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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.

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Comments (40)

Thanks for the lowdown on what has worked for you. I could definitely use an increase in productivity! Do you have an example of how detailed your outlines/synopses are? I think I just need to keep mine brief but maybe I should put a little more effort into that step? Not sure.

You seem like you’re doing pretty well over there, Sue (even without adding that other Sue’s books to your list :P)!

I tend to scribble them out in a notebook, so I don’t have anything I can stick up on the site, but it’ll basically be a one-two paragraph summary of what I plan in each chapter. For a novel, my outline might be 2-3K words, and I’ll usually do it over a day or two.

I’m so happy you did this and shared your experience.

I’m starting a new manuscript at the end of the month when I get back home (after 5 months of travel) and I want to get it out fast. I’ve been outlining and doing the necessary research over the past couple months so I’ll have everything ready to go when the time comes to write (and I can make the needed adjustments at night before starting again in the morning). I’m not planning to get to 10,000 words per day, though it would be nice, but instead aiming to complete 80,000-100,000 words in 20 days, so 5000/day. I think it’s definitely doable.

Like you, I read 2k to 10k about a year ago, and while I remember the basics I think I’ll give it another quick read before I start writing. If I recall correctly it’s quite a short book.

Since you wrote the book in two weeks, how long do you intend to go between completion and publication?

You’re very welcome, Paris. You’ll probably be recharged and ready to roll after your trip. :)

If my editor can work me in, I thought I would actually try to publish this one right away (within a month of starting), just so I can say I did it, laugh.

With some stories, I like to let them sit for a while before coming back to them, but maybe because this one was pretty simple, it came out largely as I envisioned with the first draft.

I’m trying to get back into the writing groove after shoving my last book out the door.

I know that once I set a deadline w/ my editor, I get highly motivated… like I wrote the majority of my last book in 3 weeks. And the parts I wrote during that 3 weeks were better than the parts I wrote a more leisurely pace. I think because I was more focused.

The new one… well, it’s new, so I’m still working a lot of things out. But I aim to get the first two books in the series written in the next 6 weeks or so. I must. I contacted my artist about a cover today and started on the marketing plan, so obviously I’m serious about doing this… I am… I need to take some of your focus.

It sounds like you’re already going at an awesome pace! Yes, my editor is busy enough that I have to book her in advance, so that’s a deadline that helps too. :)

Cool post, Lindsay, and congrats on the awesome productivity! Lately I’ve been filling out my list of Ways to Write Extraordinarily Slowly or Not at All . . . definitely time to glean some tips from your experience and get back in the saddle!

Thanks for this, and good pointers. I went and grabbed Rachel Aaron’s book; I’d love to be more productive, but I have severe limitations on my energy and concentration, so I’m always looking for ways to make the most of what I do have.

Oh, and fantasy romance is my thing, so here’s an audience of one eagerly waiting for that book!

Thanks, Kyra!

I think I’m one of the few who hasn’t read 2k to 10k.

For outlining, I’d suggest using the Blake Snyder beat sheet process. I get about 500 to 800 word outlines from that.

I’m a firm believer in getting that Table of Contents (TOC) and chapter headings down early.

You can plug those outline sections under the chapter heading and then make a few more notes of what you want. That’s a helpful guide that will boost your word count in a way you notice.

If you want to write more each day you have to have more than one thing to work on. Multiple projects are key in my opinion.

Thanks for the suggestion, Greg.

Very interesting subject and thank you for sharing your experience Lindsay.

I’m a 1000-2000 words a day writer when I do have days off dedicated to writing (still working part-time at the “other” job). The best I ever achieved was 3500 words, and the Muse was really kicking my ass that day (I usually achieve that kind of word count when I’m racing to the finish line, in the final chapters).

I would love to be able to be more productive on my writing days. My biggest distraction, I have to admit, is social media. I love the darn thing too much. I’m trying to limit myself to a 1.5 hrs every other day. The most helpful thing to stop me from procrastinating on the internet has been the Nuclear Option on Stay Focusd.

On the other hand, my books do entail a hell of a lot of research and the plotting is complex. And I cannot for the life of me write a fresh scene without revisiting what I’ve written before (and editing as I go). This is probably because there’s often a few working days between my writing days.

I doubt I’ll ever manage 10000 words a day. Still, I’m going to “Nuke them all!” this afternoon for 6 hours of uninterrupted writing!

Haha, I know about the social media and email draw. It’s such a habit for me to write a bit and tab over to check what else is going on around the web… 😉 That’s why I started using the timer. That keeps me focused. I also know of authors who keep their writing computer disconnected from the internet, so they can’t be tempted.

