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Writing Faster: Breaking the 10,000-Word-Day Barrier and Composing a Rough Draft in 2 Weeks

| Posted in Writing |

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About a year ago, I read Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. It was basically what I already knew (it’s worth the read, but the gist is to plan out what you’re going to write ahead of time, make sure you’re enthusiastic about what you’re writing, and track your hourly/daily results to figure out how you can make the best use of your time). But I wasn’t writing 10,000 words a day — apparently knowing and doing aren’t quite the same thing.

Now, for those of you who might be new here, I’m not exactly a slow writer. I’ve published ten novels and a number of novellas and short stories in the three and a half years I’ve been seriously writing and publishing. That said, I do often feel like I should get more done per day, given that this has been the full-time job for the last two years. I have improved. When I first started writing seriously, my goal was 1,000 words a day, then I bumped it up to 2,000 when I went full time. I was closer to 3,000 by the time I read Aaron’s book and after it, I had some 5K days.

Not horrible, but I knew there was, quite honestly, a lot of inefficiency and screwing around during my work days. This is because when I actually timed myself for 30 minutes of distraction-free writing, I saw that I could often get down 1000 words in a half hour. Couple that with the fact that I saw authors on the Kboards talking about their book-a-month publishing schedule, and the guys on the Self Publishing Podcast talking about the bazillion words a year they were writing. Feelings of inadequacy may have come up…

If I were putting in a solid eight hours a day, and two or three thousand words was all I could manage, that would be one thing. Or if I was working countless hours a week at another job, taking care of a family, etc. and just couldn’t find the time to write more than a few hundred words a day, that would also be perfectly understandable. But as I’ve already stated, neither of those situations are the case for me. I don’t need to publish a book a month, but I do need to feel like I’m not slacking off during my work day. (And, let’s face it, like many authors, I always have a zillion projects I want to work on, so it would be nice to finish them more quickly so I can explore the second zillion ideas.)

So, I’ve been trying to improve my daily word count. And, as you might have guessed from the title, it happened in a big way this last couple of weeks, helping me reach some interesting landmarks. I thought I would talk about things a bit here (specifically, what changed with this particular manuscript), in case anyone else is struggling to reach that next level.

First off, here are the stats:

Manuscript: Balanced on the Blade’s Edge

Genre: Fantasy/steampunk romance

Word count (rough draft): Just shy of 75K

Date started: Thursday night, February 27th (after an eight hour drive back from Colorado, during which I plotted most of the novel).

Date finished: Thursday afternoon, March 13th, exactly two weeks later (I actually wrote 57K of the story in the first seven days and was out of town and didn’t write for three days in the second week, so that first week was the rockstar for me. There were three days where I broke 10,000 words. Prior to that, my record had been around 6500 words in a day.)

Quality of story: Only time will tell how it’s received (it’s a stand-alone and not related in any way to my other works, so it doesn’t have an audience waiting), but I don’t think the quality is any different for having been written quickly. If anything, I found it easier to stay in the flow and refreshing not to have to look back and re-read scenes from early on in the manuscript because I had forgotten things. My editing pass was very light before I sent it off to my beta readers.

So, what did I learn? What changed with this story to allow me to blow my old record writing days out of the water? A few things:

Simple story

I admit I’m not someone who writes super complicated prose with layers upon layers of subtlety in the plot, but I do usually have quite a bit going on in my stories. There’s almost always a mystery to solve on top of whatever other adventures are going on. In particular, I had recently finished the first and second drafts of a big 210K 6-POV story in my Emperor’s Edge world. Complicated!

This story… It’s simple. It’s a love story with some bad guys to fight off and a sword to find.

Back when I first read Aaron’s book, I remember thinking that if I wrote simple quests or romances, I would have an easier time writing more words in a day, and low and behold, it turned out to be true. This doesn’t mean I’m never going to add a mystery element again or have multiple storylines going on at once, but I will remember that more complicated stories take more time for me to work out.

Outline (that I actually stuck to)

These days, I always do an outline before I get started, but I don’t always stick with it (in fact, I usually deviate by the third or fourth chapter). It tends to be “good enough” for me if I figure out how the story ends before I get started. That said, I actually stuck pretty close to the outline in this one, maybe because it was a simple story, and there was less I had to figure out I went along.

