Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day

When I started writing The Spirit War (Eli novel #4), I had a bit of a problem. I had a brand new baby and my life (like every new mother's life) was constantly on the verge of shambles. I paid for a sitter four times a week so I could get some writing time, and I guarded these hours like a mama bear guards her cubs - with ferocity and hiker-mauling violence. To keep my schedule and make my deadlines, I needed to write 4000 words during each of these carefully arranged sessions. I thought this would be simple. After all, before I quit my job to write full time I'd been writing 2k a day in the three hours before work. Surely with 6 hours of baby free writing time, 4k a day would be nothing....

But (of course), things didn't work out like that. Every day I'd sit down to add 4000 words to my new manuscript. I was determined, I was experienced, I knew my world. There was no reason I couldn't get 4k down. But every night when I hauled myself away, my word count had only increased by 2k, the same number of words I'd been getting before I quit my day job. 

Needless to say, I felt like a failure. Here I was, a professional writer with three books about to come out, and I couldn't even beat the writing I'd done before I went pro. At first I made excuses, this novel was the most complicated of all the Eli books I'd written, I was tired because my son thinks 4am is an awesome time to play, etc. etc. But the truth was there was no excuse. I had to find a way to boost my word count, and with months of 2k a day dragging me down, I had to do it fast. So I got scientific. I gathered data and tried experiments, and ultimately ended up boosting my word count to heights far beyond what I'd thought was possible, and I did it while making my writing better than ever before.

When I told people at ConCarolinas that I'd gone from writing 2k to 10k per day, I got a huge response. Everyone wanted to know how I'd done it, and I finally got so sick of telling the same story over and over again that I decided to write it down here.

So, once and for all, here's the story of how I went from writing 500 words an hour to over 1500, and (hopefully) how you can too:


A quick note: There are many fine, successful writers out there who equate writing quickly with being a hack. I firmly disagree. My methods remove the dross, the time spent tooling around lost in your daily writing, not the time spent making plot decisions or word choices. This is not a choice between ruminating on art or churning out the novels for gross commercialism (though I happen to like commercial novels), it's about not wasting your time for whatever sort of novels you want to write.

Drastically increasing your words per day is actually pretty easy, all it takes is a shift in perspective and the ability to be honest with yourself (which is the hardest part). Because I'm a giant nerd, I ended up creating a metric, a triangle with three core requirements: Knowledge, Time, and Enthusiasm. Any one of these can noticeably boost your daily output, but all three together can turn you into a word machine. I never start writing these days unless I can hit all three.

Update! The talented Vicky Teinaki made a graphic of this metric and let me use it! She is awesome!

Side 1: Knowledge, or Know What You're Writing Before You Write It
The first big boost to my daily wordcount happened almost by accident. Used to be I would just pop open the laptop and start writing. Now, I wasn't a total make-it-up-as-you-go writer. I had a general plot outline, but my scene notes were things like "Miranda and Banage argue" or "Eli steals the king." Not very useful, but I knew generally what direction I was writing in, and I liked to let the characters decide how the scene would go. Unfortunately, this meant I wasted a lot of time rewriting and backtracking when the scene veered off course. 

This was how I had always written, it felt natural to me. But then one day I got mired in a real mess. I had spent three days knee deep in the same horrible scene. I was drastically behind on my wordcount, and I was facing the real possibility of missing my deadline... again. It was the perfect storm of all my insecurities, the thought of letting people down mixed with the fear that I really didn't know what I was doing, that I wasn't a real writer at all, just an amateur pretending to be one. But as I got angrier and angrier with myself, I looked down at my novel and suddenly realized that I was being an absolute idiot. Here I was, desperate for time, floundering in a scene, and yet I was doing the hardest work of writing (figuring out exactly what needs to happen to move the scene forward in the most dramatic and exciting way) in the most time consuming way possible (ie, in the middle of the writing itself). 

As soon as I realized this, I stopped. I closed my laptop and got out my pad of paper. Then, instead of trying to write the scene in the novel as I had been, I started scribbling a very short hand, truncated version the scene on the paper. I didn't describe anything, I didn't do transitions. I wasn't writing, I was simply noting down what I would write when the time came. It took me about five minutes and three pages of notebook paper to untangle my seemingly unfixable scene, the one that had just eaten three days of my life before I tried this new approach. Better still, after I'd worked everything out in shorthand I was able to dive back into the scene and finish it in record time. The words flew onto the screen, and at the end of that session I'd written 3000 words rather than 2000, most of them in that last hour and a half.

Looking back, it was so simple I feel stupid for not thinking of it sooner. If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you're writing before you write it. I'm not even talking about macro plot stuff, I mean working out the back and forth exchanges of an argument between characters, blocking out fights, writing up fast descriptions. Writing this stuff out in words you actually want other people to read, especially if you're making everything up as you go along, takes FOREVER. It's horribly inefficient and when you get yourself in a dead end, you end up trashing hundreds, sometimes thousands of words to get out. But jotting it down on a pad? Takes no time at all. If the scene you're sketching out starts to go the wrong way, you see it immedeatly, and all you have to do is cross out the parts that went sour and start again at the beginning. That's it. No words lost, no time wasted. It was god damn beautiful.

Every writing session after this realization, I dedicated five minutes (sometimes more, never less) and wrote out a quick description of what I was going to write. Sometimes it wasn't even a paragraph, just a list of this happens then this then this. This simple change, these five stupid minutes, boosted my wordcount enormously. I went from writing 2k a day to writing 5k a day within a week without increasing my 5 hour writing block. Some days I even finished early.

Of the three sides of the triangle, I consider knowledge to be the most important. This step alone more than doubled my word count. If you only want to try one change at a time, this is the one I recommend the most.

Side 2: Time
Now that I'd had such a huge boost from one minor change, I started to wonder what else I could do to jack my numbers up even higher. But as I looked for other things I could tweak, I quickly realized that I knew embarrassingly little about how I actually wrote my novels. I'd kept no records of my progress, I couldn't even tell you how long it took me to write any of my last three novels beyond broad guesstimations, celebratory blog posts, and vague memories of past word counts. It was like I started every book by throwing myself at the keyboard and praying for a novel to shoot out of my fingers before the deadline. And keep in mind this is my business. Can you imagine a bakery or a freelance designer working this way? Never tracking hours or keeping a record of how long it took me to actually produce the thing I was selling? Yeah, pretty stupid way to work.

If I was going to boost my output (or know how long it took me to actually write a freaking novel), I had to know what I was outputting in the first place. So, I started keeping records. Every day I had a writing session I would note the time I started, the time I stopped, how many words I wrote, and where I was writing on a spreadsheet. I did this for two months, and then I looked for patterns.