Lindsey, Who is the Aaron that you refer to in this post? Sounds like he is a mentor of sorts…
Penny

Rachel Aaron, the author of the 2k to 10k book I mentioned in the opening line. 😀

That would be Rachel Aaron. It’s really a great book, full of more than just how to write more efficiently.

I was the same way. I can remember I thought that I was doing some damage when I was typing 3k words a day. I finished my first project in one month. But then I heard about the other authors who were way more serious and were cranking out 10k a day. That’s when I knew that if I wanted to survive in this business; it was not going to be as easy as 2009.

The outline was a tremendous help. I would type into the outline the scene where I left off and pick it up the next day in the middle of a heated scene. I would type it into Google docs and that way there wouldn’t be any chance of me losing the document due to a hack or virus.

The next project I thought was going to be just as easy, but I put the outline away and I struggled and dreaded doing “work” on the laptop. It resulted in too many breaks away from the story and I just ended up “slopping” it together for an editor to demolish.

Consistency is what I have the most trouble with, especially with working full-time. I had been wondering for what your word count was before you switched over to full-time writing – it’s good to that it’s fairly obtainable.

I still find it amazing that someone can produce a first draft in less than a month – especially a workable first draft. It took me three months to write my first novel, it wasn’t decent for human eyes until 2 revisisions in. I’m on my second beta-read of it right now, and I wonder if I’m being too overly cautious about it all.

Not to be *that* person, but I had a blog post queued on self-imposed deadlines when you published your post. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that I need a watchdog, something external or some form of public shaming to keep me on-track – it’s why I keep going back to those monthly writing challenges. Google calendar and spreadsheets only do so much to keep me focused. It’s the one draw back I focus on when I consider self-publishing – ideally there will be a fan-base created that would keep me trucking, but really, with your first couple books, there’s isn’t an immediate large fan-base.

I used to shoot for 1,000 words a day when I was still working at the day job. 500 or 1,000 a day add up pretty quickly, and you can get a couple of novels finished a year that way.

The challenge is not to get too hung up in the editing. 😉 It definitely comes easier as you get more novels out there and a lot of the sentence-level things you worry about when you’re getting started (especially if you’re in a workshop and being critiqued!) get internalized and come automatically after a while. I think the best thing is just to get into the habit of finishing things. I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but I don’t go back and edit anything until I finish the first draft. That really helps keep the momentum going.

Good luck!

I love the point about exploring an interesting relationship. It spices up the story for us and our readers.

It just seems to make sense to write as much of the stuff you really enjoy as you can get away with! For me it’s the character/relationship stuff, but I’ve definitely met people who love writing the epic battle scenes, heh. Whatever excites you. :)

What do you do about typos? When I write fast, I tend to make a lot of mistakes that I see later when I go back. It usually takes me a couple of go-throughs before I get it the way I like it. Then even after all those revisions when my beta-readers get hold of it, they always find things.

I make typos now matter how fast (or slow :P) I’m typing. It’s just part of the game. The beta readers catch some, my editor catches most, and then I’ll sometimes send the manuscript out to a few early readers who always catch more.

[…] Inspiration is essential to our profession. Elissa Lauren Field compiles quirky research sources for writers to help fuel your passion, Joy Lanzendorfer shares 5 writing lessons inspired by famous writers, and Lindsay Buroker shows how to write faster and break the 10,000 word a day barrier. […]

Thanks for this. I never needed a timer before–I had kids and work deadlines for that! But at the moment, I have time to be a “full-time” author, and I feel like my word count has actually gone down. (When I have things to do writing is my escape.)

I’m going to take a break now. Stretch my legs. Take out the trash…and then sit down and write for 30 straight minutes. I’m sure I’ll reach 1000 of my 1700 word goal. But 3000 words a day seems like a good plan.

Since I love reading your books I am glad you can write them so quickly. One question. You mentioned doing a light editing before sending it to your beta readers. Do you have a professional editor also or do you edit all your work yourself? If you do it yourself do you have a method that allows you to catch what needs to be caught? I guess that’s two questions. Thanks for the great blog. It helps with my own writing quite a lot.

Thanks for reading, Jennifer! Like most writers, I’m lousy at catching my own typos and missing words and such. After I get the manuscript back from beta readers and make any final changes I want to make, I send it off to a freelance editor (Shelley Holloway at http://hollowayhouse.me/).

I bought 2k to 10k yesterday and read it in one session. It is changing the way I write in the future.

Thanks for telling us about Rachel’ method

You’re welcome, Brian!