One thing I also did was summarize individual scenes before I sat down to write them (I often did this the night before or while on the morning dog walk–yay for notepad apps on smart phones). Aaron and others recommend this, and I find it useful, though I generally only do it when I don’t have the scene already worked out in my head. In this case, I knew I was on a deadline (more in the next section), so I made sure to figure out the next two or three scenes ahead of time, so I could write more each day without having to pause for that.

Self-imposed deadline

Those who are waiting for the next EE book, the next Flash Gold, or the next Rust & Relics might note that this fantasy romance wasn’t mentioned anywhere on my site. That’s because the idea popped into my head while I was on vacation, less than three weeks ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t set in one of my existing worlds, and it wasn’t something I planned to turn into a series, so I knew it wouldn’t be a big money-maker. My first thought was that I would put it down on my list and get to it (if I was still interested) when I had finished the five other novels I have in the queue. But then I thought… the beta readers have Republic and it’ll be a couple of weeks before I get their comments back, and I’ve been struggling to finish the Flash Gold novella… maybe I could do this if I knocked the rough draft out quickly…

I gave myself three weeks. It took two.

With traditional publishers, you get deadlines. When you’re self-publishing… you have to make your own. And you have to believe they’re serious. You’ve probably heard the axiom about how the length a task takes to finish stretches out to fill the time allotted for it. I’ve found that true with a lot of things in life. I think whether you’re trying to write more on your tenth novel or to finish your first one, a deadline can really help. I’m sure that’s why so many people finish their first novels during NaNoWriMo.

Note: to help achieve the deadlines, I recommend using a timer each day and not letting yourself get out of your chair or switch away from your writing program until the beeper goes off. There are all sorts of fancy programs out there, but I just type “set timer X min” into Google, and let that run in the background. For me, 30-60 minutes is the max I’ll stick in there without taking a break, stretching the legs, etc. a bit. On days where I want to get more words in, I’ll just string together more sessions like this.

A fun relationship to work with

Though I’m probably more known for blowing things up than for romance, I do often have a love story going on in my books. Relationships of all types are fun for me to write (hey, I’m a chick). For me, the best action is in the dialogue. Buut, because I usually think in terms of series, those relationships are often things that evolve slowly, and there might not be a lot of progress in a particular novel.

With this one, the hero and heroine were the first things to pop into my mind, and I knew it would be a love story right away. I also knew that they were going to start out in a situation where they were more enemies than allies. Making things work would be a challenge, and figuring out the how it could work would be fun to write. Long-time readers know I’m a sucker for those kinds of stories, where you’ve got two people who should be great friends or lovers but happened to be born on the opposite side of the tracks. (What can I say? The Fox and the Hound was my favorite movie as a young kid.)

So basically, I was enthusiastic about the characters and their challenges from the beginning because this happened to be one of my favorite types of stories. I seem to remember writing Encrypted (another story where the romance is at the core and there are a lot of reasons the heroine shouldn’t have anything to do with the hero) fairly quickly, too, at least by my standards at the time.

This doesn’t mean that this is the only type of story I’ll ever write again, but it’s worth remembering how much I enjoy having a relationship like that at the core of the action. Don’t worry guys, it won’t always be a love story. I realized that of all the projects in my queue, the one I’m most looking forward to is the Yanko trilogy (first prequel novella here if you haven’t checked them out), which will have kind of a surrogate father-son relationship to figure out, again with characters from enemy nations.

Ultimately this ties in with Aaron’s point that you need enthusiasm in order for the writing to come easily. As someone with a number of books out now, there’s a tendency to think… oh, I have to write something different, or everything will start to sound the same. But it’s important to write the types of stories that excite you too. I’m sure there’s a nice middle ground in there somewhere!

That’s probably enough analysis on this topic for the moment. If you have any questions or comments on how you’ve improved your daily word count, I would love to hear about it in the comments.

June 1, 2014 update: Balanced on the Blade’s Edge has been out for over two months, selling well, and has quite a few enthusiastic reviews. I ended up writing a sequel that I just published.

3 Amazon Tips for New Authors (and maybe old ones too)

| Posted in Writing |

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A Twitter conversation prompted me to share a few basic Amazon tips for those who e-publish directly through their KDP dashboard and may not have realized there’s such a thing as “Author Central.”

1. Use Author Central to improve blurb formatting

The KDP dashboard lets you upload your ebook, choose categories, and write descriptions, but the description field is on the anemic side. You can fill in your basic blurb here, but then head over to Author Central, add your book, and edit the book description there if you want to use italics, bold text, or bullet-point lists.