Several things were immediately clear. First, my productivity was at its highest when I was in a place other than my home. That is to say, a place without internet. The afternoons I wrote at the coffee shop with no wireless were twice as productive as the mornings I wrote at home. I also saw that, while butt in chair time is the root of all writing, not all butt in chair time is equal. For example, those days where I only got one hour to write I never managed more than five hundred words in that hour. By contrast, those days I got five hours of solid writing I was clearing close to 1500 words an hour. The numbers were clear: the longer I wrote, the faster I wrote (and I believe the better I wrote, certainly the writing got easier the longer I went). This corresponding rise of wordcount and writing hours only worked up to a point, though. There was a definite words per hour drop off around hour 7 when I was simply too brain fried to go on. 

But these numbers are very personal, the point I'm trying to make is that by recording my progress every day I had the data I needed to start optimizing my daily writing. Once I had my data in hand, I rearranged my schedule to make sure my writing time was always in the afternoon (my most prolific time according to my sheet, which was a real discovery. I would have bet money I was better in the morning.), always at my coffee shop with no internet, and always at least 4 hours long. Once I set my time, I guarded it viciously, and low and behold my words per day shot up again. This time to an average of 6k-7k per writing day, and all without adding any extra hours. All I had to do was discover what made good writing time for me and then make sure the good writing time was the time I fought hardest to get. 

Even if you don't have the luxury of 4 uninterrupted hours at your prime time of day, I highly suggest measuring your writing in the times you do have to write. Even if you only have 1 free hour a day, trying that hour in the morning some days and the evening on others and tracking the results can make sure you aren't wasting your precious writing time on avoidable inefficiencies. Time really does matter.

Side 3: Enthusiasm
I was flying high on my new discoveries. Over the course of two months I'd jacked my daily writing from 2k per day to 7k with just a few simple changes and was now actually running ahead of schedule for the first time  in my writing career. But I wasn't done yet. I was absolutely determined I was going to break the 10k a day barrier.

I'd actually broken it before. Using Knowledge and Time, I'd already managed a few 10k+ days, including one where I wrote 12,689 words, or two chapters, in 7 hours. To be fair, I had been writing outside of my usual writing window in addition to my normal writing on those days, so it wasn't a total words-per-hour efficiency jump. But that's the great thing about going this fast, the novel starts to eat you and you find yourself writing any time you can just for the pure joy of it. Even better, on the days where I broke 10k, I was also pulling fantastic words-per-hour numbers, 1600 - 2000 words per hour as opposed to my usual 1500. It was clear these days were special, but I didn't know how. I did know that I wanted those days to become the norm rather than the exception, so I went back to my records (which I now kept meticulously) to find out what made the 10k days different.

The answer was head-slappingly obvious. Those days I broke 10k were the days I was writing scenes I'd been dying to write since I planned the book. They were the candy bar scenes, the scenes I wrote all that other stuff to get to. By contrast, my slow days (days where I was struggling to break 5k) corresponded to the scenes I wasn't that crazy about.

This was a duh moment for me, but it also brought up a troubling new problem. If I had scenes that were boring enough that I didn't want to write them, then there was no way in hell anyone would want to read them. This was my novel, after all. If I didn't love it, no one would.

Fortunately, the solution turned out to be, yet again, stupidly simple. Every day, while I was writing out my little description of what I was going to write for the knowledge component of the triangle, I would play the scene through in my mind and try to get excited about it. I'd look for all the cool little hooks, the parts that interested me most, and focus on those since they were obviously what made the scene cool. If I couldn't find anything to get excited over, then I would change the scene, or get rid of it entirely. I decided then and there that, no matter how useful a scene might be for my plot, boring scenes had no place in my novels. 

This discovery turned out to be a fantastic one for my writing. I trashed and rewrote several otherwise perfectly good scenes, and the effect on the novel was amazing. Plus, my daily wordcount numbers shot up again because I was always excited about my work. Double bonus!

Life On 10k A Day
With all three sides of my triangle now in place, I was routinely pulling 10-12k per day by the time I finished Spirits' End, the fifth Eli novel. I was almost 2 months ahead of where I'd thought I'd be, and the novel had only taken me 3 months to write rather than the 7 months I'd burned on the Spirit War (facts I knew now that I was keeping records). I was ahead of schedule with plenty of time to do revisions before I needed to hand the novel in to my editor, and I was happier with my writing than ever before. There were several days toward the end when I'd close my laptop and stumble out of the coffee shop feeling almost drunk on writing. I felt like I was on top of the world, utterly invincible and happier than I've ever been. Writing that much that quickly was like taking some kind of weird success opiate, and I was thoroughly addicted. Once you've hit 10k a day for a week straight, anything less feels like your story is crawling.

Now, again, 10k a day is my high point as a professional author whose child is now in daycare (PRICELESS). I write 6 - 7 hours a day, usually 2 in the morning and 4-5 in the afternoon, five days a week. Honestly, I don't see how anyone other than a full time novelist could pull those kind of hours, but that doesn't mean you have to be a pro to drastically increase your daily word count.

So 10k might be the high end of the spectrum, but of the people I've told about this (a lot) who've gotten back to me (not nearly as many), most have doubled their word counts by striving to hit all three sides of the triangle every time they write. This means some have gone from 1k a day to 2k, or 2k to 4k. Some of my great success with increasing my wordcount is undoubtedly a product of experience, as I also hit my million word mark somewhere in the fifth Eli novel. Even so, I believe most of the big leaps in efficiency came from changing the way I approached my writing. Just as changing your lifestyle can help you lose a hundred pounds, changing they way you sit down to write can boost your words per hour in astonishing ways.

If you're looking to get more out of your writing time, I really hope you try my triangle. If you do, please write me (or comment below) and let me know. Even if it doesn't work (especially if it doesn't work) I'd love to hear about it. Also, if you find another efficiency hack for writing, let me know about that too! There's no reason our triangle can't be a square, and I'm always looking for a way to hit 15k a day :D. 

Again, I really hope this helps you hit your goals. Good luck with your writing!

- Rachel Aaron


ETA: If you liked this post, you'll love the book it spawned! 2k to 10k: How to Write Better, Write Faster, and Write More of What You Love combines several writing posts from my blog, cleaned up and expanded, with all new content, and all for under a buck. Check it out at Amazon.com!

And if you want to read more of my free writing posts, check these out:
12 Days of Glory (or how I wrote a novel in 12 days, complete with daily numbers!), How I Plot A Novel in 5 Steps, and Editing for People Who Hate Editing! I add new writing posts all the time, so feel free to follow me on TwitterFacebook, or on my RSS Feed (available on the sidebar to the left) for updates and information.

Thanks as always for reading and spreading the word!

- R


185 comments:

David Wood said...

