Posted in Writing | Posted on 17-03-2014|
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:
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.
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.