You can also add reviews and “from the author” messages. These descriptions tend to be updated quickly and will override the ones you entered via the self-publishing dashboard.

2. Link editions of your books/ebooks/audiobooks

Sometimes Amazon figures out how to link an ebook and a CreateSpace paperback on its own, but sometimes you have to tell them. If you don’t, the different formats get listed separately and the reviews don’t carry over.

This can also be done through Author Central by contacting the support team. Here’s the information on how to do it.

3. Make an Amazon author page

When you click on your name on your book’s sales page, you will either go to an author page or a list of search results using your name. The latter isn’t particularly user friendly and might not show all your books (or might show some of other people’s books in the results). Again by using Author Central, you can create an author page that includes all of your titles, a bio, pictures, and your blog and Twitter feeds (I get quite a bit of traffic to my site from people who click on the blog post titles on my Amazon page).

Head to the profile section in Author Central to fill in your information.

Are there any other tips you would like to add? Please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Swords & Salt Novellas Available Everywhere Now

| Posted in Writing |

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For those who enjoy adventure fantasy with a splash of humor, I have three new novellas out. They’re set in my Emperor’s Edge world but feature (mostly) new characters and take place across the ocean, over in Nuria. They stand alone as individual stories, but they’re also prequels for a longer trilogy that I’ll be working on in 2014.

You can grab the first novella, A Question of Honor, for free at Smashwords with coupon code QK74N (good through September 29th, 2015), or you can buy it for 99 cents at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or iTunes.

The second novella is Labyrinths of the Heart: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

The third story is Death from Below: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | Smashwords

You can also pick up the boxed set if you want to save some money.

The Swords & Salt Collection: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | Smashwords

How to Be a Happy Indie Prawn with Patty Jansen

| Posted in Writing |

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We’ve got a guest entry today from one of my old critique buddies from the SFF Online Writing Workshop, Patty Jansen. She first posted a version of this encouraging article at the Kboards, and I asked if she would be willing to share it here as well. I hope you enjoy it, and if you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy make sure to check out her work. The first book in her Icefire trilogy is free at Amazon and elsewhere.

How to Be a Happy Indie Prawn with Patty Jansen

A couple of months ago, Mark Coker from Smashwords said: Amazon is playing indie writers like pawns. Silly me, of course, I cannot see the word “pawn” without reading “prawn”. So there we go, the indie prawn. This species is a bottom feeder, living off little scraps that sink to the depths. The indie prawn busily moves around, out of the path of the large predators, but rarely, if ever, rises to the surface.

Confession: I am a little indie prawn. Hear me roar. I am astonished that I’ve managed to sell more than 100 copies a month for 15 months straight, but I’m not much bigger than that. Coffee-and-donut money is very close to my past.

Patty-Jansen-Icefire1We all start out like prawns, putting up our books and hoping that someone will buy them. Sometimes, people do, and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they don’t until you’ve brought out an entire series. Which means that you’ve got to write an entire series first.

While you’re doing this, waiting for sales to take off, things can get pretty depressing. You check your sales and there is little or no movement. You know you’re in it for the long haul, but you feel like you’re swimming against the stream.

If you are unhappy, frustrated and unhealthy within your writing, how can you expect your fiction to sing? How can you expect to find the energy you need to keep going?

I initially wrote this article as a post to the Kindleboards, a large community of self-published writers, for those unfamiliar with it. This online community boasts many extremely successful members, some familiar, others not so, who make a living from their writing. As a new and unknown writer, it is easy to log in to the forum and become demoralised in 10 seconds flat. After reading posts where people complain, “I used to sell 30 copies a day but now I’m only selling 10”, you feel like crawling under the bed, because you’d be jumping for joy if you sold 10 copies of a book per month, or just 10 books full stop.

Definitions

Russell Blake so famously said on the Kindleboards: Most. Books. Don’t. Sell.

I actually dislike this statement. It is 100% true that most books won’t make any bestseller lists. They don’t need to. There are legions of writers doing quite well (and meeting their own goals, including paying a living wage) without ever having had any books in any bestseller lists.

My books sell. They just don’t sell enough to pay my bills, but they sell a heck of a lot better than they did in tradepub. So, if your books sell enough to buy you a cup of coffee, they sell, and go and celebrate your damn coffee!