Great insights! I agree, writing "fast" doesn't necessarily mean you're spewing out junk. It usually means you're planning more effectively, working harder, and working longer hours than other writers.

Justin Macumber said...

I actually stumbled across side #1 on my own a little while ago, and you're right. It's a HUGE help. I first did it because I wanted to plot out an action scene in a beat-beat-beat fashion that would preserve the fast pace of the moment while also letting me outline at the same time, plus it let me get all my ideas out without forgetting some because it took too long to get to them (as would have happened if I'd written the scene in my usual lengthy prose way). Now I want to plot that way all the time.

I'll have to give your other two sides a chance, too!

Rachel Aaron said...

@David, it's the old "work smarter, not harder" coming back around again!

@Justin, I hope they help you as much as they helped me!

chrysoula said...

I decided to spend Nanowrimo writing out a 50,000 word outline for a 150,000 word serial. Very strictly divided into shortish scenes (because of being a serial), and the outline is quite detailed, including dialog snippets. I also went out and wrote out place descriptions for important locations, because I'm terrible at that too.

While relying on that outline, I'm regularly, daily, doing around 1000-1500 a day. I USED to pull in about 4000 a week, if that. (I also have a small child.)

So... yeah. Writing by the seat of the pants seems to be very fashionable right now but that gets me into so much trouble. The other two sides of the triangle-- well, I've been tracking my time. I already knew that the more I wrote the faster I wrote but finding those blocks of time without daycare can be challenging. Someday...

I'm not sure if the enthusiasm side works for me. The main thing enthusiasm seems to do is make me work with fewer interruptions and less sense of the passage of time. But I've still had scenes I was incredibly excited about take even longer to write, because I care more about getting each word perfect.

PopeRichardCorey said...

This may be an obvious one, or it may be one so obvious that no one even thinks about it -- but typing speed can be a huge boon!

Motormind said...

Actually, you don't have to plan ahead if you want to write 10,000 words a day. I usually merely work out a few key scenes in my novels, making the rest up as I go, and fairly easily reach that number still. I often come up with pretty nifty scenes that way. Of course, at times I mess up, and if that happens I simply leave a little note to myself and push on.

The thing that upped my word count most is getting me a good keyboard, so it's more comfortable to write for long stretches of time. I also use one of those "distraction free" editors, with green letters on a black background.

The Internet is indeed a productivity killer and should be avoided at all costs during writing sessions. I usually write on a laptop with no Internet connectivity whatsoever, but I still have to resist the urge to turn on my desktop to start surfing.

William Armstrong said...

You just made me realize why I liked my college Fiction Writing course. It brought my knowledge of the story up, as well as the excitement.
I used to say work smarter, not harder. I have changed it recently.
Now I say, Work smarter, Then work harder. That maxim has helped with my laziness. Thanks for the great tips, I will try them out, as soon as i fix my keyboard. I don't have the quotes or the apostrophe, I just discovered.

Fading-Dream said...

I first thought this was going to be some lame site trying to sell me a book on writing (which are, for the most part, useless. Shouldn't that time be spent writing?). Glad it wasn't. I especially like the point about knowing what you are going to write. That's why my motto has always been to not necessarily know where the story will ultimately end up, but at least know what happens after your current section. Without that, how can anyone write toward something if that thing doesn't exist?

teiira said...

Now, I am not a writer and don't have really any dreams to publish a book but this is a really awesome post. I am a PhD student though, studying insects that cause disease in humans (medical entomology, FTW!) and this post I think will be REALLY helpful to me. I am stuck trying to write a literature review for a research project that I'll be starting and am having a horrible time getting focused and work done. I think this may be something that will help me enormously. Thank you.

Joy Ann Ball said...

I am definitely going to try this! I currently am a panster but am realizing after struggling over 8 months to write my first novel that it was insanity. At the same time though I have a very hard time plotting. I was planning on trying Rachel Vincents method of post-it notes (on her blog). Your method takes it to the next level of a scene by scene break down. Most of my interuptions come from internet research and subsequent sidetracks and my two kids. One in school, one will be going into preschool. Plus my 4 horses, 20 chickens, 4 cats, and a dog. LOL.

My issues with plotting were after I'd plotted it out, I would write it and after writing one scene and then lead into another I would veer off course once I was "in" the scene with my characters. During plotting I thought my ideas were good, but then my characters told me different once I got into their heads. Might be because this is the first book in the series and I was still getting to know my characters and my world but the problem still existed.

Most of my time lost was due to trying to figure out where I was going to go after I left the plotted coarse.

Will definitely be trying this though! Thank you.

Catrina said...

You are pretty awesome

Shawna said...

What excellent, excellent suggestions! The point about where you work was really an eye-opener for me, since I share an office with my husband and having him chattering two feet away has never been terribly conducive to concentration. I've always loved writing in coffee shops, but it was always a once-in-a-blue-moon treat. I think a few bucks a day for coffee might be more than worth the increased productivity.

All the advice here is just so logically sound that it seems like it should be obvious, but I'm guilty of almost everything mentioned. Not tracking my work, not taking a few minutes to outline scenes, and especially writing stuff I wasn't getting excited about. It feels so silly in hindsight!

I'm going to be starting a new project in a few days, and I'm definitely going to be taking the advice offered here to heart. I may not make 10k daily (I don't think my typing speed is fast enough), but any increase would be well worth the effort.

Thanks so much for sharing this!

Barb Rude said...

I found your blog through a link at Magicalwords.net's comments today.

Very lovely post. While I got over the myth that slow=good writing a few months ago, I have known in the back of my head that I could be going so much faster than I do. I'm definitely going to give planning a try.

And the best thing for me, about writing even 5k in a day, is that I can cross major story milestones in the same day. That's a fantastic feeling.

L.S. Taylor said...

I also got the link from Daniel @ MW. Yay!

Definitely count me in for wanting to try this. I like your analytical approach, Rachel, because I think it's something I could do, and I believe it will help.

Funny thing, with the shorthand. I used to do make shorthand notes in [square brackets], but I didn't ever do it for an entire scene, and finally forgot about the idea entirely. I like the way you've spelled it out. But the way you've described it helps me understand what I was trying to get at. Looking forward to trying this, and the rest of your triangle method, in the days to come!

Elizabeth said...

I'm also here from the comments at Magicalwords.

Making notes about a scene before I write it has been immensely helpful to me. You're right that it's silly to try to figure out what should happen while you're trying to write it!

I wanted to ask about revisions. Do you do those outside your 6-7 hours of writing time, or do they cut into that time (and your wordcount), or do you not have many to do?

Dan Absalonson said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing all of your findings with us. I just listened to your interview on the Dead Robots Society podcast. It is one I might have to listen to twice. Thanks for sharing!