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

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

I read this book after you recommended it. A lot of it rings true and there are things i’m already doing, but I can’t seem to move myself beyond the 1-2000 effective words per limit. There are various reasons.

One, I do write complex layered stories that often involve politics. Like, lots of politics. My brain seems to require time to work it all out.

Two, I’m writing 1-2000 effective words a day. Words that will go in the book as-is. Not words that still need a ton of editing.

Three, I’m writing this every day with no exceptions. So I can write a novel in two months including all the editing. I’m happy with that. Plus I have time to do peripheral stuff, like bum on the KB because it’s vitally important to me to be there and learn of new opportunities.

Four, I was glad not to have a day job anymore because of performance reviews. I’m not going to impose any on myself.

Great post Lindsay, thank you for sharing. I was interested in your light editing comments. Did you always tackle editing this way, or has your need to edit reduced with each book? What tips would you give less experienced authors on editing their novel.

Kerry, it’s gotten easier. I used to have to cut a lot of scenes and rewrite chapters. I rewrote the last several chapters of The Emperor’s Edge because I didn’t like the original ending. I’m a little better now at figuring out how things should end before I get started. 😉

I do think the best thing is to get the whole draft down before you start editing. I remember when I was a part of a big online workshop, I’d see people tinker with the same opening chapters over and over again. The problem with that is that you might end up deciding you don’t need the first two chapters (or something like that) at all once you’ve written the whole novel. So you end up wasting a lot of time.

Hope that helps. Good luck!

Thanks Lindsay. Very helpful.

It’s just a matter of finding/developing a system that works.

I use a system inspired by Lazette Gifford’s Phase system (http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Issue%2015/phase.htm).
Essentially I write without any regard to grammar or spelling. Get the gist out is the mantra. For example on my current WIP a scene starts as:
“Sarfing back. Hot sun. Houston not a word. Sails flap. In a daze. Houston might have saisd somethingh but its hard to tell. Gives water to B. Gulps it down. Splashes. Who cares. Houston throws a blanket over B. Whats this for? Cover yourself up.”

Who cares about spelling and grammar? The above example is extremely clean compared to what usually happens: teh instead of the, misspelled names, words that don’t go together. I’m getting the story out with a bit of dialogue as fast as I can. When I’ve timed this rough writing clicks in at about 1,000 words and hour (depending on a lot of factors)

Then when it comes to writing I can write about 1,700-2,000 words an hour (I generally write pretty fast anyway) because I’m really only expanding whats in front of me.

That may not work for everyone but it does for me.

Hi Lindsay!

I like what you have to say and I read the reviews of the book, but if I’m understanding it all correctly the method is for plotters. Right?

If so, then the book isn’t going to be of help to those of us who are pantsers.

I suppose it depends on how hardcore of a pantser you are. 😉 If you think something like figuring out how everything is going to go a couple of scenes ahead of time (even if it’s only in your head) makes sense, then you might find it helpful. Also, she makes some good points about making sure you’re really excited about the scenes you’re going to write (or changing them so you are excited), so it’s easier to get into them and zip along.

I’m a pretty hardcore pantser. Freeze up if I even think of 2 following 1. :) But your last sentence is perhaps key — and I always seem to be very excited about the story flowing from my pen or pencil. Most of the time the words are zipping. Thanks though for posting. Gives me a goal to shoot for.

I do agree that the more complex the plot, the harder it is to write. I had this idea that my friend and I came up with and wrote into a simple script when we were kids. I decided to flesh it out into a novella, and have to say that it was more difficult than my most recent novel. It had a mystery element, and a lot of secondary characters who were suspect, so it was hard to make it all make sense.

I used to be a seat-of-the-pants writer. I’d have a few loose plot ideas, and specific scenes that didn’t fit together in my head. Being a scattered person who has a VERY short attention span, I would write whatever interested me at the time, then add scenes between the already written scenes, and yeah, you can imagine the mess when it came time to tie it all together.

Now, I force myself to focus on the beginning, middle, and end of the book, with word count goals for each. My last novel was mostly written in longhand in a notepad while I was on work breaks, and on vacation (part of it was written at the foot of Mount Rushmore while I was in South Dakota, how cool is that?) I even went so far as to number the pages in the notepad and write motivational notes in the margin (Yay, you’re at page 60, only 30 more pages to go!) to keep me on track.

Planning ahead has made a huge difference for me. I’m 7500wds into my third book in my Under Fire Series (firefighter romances). First disaster is underway, and I’m only 2500wds away from first major plot twist.

Motivating myself this way has taken me from writing a ton of scenes (I literally have 23 books on the go on my laptop…) to actually turning out books.

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