Attitude

If you need money desperately, get a job. Alternatively, manage your despair or channel it into something positive, because despair is like that woman on the train wearing far too much perfume: no one wants to sit next to her. If you need to whinge, don’t make a habit of doing it in places where potential readers can see it. Don’t continuously whinge in public, like Twitter, or your blog or Facebook.

At the Kindleboards, this statement generated some heated comments from people who said, “But I can’t get a job,” and other less kind statements. My comment about getting a job is about two things. 1. Security. A regular income working for a boss is, for most people, easier to get than any level of income security from writing. 2. Interactions with the world around you. If the lack of success in writing makes you a sourpuss to be around, and your family and friends (and readers) are starting to avoid you, find something that tips you back into more happy territory. Your writing will benefit.

Expectations, and the managing thereof

The only thing that’s a dead-set certainty is that brown bar at KDP at the start of the month, or the zeroes on other sites.

Whether you’ve sold 10 or 10,000 the previous month, there is no guarantee that the next month will bring similar results. There is no steady path climbing slowly upwards. No one owes you a living.

So, if you go through life expecting that brown bar to last forever, you’ll feel good when you get a sale. Feeling good is paramount.

At the Kindleboards, there was also some interesting discussion on this, with a subset of writers expressing the need to feel more ambitious and less “good” when writing. It could be that some people feel this. The anguished writer is an old cliche. Personally, I’ve never believed in the anguished writer. I believe that most writers will produce their most solid and constant work, delivered on time and of acceptable quality, when in a balanced state of mind. Anguish over the lack of success is a really, really destructive thing.

Ignore the Joneses

Sales are funny. Once you get used to a certain level, it’s never enough. The other funny thing is that no matter how much you sell, someone else will always sell more.

You are not someone else. You don’t write their books. So simply say “Congrats!” and move on. No need to dwell on other people’s lucky breaks and why you are more deserving than they are.

Build a brand and your own readership

Ads can give you short-term shots in the arm, but you should be working at creating a loyal fan base who are interested in hanging out with you and reading your brand of fiction. Work on that brand. Amazon is probably not a very good place for doing this. You should “own” your brand by directing people to your Facebook page or author site or some other place that is yours, where you talk about your fiction, waterskiing or Greek pottery, or whatever is part of your brand. Study the brands of authors you admire. Try to describe in one sentence what is unique about you and your fiction. Your public persona is the brand and accumulating readers around that brand is a slow process, and so is building a coherent library of books.

Genre-hopping?

If you feel you have to write a certain genre to get sales, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Yes, it’s true that Romance sells well, but if you’re like me and don’t read Romance, stay away from it. I’m stuck in the dungeon of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I’m determined to stay there, because dammit, that’s what I like to read and write, sales be damned. In order to remain happy, you’ve got to stay true to your passion. There is nothing wrong with trying other genres or subgenres, but if you’re doing so only in the hope of getting more sales, you’re doing it wrong.

Price

If you’re only going to sell a handful of books per month, you may as well sell them for the full whack. Especially if you’re writing genre fiction, your competition is not other indies, it’s tradepub books. So if you price just a bit under tradepub ebooks, you get two advantages:

1. You’ll look more like a tradepub author (presuming your book is up to scratch)

2. You have a decent amount of room to move if you want to do a promotion

If your book is going to sit at below 500K in the rankings, it’ll look a lot better priced at $6.99 than at 99c.

As another bonus, if you sell a copy, you get $4.50 and there’s your cup of coffee! I believe in some countries you can even get a donut with your coffee for that amount.

Coffee and donuts make a writer happy.

There is no shame in coffee and donuts.

They are YOUR coffee and donuts. Be proud of them.

Last year I was on coffee and donuts, this year I’ve paid for an international trip and a professional camera. Next year I may be back on coffee and donuts. Or not. The only thing I can do about that is to keep writing and to keep myself in a state of mind that allows me to write.

Bio:

pattyauthorpic250Patty Jansen is an Australian author of Science Fiction and Fantasy, who has published novels both through traditional press (Ambassador, Ticonderoga Publications 2013) and self-publishing platforms.

You can see all her books on her author site. Patty blogs about writing, self-publishing and a variety of other things at Must Use Bigger Elephants.