Interview:
http://deadrobotssociety.com/2011/08/29/episode-189-writing-more-words-with-rachel-aaron/

Tim Ward said...

Great interview on Dead Robots Society.

I sat down today and applied your method to my 2nd draft in progress (27k so far). This was a grueling day of work. I now have three notebook pages of bulletpoints for scenes, dialogue, etc. I also have a glaring question. Do I do this for the whole book before I start writing, or is it ok to do this in pieces?

I'm assuming you will say finish the rest of the book like this and then go in and write, but I am even slower writing outlines and stuff like this than I am writing. I feel my mind thinks better while I'm writing prose than staring at a blank page.

That being said, I have two first drafts of novels that need rewritten and I am open to a more economical use of my time. I'm just curious if this is best for someone who creates better as I said above than an outliner.

Annie said...

Thanks for sharing these tips! I will definitely try them!
Peace,
Annie from Annienygma.com

Tim Young said...

Rachel,
Thanks a lot. I especially dig the knowledge tip of the triangle. I can just feel how much that will help me. And don't you thing that triangles are so cool anyway?
Plus I have experienced the 'high' you mentioned and I definitely want more of that!

Unknown said...

This is really fascinating stuff. One thing that strikes me though is that a lot of these techniques are particularly applicable to writing where there is a very easily measurable metric of progress, i.e. word count. I do video editing and post freelance, and I am really interested in trying to apply this in a context that doesn't have such an consistent metric. Thanks for the insights (and now based on this post I am going to check out your novels)

Pam said...

Haven't tried it yet, but plan on it. Seat-of-pants writing has not been working well with my need for and love of organization. I've been longing to become a plotter-aheader and outliner, but yet I hate the whole outlining methodology. But 5 minutes of planning before writing sounds like something I could do.

Madeline Moore said...

I'm very interested in this and will immediately begin to follow the instructions.

I am a writing tutor and if this works for me I'll get back to you and see if I can use this (credited to you) in my teaching.

Thank you for your generosity in sharing this with the rest of us.

Anne Lyle said...

Awesome post! I know I write faster and easier if I plan out a scene before I sit down to write, even if that's just visualising it on the walk to work - but I've never been methodical about it.

I've nearly finished the first draft of my current novel, but I shall definitely be trying this out with the next one, which is going to be on a tight deadline!

Cherie Reich said...

This is exactly what I needed to hear.

I'm a fast drafter when it comes to novels, and I completely agree that knowledge, time, and enthusiasm increase the daily word counts. I would say knowledge is almost the best of all for me. If I know what is going to happen (can see the scene in my head), I can write it much more quickly than if I'm uncertain. :D

Lynette Aspey said...

Excellent post. I've tried all these points, and more, to increase productivity but your post brought them together in a "Doh!" moment for me. BTW, your blog was shared by another writer-mum, so, (as we all know), feedback is no measurement of your reach. You just have to keep putting it out there. :-) Well done. And thanks.

Erin Cole said...

I linked to your post through Deborah Walker, and was happy to find it, as I'm in a rare writer's block. I can usually push through them, but this one must be connected to my word count since this post seems to resonate with me.

I do focus on the Knowledge and Enthusiasm sections to increasing word count (which you brought up a great point about boredom meaning the scene needs work), but I think Time is my big culprit. Tracking word count productivity is a great idea, and I will be trying that to help optimize my best writing time.

Thank you for a great post.

Abby said...

Great post, Rachel! This is really useful.

Now ... how can I speed up rewrites?

Margaret M. Fisk said...

I'm afraid I can't try out your triangle...because the first two points are pretty much my current process, though I do the notes when I outline rather than right before I write, though I might modify them. Your third intrigues me, and I love how you've put it all together. Thanks for the great post. I'll be passing it around a bit for others still struggling.

Alex F. Fayle said...

I'm with Margaret. I already do points one and two and with my part-time writing (4 days a week), I'm writing more than I've ever written before (3000 words each day). I write outside the home, in the morning because my muse clocks out at about 2pm. And before I write a scene I break it into 400 word chunks before I start writing.

I hadn't thought about your third point before that I'm going to try it out. It'll also help the actual writing because sometimes I write too "small" which isn't exciting enough.

lrcutter said...

Came here through Passive Guy. I generally do #1 already -- I know the scene I'm about to write before I sit down, but I could expand on it. #2 -- while having a particular writing time would be great, for me, permission to write whenever I have time is more likely to get me to write. #3 -- I hear you about the candy bar scenes. I think for the next novel I'm going to try this technique, of always being excited about a scene before I write it, and if I'm not, coming up with a scene that I am excited about. Great advice all around. Thanks for this!

Elle Strauss said...

Thanks for sharing your writing model. I needed this!

Judd Exley said...

Love it, Love it, LOVE it.

Love that you figured it out, love that you shared it, love that it works.

I especially appreciate that you point out that it may not work for everybody, but here's how it worked for you.

Regardless of whether or not I take in and apply any of this great advice (which I hope to) it's still an inspiration, so thank you!

Joanne Huspek said...

Great ideas. I also try to write as fast as I can to increase words per hour. In my case, I'm not hacking it, I'm trying my best not to ruminate over each word or sentence. There's plenty of that for the editing process. Otherwise, you can get bogged down in the trees and never see your way out of the forest. I also do the handwritten notebook thing, both before I write, during, and after.

Shawndra Russell said...

Wow, I am really impressed. I participated in nanowrimo this month and hit 3000k a day and was pleased with that as a first-time novelist, but this post has encouraged me to go even bigger! Thank you for sharing so many insights; I feel like you just revealed a huge secret absolutely free! This was very kind of you and I can't wait to report back on how this approach works for me.

Julia Indigo said...

Just found your post from @MarkLanden, and it's soooo inspiring! I'm a Nano 1st timer who will finish (just under 4k left to 50k), and I've just gotten to the point near the end of my somewhat moribund plotting. Time to get out the moleskine and do some plotting.

At this time I'm doing 1k/1hr and feeling good about it. But I'd love for it to be 2.5k or even 3k.

Thanks for your insights.

Nisa said...

This is such good advice. I can't do 10k in a sitting yet, but I can get about 4k in when I've put those three things together,

Kay Theodoratus said...

I'm thanking The Colorado Writer's Daily for leading me here. Won't work for my, but I've sort of figured the highlights on my own when I tried to outline and failed.

Like the extra detail [ideas] you give.

Fiona Ingram said...

This post arrived just in time to save me from myself. I am bogged down in the last section of my Regency romance. I love my story; my characters are great ... so why am I squeezing out a measly one thousand words a day? Your post has not only given me the tools to continue but has also inspired me. By the way, your description of how you wrote your previous Eli novels is exactly how I write...

