long form writing, whether you’re working on a novel, a memoir, narrative nonfiction or a poetry collection.


As such, I’m creating a January challenge called First Month – First (or Next) Forty Pages. If you have a novel you’ve always wanted to write, a memoir you started and stalled out on, or another long form project, commit to getting the first (or next) forty pages written by January 31. Compared to NaNoWriMo, this should be a snap! Okay, maybe not a snap. But it’s doable no matter how busy one may be.


The first step is to create a writing schedule. In the Novel Generator program I teach at Grub Street, I start by asking students to add blocks of writing time to their calendars. This time should be treated with the same lack of flexibility as your time at work: only to be rescheduled in times of emergency or illness. While finding the time to write is often a challenge, scheduling it and then sticking to that schedule can sometimes be even harder.


I recommend that writers commit to scheduling a minimum of ten hours per week of writing time. If you can write ten pages in ten hours, this should serve you well in terms of finishing 40 pages by the end of the month. If you think you might need more time, schedule more. The great thing about January is that it has 31 days, so you should be able to squeeze in a couple of extra writing sessions.


In a previous blog post, I suggested scheduling two three-hour writing sessions during the week (either before or after work) and one four-hour session on a weekend day. To get your weekday sessions done, you might consider:


  • Bringing your laptop to work and going directly after work to a café or library to write for three hours;
  • Writing every weekday for one or two hours after your children are in bed, or before they get up in the morning;
  • Doing the bulk of your writing on weekends if that’s easiest for you.



I’ll be doing the challenge with you, and will tweet my progress at #firstmonth40. Make forty new pages your first resolution of the new year!

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About the Author

Lisa Borders’ second novel, The Fifty-First State, was published by Engine Books in 2013. Her first novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land, was chosen by Pat Conroy as the winner of River City Publishing’s Fred Bonnie Award and received fiction honors in the 2003 Massachusetts Book Awards. Lisa has published humor in McSweeney’s, essays in The Rumpus and several anthologies, and short stories in Washington SquareBlack Warrior ReviewPainted Bride Quarterly and other journals. She has taught creative writing since 1997, shifting her focus to the novel when she developed GrubStreet’s Novel in Progress courses in 2005. She also co-developed and co-taught GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator from 2011 – 2013, and developed and led the Novel Generator from 2014-2017. She now teaches in the University of Arkansas at Monticello’s online MFA program. For more information on Lisa and her work, visit

See other articles by Lisa Borders
by Lisa Borders


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