First book in the Icefire trilogy: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

NaNoWriMo Prep: How Do You Write More in Less Time?

| Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing |

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I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times, but this’ll be the first year in a while that I have a full-length novel project that’s ready to get rolling on Day 1 (I’ve done novellas the last couple of years, but I’m ready to break ground on a new book in my Emperor’s Edge world), so I’m excited to participate. I’m planning to do some giveaways (Amazon gift certificates and maybe some copies of Scrivener) for folks who keep up with their word count, so make sure and stop by here for details next week.

If you’ve tried NaNoWriMo before and haven’t finished those pesky 50,000 words in the month allotted, perhaps you’d like some tips on how to get more written in less time. I always feel like a bit of hypocrite when it comes to productivity tips, since I a) don’t write 10,000 words a day like some authors and b) am the master at dinking around on Twitter, Facebook, and, ahem, “researching” on the internet during writing time. But, hey, I have published ten novels and however many short stories and novellas in the last three years, so that ought to count for something.

So, without further waffling, here are my tips for finishing those 50,000 words in one month:

1. Plan out the scene before you sit down to type

Some people outline and some people pants (that being short for writing by the seat of one’s pants). There’s no right way (though I got a lot more efficient when I started doing at least a rough outline before getting started — at the least, things get easier if you have the ending scene in your mind before you start… know the end, and you can find a way there), but what I do know is that you’ll be a lot more efficient if you know how the scene you’re going to write today goes before you sit down to type.

Showers, dog walks, mindless commutes, treadmill time at the gym… these are all good places for planning that next scene. You’re going to be doing at least one of those things every day anyway (I hope that shower thing is a gimmee, anyway), so make use of the time. When you know what happens next for your characters, you’ll find yourself zipping through the words.

2. Turn off your internal editor

With NaNoWriMo and the first draft, it’s about getting the story down, not about making it pretty or wondering what your critique group will think. Don’t worry about changing every instance of “was” to a more engaging verb. Don’t worry about describing settings and characters in clever and evocative ways. Don’t worry about being clear and concise. Get the story, dialogue, and action down. You can edit and fill in the details later. If you believe Dean Wesley Smith, writing fast and not doing much editing might be the best thing for your story.

3. Research later (or before you start)

If you’re writing historical fiction or something that requires a lot of research, I recommend getting the bulk of it done before NaNoWriMo starts. For the little questions that inevitably come up as you write, you can throw a **LOOKUP LATER** note into the text and leave it for later. Most of those minor details can be researched and double-checked once the first draft is done. I’ll even put something like PLACEHOLDER1 in for a name I can’t remember, rather than taking time away from writing hour to look up a minor character from two books back.

4. Use timers for spurts of focused writing

Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s true, true, true for me. On those rare days with nothing scheduled where I have from dawn to dusk midnight to get in my 3,000 words (or whatever the daily goal is), it’s not uncommon for me to be in bed with my laptop at 10pm, trying to get the last 500 in.

I’m often most efficient (and sometimes most prolific) on busy days where it’s tough to find time at the computer. If I know I only have a half hour here and twenty minutes there, I’m less likely to waste what time I do have.

Whether you’re busy or not, you can use a timer to create a sense of urgency and force yourself to focus for X amount of time. If I set a timer for 30 minutes and order myself not to screw around online, just to write, I can be impressively efficient (at least by my standards). Sometimes it’ll almost be a race. How many words can I knock out before the timer goes off?

You don’t need a special app for this. Just Google, “set timer 30 min” or whatever your chosen time is, and your web browser will start counting down. If you’ve planned your scene ahead of time and know what needs to be written, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get during that little spurt.

 5. Get ahead at the beginning

Early in the month, you’re enthused about the new project, and the words fly from your fingertips. If you hit your 1,667 words on Day 1 and still have time to write, do it. Try for 2,000 or 2,500. Try for another 2,000 on the next day and maybe 3,000 on each day of that first weekend day.

As the month wears on, there will inevitably be busy days when you can’t find time to write, and in the U.S., you’ll have the craziness of Thanksgiving weekend. It’s hard to sneak away and write when there are relatives flooding the house.

You may also struggle to keep the words flowing as you get deeper into the story as well. If you’re like many people, you’ll find those first few chapters easiest, because you’ve been thinking about them for a while. The middle can be a slog for all of us, that time when the end isn’t yet in site and we’re starting to hate the novel and have this-totally-sucks thoughts (Yes, it happens to all of us!). If you got ahead early on, you’ll have some leeway during the more challenging second half of the month.

All right, those are my not-so-concise tips. If you have any to add, feel free to post them in the comments.

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