Anonymous said...

This is great. I'm really impressed by your methodical approach and will definitely integrate these techniques into my own writing.

And by the way, the expression is "lo and behold," not "low."

Carradee said...

Thanks for the wake-up slap.

I've known that a little bit of free-associative writing by hand can help me figure out what to do with a scene when I'm stuck, but I keep putting it off, putting it off. "I don't need that," I think—when I remember the technique.

Well, I've been stuck on a few hundred words in a day, which is absurd. I have an overall loose outline. I know where I'm headed.

What had happened to the days when I was pulling 1k+ words per day, even after a full day's work of freelance writing and/or editing?

Immediately after first reading your post, I grabbed a sheet of notebook paper and a cheap pen, and jotted notes until I knew exactly what was going next (until I wasn't sure).

Next thing I knew, I'd written those 1k words. I poked the scene with my cursor, trying to figure out what was next.

I turned and reluctantly picked up my clipboard and pen again. (I hate writing by hand.)

What d'ya know? It worked for another thousand or so.

Seriously, after reading this post this week, my word count per day has increased by a factor of 10+.

Not as good as I want to do, ideally, but it's far better than I've been doing. And as I get more comfortable, where it's natural for me to pick up that scratch paper, I'm sure that word count will go up. (Particularly on days when, yanno, I'm not sick or also working on other things.)

I've also found is that the free-associative thing (or maybe it's just the increased words per day) also feeds the enthusiasm, for me.

Thanks!

Lisa Grace said...

Thank you for the tips! I've been having the same struggle. I knew it was possible to write more than 2k a day, but how? I currently write out one-line scenes (one for each 1k) but I think I'll take it a step further as you suggest.
Thanks again your article was an eye-opener.

Harriet Smart said...

Very interesting and helpful! I've never been able to top 3500 words a day, but am really intrigued by your stage one technique. Basically it what i used to do when sitting exams - that vital little essay plan that makes it all go so smoothly. I've been trying to encourage my 14 year old to do this for her school work but never done the joined up thinking to apply the the same technique to my morning's chunk of novel! Ha - real light bulb moment - shall definitely be trying it. I plan my scene, but not in enough detail. I can see so how it would work - it combines writing warm up, disinhibition (ie pushing away all the negative 'I can't write stuff' with a useful, focussing task. Brilliant. Give yourself a million gold stars!

Ruth said...

Awesome advice, and presented in a way that's easy to remember! Thanks so much for sharing your strategy.

Karen Cioffi said...

Thanks for sharing your writing strategy. I like the triangle model, although it's not always easy to be enthused every time you sit down to work on a story.

I'll give it a try though, and let you know how it works out.

I'll be sharing the link to this post.

M.P. McDonald said...

Thanks for sharing your method. I plan to try it and see if it works for me. I already see some similarities to my own problems although I work outside the home full-time so I can't get 4 hours uninterrupted except for 2-3 days a week. Even so, if I can even get 5k on those days, I'd be thrilled.

Oliver said...

When I do like what you suggest with the #1 in your pyramid I like writing it as bullet points. I can write loose "scenes" and include a lot of asides--like "character X has revelation here due to artifact Y introduced from Act II scene 8"--and the asides don't get confusing.

Deborah Walker said...

Oh my. I've doubled my word count this week. Apparently I wasn't spending as much time as I thought, actually writing/editing.

Marvellous.

M.P. McDonald said...

Just thought I'd give a little update. Last night after reading your blog, I sat down with a paper and pen--something I never do because I have an aversion to writing by hand--and wrote 7 pages. I started very simply by heading the first page with the names of the two characters who would be in that scene. Well, as I began writing out what would happen in that scene, my mind went nuts and I easily moved to the next scene, did the same, and so on until I had a plan for the rest of the book! It's not as detailed and formal as an outline, but much better than just my normal very sketchy idea of my plan that I hoped would take form when I would begin typing.

Unfortunately, when I finished, I didn't have much time to write because I had to be up for work at 4:45 a.m. but even so, I was able to get about 500 words in.

More importantly, I'm now excited about writing the next chapters. It's been a long time since I had that feeling about writing, so thank you so much!

Tyson Adams said...

Now I just need a cure for procrastination.

LK Watts said...

Very interesting post, I might give your magic triangle a go before too long.

kiasilvercloud said...

Fantastic post, thank you for sharing! I might have to try some of that. I never thought about deliberately getting my enthusiasm up.

Shai Hussain said...

Great post, amazing advice. Will be sharing and keeping in the loop. Truly inspirational!

Wendy said...

I *have* to try this!

Laura Bickle said...

Rachel, this is brilliant. Perfectly distilled. I'm printing this out to put over my desk. Thank you!

Laura Morrigan said...

Thank you for this! I have been floundering on the opening to my next novel (my editor expects it in 5 mos- I've been crawling)
Really, I'm going to get up in the am (Tues is one of my writing days) and try the triangle- it makes perfect sense!

Racheal McG said...

This was a fantastic post, and I really, truly enjoyed this! Thank you!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I think I'm in love. Thank you!

amy kennedy said...

This is the most I've been excited about anything in a long time -- I can't wait to start this. And to track my writing. For the record, I never thought I would ever say: track my writing. This couldn't have come at a better time -- me: down in the dumps about book, unexcited and NOT writing. The new me: can't wait to get to my notebook.

I got here through a post from Wrodbitches -- and I will link from my own blog as well.

You are a rock star! I agree with Caroline, I think I'm in love. Yay!

loritayseastep said...

SO glad I ran across this post... this makes perfect sense! Thank you, thank you for taking the time to write this down for the rest of us.

Susan said...

This. Is. Amazing. You are telling my story RIGHT NOW. Book is due in 2 weeks, and I'm behind--woefully, painfully behind--because I've been stuck...writing in circles and unenthused.

Yet here--here is a FANTASTIC solution. I am printing this post out, and I'm setting out to make my triangle. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Rachel. I will let you know how it goes!!!

Meg said...

I'm totally going to try this.

I semi-already discovered some of this on my own recently. I found I'm a million times more productive when I decide at the beginning of a writing session, "I'm going to work on such-and-such scene today, and that's it," instead of just sitting down and typing whatever until my time ran out or I was too braindead to do anything else.

I think I just need to take it a step further like you suggest, and completely work out each scene before I sit down to write.

Thanks for this!

Leah Whitehorse said...

I've just started writing my first novel after dreaming for far too many years! I am going to find this endlessly helpful. Thank you so much!

C0 said...

I should try the notebook thing one day.

Into my round-up this goes!

Clifton Hill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clifton Hill said...

Wonderful post, fantastic points. I can see how this can help and I'm itching to pull out a notebook and give it a crack. (While I slap myself in the forehead for not thinking of this myself.)

