Public service announcement: I don’t write writing advice blog posts. If anything sounds like a writing advice blog post, it isn’t. It’s just me mulling over something that worked for me or something I’m trying. This may be such a post.
Six days ago, when I felt like I was going in circles trying to plan my new novel, I decided to throw in the towel and just start writing it. It’s been some time since I drafted, so I expected to be a little rusty. It could have been worse, except I seem to have forgotten how to write in conflict even when I have it all lined up and ready to go, and I’ve forgotten that description even exists.
But those are problems for a revision to fix.
Right now I want to get the bones of my story down so I have something to edit. And as quickly as possible because, you know, I’m impatient. My last first draft, which I believe came in at about 140k words, took me three months. That was fine, but wouldn’t it be fun if I could write this one faster? Then I could get more quickly to the real work of bringing the story to life.
I’m not sure yet how long I intend this book to be. Adult high fantasy, so a lot of people will tell you no longer than 120k words. Except those who say 150k words, plus or minus 25k.
I’m going to go with “as long as it needs to be”. For the sake or argument, let’s say 120k words. Suppose I wrote 1k words a day, then we’re looking at 4 months. At 1.5k words a day, about 2 months and 20 days. At 2k words a day, 2 months. And at 3k words a day, a month and 10 days. I’m starting to like these numbers.
Can I write that much that fast and still write well? Trick question! My first draft wasn’t going to be good anyway.
But I love the idea of having a complete first draft in 40 days.
Having set my goal of writing this draft quickly (by a definition of ‘quickly’ that it yet to be determined), I went out to do some research. Luckily I couldn’t sleep that night, so over one evening, night, and the following morning I read three (short) books on how to write faster. I’ve read them all before, but I thought a refresher was in order.
Before I tell you what books they were, I’ll pass the salt for you to throw around. What worked for the authors who wrote the books might not work for me, and even if it does it might not work for you. In fact, it’s not even a given that the techniques work for those authors.
They could be exaggerating their results, they could subsequently have burned out, or the quality of their writing might have fallen without them noticing when they employed these techniques.
With that caveat, the books were 5,000 words per hour by Chris Fox, 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love by Rachel Aaron, and Writing Faster For The Win by L.A. Witt.
As I usually do with such books, I read all three, made mental notes of techniques from them I’d used successfully in the past or wanted to try, and discarded the rest of the advice as not relevant for me (eg solving problems I don’t have have) or involving things I’m not willing to try.
Words per hour
The first book, 5,000 words per hour, focuses on increasing your hourly output of words. Yes, 5,000 words in an hour sounds insane, and it would be… if you weren’t using dictation software.
That’s not something I want to try at this point, but Chris has other techniques that I’m already using very effectively. The simplest technique to use, which potentially offers big results, is to write in ‘sprints’ and keep a record of your words per hour.
It works like this. Sit down to write, remove all distractions, and get clear on the flow of the scene you’re about to write. Record your starting word count and the time you start. Then write for the length of your sprint or until you finish the scene or run out of gas. Don’t go back and edit, just keep writing.
When you finish, record your stopping time and your stopping word count. Most importantly, use the numbers you recorded to calculate your words per hour for the sprint.
Once you start recording your words per hour, it will almost inevitably go up. For me, a lot of this happens because I get distracted less. When I know I’m going to calculate my words per hour at the end of my writing session, I suddenly lose all inclination to mess around and maybe just answer an email or click across to Twitter for a few minutes. Nope, it’s all about the writing.
Of course, things never go perfectly. One day a cat might run inside with a live skink or bird that I need to rescue, or the oven timer might go off. But I deal with the distraction as quickly as I can and get back to writing.
For the past 6 days my “sprints” have tended to run between 50 and 70 minutes, during which time I’ve usually written at between 1300 and 1500 words per hour, once as high as 1585. No, it’s not 5,000 words in an hour, but I’m pretty happy with how it’s going.
Planning the session
The other important aspect to this technique is the preparation for a sprint. I read the advice and went in with an idea on how to do this, but it didn’t really work for me. Here’s what I’m doing now. I start by reading the words I wrote the previous day, correcting obviously typos but otherwise leaving the text as it stands. If I find something I’m unhappy with or really want to change, I make a note of it and carry on.
Then I get clear on what’s supposed to happen in the scene I’m about to write and what the main conflict is. Then I write. Sometimes the scene goes off track. When that happens, I make a note of what I want to edit, and carry on.
My first day of doing writing sprints and recording my words per hour, I wrote quite happily for an hour. Then I took a short break and started back in. I got about 200 more words down, and crashed.
The moral of the story was not that I can write for only an hour a day before I run out of mental juice. That would be depressing, so I reject it. It was that I need to increase the length of time I spend writing each day gradually over time to build stamina.
At least, that’s my theory.
My current goal is two 60-minute sprints each day, and I’m looking to increase that to three fairly soon.
Avoiding getting stuck
I consider myself a plotter, but I’ve never had the concentrated inspiration to sit down and plan a novel from start to finish before I start writing it. I gain inspiration as I go and as the characters grow from outlines into fully fleshed out people.
When I started this draft I had a very vague idea of the whole book, and a much more detailed idea of the first few chapters. My biggest fear–and I’m scared of this because it’s happened multiple times before–is that I’ll get to 15k or 20k words and have no idea what comes next.
This time I have a plan to stave off this brick wall collision. I will keep fleshing out my plan for the rest of the book as I write these first chapters.
I haven’t started this yet, but I will. Any day now.
Have you ever tried to increase your writing speed? Any particular techniques that have worked for you?
Subscribe to my blog and be sure to get the end of this story. Will I hit 10,000 words in a day, or burn out after a week?