Charli Nox said...

I just sat down to write and implemented some of your suggestions. I closed my internet browser, outlined the chapter I'm writing, and had at it. After months struggling to get 1 chapter out, I wrote Chapter 2, all 2603 words of it in 90 minutes. That's roughly 1 word every 2 seconds. WOW! Thank you so much for this! I just started a spreadsheet to track my productivity, but if every day is like today I would be blissfully happy for the rest of my life.

Melissa Douthit said...

Awesome! Yep, that's a good triangle. I've been working by that without even knowing. Knowing what you are going to write is the key!

Ava said...

This is great. :) My max is 12,000 words a day (8hr writing day, 2hrs of breaks) but that was before I got Dragon to write with. My hands would give out and I couldn't keep it up. I totally agree with everything you have here—I am so excited to see this because you've put into words what I couldn't. Thanks so much.

I find I get brain burn if I'm over 6k/day for too long but I think I'm going to try more administrative work and see where it gets me.

Luisa Perkins said...

Holy freakout, this is amazing. Thank you SO MUCH.

Casey Lessard said...

I'm not a novelist, but a journalist, photographer and entrepreneur. You blew my mind with this. It's applicable to any creative endeavour, I think. Putting a time limit and having a goal help me write my news stories (x number of stories by 5 p.m. so I can go see my wife is very motivational!).

Anonymous said...

I'm a professional writer. Of software, not prose. And those 3 points can apply programming just as well.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this post, Rachel.

Questions:

What's the relationship of first-draft 10K+ days to all the other work of producing a novel? If you can draft the whole thing in 2 wks, does it take 6 more weeks to plot it, rewrite, edit, polish etc? (=3x as much)

Any comments you have on this would be great.

Also (& you may not know this yet), do you get 10K+ days even if you're doing 2-wk periods of first draft separated by 6-wk periods of other stuff? Or do you only get the 10K+ days when you're doing it for a long period of time?

Do you think your speed might have something to do with writing a series of books with familiar characters?

Have you hit any burnout phases working this way?

Tx.

Shelly I said...

I was lucky enough to stumble into the same formula early on, w/o the work of tracking my daily productivity. As evidenced by the many, many comments here, you've done a service to the writing community by putting these top tips in one place. Thanks, Amy!

Jesi O'Connell said...

So glad I just found this post. I too think speed is a key to writing productivity for sure--and the real key is organized, thought-out speed. Which seems to be what you do, and have so generously shared. Thank you so much! Off to up my words counts...

imaeko said...

This is gold! Wow, a brilliant insight and the perfect motivator for me to sit down and get back to writing my book over my christmas break! I'll be sharing this blog post with my writing friends on my facebook and deviantART page! Thank you for sharing this... :D

facebook.com/artbymeg
http://imaeko.deviantart.com/

coyoteguy said...

I feel like I'm a bit late to the party but I think you may have just kicked me back to my writing desk. Fantastic advice and thanks for putting it out there for free! I'll make sure to pay it forward.

Passive Income Author said...

With this level of productivity, have you thought about self-publishing some of your books? I'm not sure your publisher/agent will be able to keep up!

Derek said...

My good friend, Susie, whose first novel comes out next year, directed me to your post. It's a great wake-up call to remind us about the craft of writing and how god writing is a practice that requires more than just the words.

Thanks for being a voice of common sense!

iheartmess said...

I've always wanted to write a novel, but haven't really known where to start or how to write a story that seems so extended. This post will be a great place for me to set myself on track, so thank you.

Alexia said...

Thank you sooo much for posting this (and to my lovely friend Susie for sending me here).

I'm also a massive nerd, just starting out writing my first novel, and I was horrified to realise, reading your post, that I too had failed to do any sort of quantitative analysis of what I was doing. Where was my spreadsheet?!

I'm not able to spend more than an hour, tops, at writing in any single session and had been assuming that unless I could spend at least 40 minutes writing it was unlikely to be worth it. Until I read your post! Over the last couple of days when I've been tracking my output using your system I've found that in my first session of 25 minutes, I wrote 500 words (= 1200 w/hour); I did the same using Dragon dictation software rather than typing; and when I was interrupted after 10 minutes typing, I'd written 200 words (once again, 1200 w/hour). So in three little, stupid fag-ends of time, totalling an hour, I'd knocked off a very useful 1200 words.

I can't tell you what a difference is going to make to me! It shows me that it's spectacularly worth using these little, itty-bitty fragments of time for writing, that I would otherwise have overlooked.

I'm also grateful to know that it doesn't look like I should struggle on with Dragon, at least until I'm a better first-draft writer, because the quality of what I write is poorer at this stage and it's not gaining me any time.

So, regardless of what lessons there are for any individual's writing, I'm convinced that your advice to record output and analyse what makes a difference (or surprisingly doesn't) is hugely valuable.

Thanks again!

Heather Webb said...

Thanks for sharing this. I'm trudging through a round of very intense edits and I find myself stalling quite a bit. I love the idea of jotting down tough scenes. I have done this in the past off and on, but never made it a set pattern to start my daily writing. Planning & charting really help direct me, so I'll give all these suggestions a whirl.
Happy writing!

Lise Andreasen said...

Hejsa!

Read your post with interest, will try to implement some of it.

Just a thought: I was baffled by Side 2, until I mentally renamed it Timing. It is important to track the best time for writing, because timing is essential. Well, that's how my mind works ...

Lise

Rachel Caine said...

This is pretty much EXACTLY how I manage to meet my deadlines (which are every three months, 100k each) ... it doesn't always work, but I find that shutting off my internet is VITAL, if I don't leave the house. Otherwise I dawdle between paragraphs looking for Important (not) Information.

Biggest issue, however, as someone who has done this for years now: pain. Literal hand/arm/elbow/shoulder pain. When you start feeling it, change your chair, your table, your keyboard, your computer, change SOMETHING. You don't want it to go to a nasty case of carpal tunnel, which it will. Take precautions.

Amie Kaufman said...

Rachel, this is fantastic! I found this post via Susan Dennard's blog -- it makes concrete the ideas that have been swirling around in my brain for a while. I'm keeping a spreadsheet for a project I'm working on, and I've already learned that despite typing at 110 words per minute, I'm faster with a notebook and pencil than at the computer -- fewer interruptions, no internet!

Emma Darwin said...

I found this post found it absolutely fascinating - it resonates so much with what I know of my own writing, hear of my friends' writing, and see in my students' learning to write.

(And apologies because, as one blogger to another, I'd like to say where I found the link, but I've been working on my own post about your ideas, and now I can't remember!)

Susannah Rickards said...

This is a wonderful, refreshing insight into increasing volume. I'm trying it! Thank you.

Khanada said...

This is my first time here - Janice Hardy linked to this post. Usually, I'm very skeptical of something saying "10,000 words a day!" but that's not the point here - the point is that a little analysis can help increase your productivity, maybe immensely! and I just love how you broke everything down. I really think what you've said here will help me a great deal, so I will be trying this for the new year. THANK YOU so much!!!

Rena J. Traxel said...

My first novel took forever to write! I was doing what you did. I'm going to try your new method for my next novel. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I will definitely make good use of these tips.

rachelcaine said...

As someone who cruises at 4k a day and have ramped up to 10k a day, I completely agree with everything you're saying. One thing you didn't say, though, is the cost of having this writing schedule.

I've been doing it now for -- yeesh, about 10 years of writing 4 books a year, on average -- in an average of 3 different series per year. There IS an undeniable (and inevitable) mental fatigue that sets in, although the discipline is absolutely vital and gets you through cold, flu, injuries, family crises, etc. But be sure your brain gets time off, too.

One thing I must add: watch your ergonomics. Over time, writing at the pace we are setting is damaging for our wrists, hands, and shoulders, so if you start feeling aches, LISTEN to your body. Get a new keyboard. Adjust your keyboard height. Get a new chair and make sure you're properly supported. Little changes can save your future -- don't let it become a career-hampering injury.

Good on ya, lady. Excellent advice all around.

Graham said...

Wonderfully inspiring. Thanks, Rachel. You've turned my head and I've taken up the challenge. 10K - here I come!

Jefferson Smith said...

Couldn't agree more, Rachel. In the event anybody wants it, over on my blog (Creativity Hacker) I've posted a Python script that monitors your writing directory and keeps a log of your word count. Automatically. I used it when writing my first fantasy novel and highly recommend the practice. Even if you don't use it to improve your output, it's still nice to have a complete log of all your writing time.

Later I'll be posting companion scripts to send graphs and alerts to your email account, based on your productivity log.

Anastasia said...

Thank you! This was a world of help.

Claire said...

Writer here with a full-time job AND freelancing. A friend sent me this link a month ago today and I feel like it says something about my time-management skills. My goals are much more modest--I'd be happy with 1K words a day--but I'm hoping this helps. It's full of a lot of the "duh" information that I definitely need to hear. Thanks!

John Brown said...

This is brilliant, Rachel. Prewriting has saved me. It's like, duh. And tracking time.

Tmarshmallow said...

Thanks again for this inspiring post! I've put your methods into action and have written a first draft in 10 days. It needs more work,of course, but I'm excited!

Entropic_Angel said...

Some useful advice there for a budding and (very) amateur writer like me.

Will try some of it out.

Thanks :)

Debra Holland said...

This was one of the most amazing writing blogs/articles I've ever read. I'm a self-published author whose books are selling like hot cakes. I could make a LOT of money if I'd only write faster (or write at all.)

I've found that knowing my scene beforehand is helpful, and have sometimes jotted down notes. But I like the idea of consistency.

Yesterday, I had a vague idea for my complicated scene, and the writing was difficult. All along, I knew it was because I didn't have a clear idea. Now, I'm going to sit with a paper and pen and figure it out.

I'll try doing this on a regular basis and see what happens.

I also think getting out of the house and away from all the temptations will help.

Kell Brigan said...

FAT BASHING IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. SPREADING DANGEROUS MYTHS ABOUT BODY WEIGHT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. BEING INTELLECTUALLY SLOPPY AND INDULGING IN LAZY, DESTRUCTIVE HATRED IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

What I just sent to SFWA:

"Why No Warning About the Bigotry in the "10,000 Words" Article?

"Re. http://www.sfwa.org/2011/12/guest-post-how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-a-day-to-10000-words-a-day/


"Why no warning that the author is a bigot? She has some OK (if not exactly original) advice about writing, but ends the article with the hate & mytholOgy-based claim that "lifestyle changes" can cause a person to "lose" 100 pounds. What the fuck? This is absolute bull. [url=http://www.amazon.com/Discover-the-Myth-about-Obesity/lm/R2L5HWB2HLGEBI/ref=cm_lmt_fvlm_f_1_rlrsrs0]Fewer than ONE PERCENT of people who "lose weight" maintain that change for more than four years, and even then, 96% of people never "lose" more than 20 pounds during that four years of temporary "loss." [/url]Why on earth would someone feel the need to sneak hatred into an article about writing? It's amazing how an era's bigotry and mythology sneaks in everywhere. In about twenty years, people are going to look back on this era's anti-fat hatred and shake their heads at it the way we do over picaninny salt & pepper shakers and lawn ornaments...

"Why don't you have some sort of disclaimer on this piece so that people who don't want to read HATE and LiES can give it a miss?"

Carolyn Crane said...

Thank you for this wonderful post! I'm a very slow writer who is just fumbling her way toward speeding up, and you have really inspired me! I especially love your enthusiasm point.

Thank you for your time and generosity. This post clearly took a long time to write and is a gift that has helped many people. I know it will help me.

LaTessa said...

Thanks for sharing this. I recently took a workshop on discovering your learning style and how that translates into your writing style. Knowing what I'm about to write is an integral component of a successful writing session.

aquarium supplies said...

Amount isn't quality, you know it.

Dror said...

Hi,

Fascinating reading!
I'm an amatur writer myself.
I couldn't help but noticing. Why do you judge the value of your writing or your productivity by the amount of words you write?

I tend to find myself writing only a few hundred of words a week, expressing much in few words is truly difficult, I find this to be most productive. What do you think?

verdverm said...

I've always perceived writing as a weak point for myself. I'm starting my masters thesis with the guidance of the Triforce! if it works for me, I ought to have time to keep you posted

Auddi said...

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lo_and_behold

Dave K said...

Rachel: LOVE your work! While I'm not published yet (2 novels in to a seven novel series and I'm getting the first book edited for publication now), I have found also that, along with your wonderful insights and advice, to help me speed things up just a bit more, I add "Inspiration" to everything you've said. Once I do all that you advise, I take a moment and read or listen to something that makes me want to accomplish something great or understand something at a deeper level. Then I sit back and let the words flow. Maybe that would help you too!

Lucas Puryear said...

Oh I am definitely going to try this. Thanks for posting it.

Laura Marcella said...

This is great advice, Rachel! It makes such perfect sense, too. Of course we're going to be more productive if we know what to write next and are excited to get started! Thanks for the tips and happy writing!!

Holli Thompson said...

I LOVE this post, and am implementing TODAY. That you, my publishing deadline is looming, you may have saved my tush.

Mary Eve @ Do What You Love Journey said...

Thanks for figuring it out! Writing about what we love most is a great idea.

For the time section, I used a timer (5-minute laps for each section of my self-help book, it gives generally 200-250 words) to write the 1st draft, and a 10-minute break at each hour. I could write about 2000 words an hour.

Very interesting blog you have!

Mary

Amara said...

This really is amazing advice; I'll definitely be trying it out. Thanks so much for sharing!

Andrew said...

That was a marvelous post. Thank you for sharing :)

Julie@Live Vibrantly Today said...

Thank you so much for this article.

I am not a novelist, but writing newsletters and articles is a regular part of my business - and it takes me FOREVER!

I've been searching for ways to increase my writing speed. I'm going to try your method the next time I sit down to write.

Thank you again!

Lucy said...

I like to make friends with you,haha.


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Lucy said...

I like to make friends with you,haha.


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Joanna (Lazuli Portals) said...

I'm sure everything I'm thinking in response to this fantastic post has already been said in the 100+ comments above mine.

So I'll just add a sincere Thank You and see how I can integrate these!

Thanks again!

annamwrites said...

I'm working on my second short story right now and it has been eating me alive! I had been stuck so many times and I just didn't understand what was holding me back. I flew through my first short story and this one is bound to be better. A fellow author shared this on Twitter and I clicked the link figuring that it couldn't hurt.
I could relate to pretty much everything you said you had been struggling with. I realized that the reason I've been so stuck is because I really didn't care about that part, even though it's vital to the plot. So I scratched it and went about it another way and it's so much better! I'm about to turn off my internet and set myself a time frame (I've tried time limits before and they've worked for me). Now that I have all three pieces I have no doubt that my writing will be better and that I'll be getting a lot more of it done!

Thank you so much!

Stephanie Cain said...

At the end of June, a blog post I was reading mentioned your method. I did some digging, read your article, and was blown away. I've been having trouble building motivation to work on my epic fantasy novel revision, despite the fact that I love this novel and these characters. After reading your article, I realized that part of my lack of motivation could be cured by following your example about writing the scene bones out on paper before trying to write the scene itself. I have an outline for the novel, but my notes on each scene are just a couple of sentences about what happens and what the point of the scene is.

Now that I've started using your method, I'm blown away. I LOOK FORWARD TO WRITING EVERY DAY AGAIN. This is a huge gift, and I wanted to thank you for writing about your method. So far I don't think I've used the method long enough to prove when I am most productive, and I've never done more than 3 hours in a day, but since 6/3/12 I have written 18,250 words, and that's with three days of no writing at all for various reasons. But NEVER for lack of motivation or desire.

To put it another way, I've written almost a third of this novel draft in the past eleven days, while the other 42K words were written over the course of three MONTHS.

So thank you. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.

Thomas Pluck said...

Thank you for sharing these insights, they make perfect sense, which is probably why our brains fight them so hard...

Charles Sheehan-Miles said...

Rachel, I just want to say thank you. I just posted a blog entry about my own experience of adopting your methods. After normally taking years to finish a book, I just completed an 80,000 word novel in 14 days. It was intoxicating.

This was absolutely an amazing experience, and I can't wait to see how it works for my next book.

You are awesome. Awesome. Awesome. I can't say it enough.

shannon Borg said...

awesome! i have to finish a wine guide book by August 31. I have 40,000 words total - I've finished about 5. No biggie. I feel 1200 words a day - all plotted out, plus jobs, life, boyfriend, etc. is pretty good. Thanks for your help! I did NANOWRIMO - and STIll love that novel I wrote. I was enthusiastic! Cheers!

Randy orton said...

Job well done guys, quality information.
basics

Jefferson Smith said...

Just wanted to report back on my attempt to prove you right. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I have a little app on my writing computer that helps me track my productivity. After 8 months of trying to squeeze bits of writing into a very hectic schedule, I went on retreat and tried a bit more pre-planning. Wow!

Previously, I was lucky to have a 2000 word day. This time, I maintained an average of 5,000 words per day for 2 whole weeks, with a maximum day of 9,500.

I've posted a graph to illuminate my ongoing humiliation and final triumph with other writers who might be contemplating this approach. A picture is worth 10,000 words a day.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this motivational article. I've done an extra 2,000 words today. I don't think I can ever manage 10,000 words a day, but I'm trying to build up the word count.

teknoarcanist said...

Jeeze, how nuts!

I've recently seen my productivity skyrocket--anywhere from 2k to 5k a day--in preparation for self-publishing a novella. I couldn't figure out the change.

Reading this through this post, it's like seeing every step untangled before my eyes. I've even been keeping a log of time spent and words produced -- and now I read this post, doing all the same things and reaching all the same conclusions, but from the opposite end.

Crazy.

I've worked out a little rhythm for myself, to boost productivity. I got a program called Q10, a no-nonsense fullscreen text editor, which has the neat feature of allowing you to set multiple wordcounts at once.

I'll set three:

"Wordcount for this chapter",

"Wordcount for the day",

and "Wordcount for this session".

Then I start writing. Usually about 500-1500 words a session; rarely more or less than that range. Then I go for a walk--

(For a very good post about that, check out http://www.cameronmoll.com/archives/2008/11/showering_and_thinking/ )

--and by the time I'm nearing home, I have the next scene worked up into an exciting angle in my mind.

I've been flying along the pages lately, and wondering what's changed.

Seeing it epitomized in that triangle is mind-blowing.

JeanetteRaleigh said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I needed to hear these words. I've been struggling with my work and while instinctively there are times when I think ahead in planning to write a scene, I have never actually planned a 5-10 minute plotting session beforehand. This week I've been dismally stuck.

You've spurred me on. I will do so now. Again, thanks.

A.K.Andrew said...

What a fantastic post! Extremely inspiring. I love it when things we can try to improve our work are right under our nose. I'm reposting this on my aFB authors page -I'm sure it will be helpful to others.

Áine Warren said...

Thanks for sharing this! I'm really only starting to get down to writing seriously, so I don't have writing habits that I can analyse, but I'll definitely be using these tips to form a routine and to monitor how I do.

Martha Bechtel said...

I was wandering the forums working on the outline for my NaNo novel and this post was linked in one of the threads. I'd read it last year, but had somehow forgotten to bookmark it-- and now I feel a bit silly!

This post and the comments have given me the bump I needed to move from the general phrase descriptions to a much more detailed sum-up. It's amazing how much of the book I can 'see' in my head now that I've got it on paper. Now I just need to make sure to smooth out the plot bumps and this might be the first year I win NaNo before the 30th! ;)

Rinelle Grey said...

I love this post, thank you for sharing it. I can totally see how I can use these ideas to improve my wordcounts. I think the one I needed most was to plot out the days writing. I rarely do this, but I can definatly see the difference when I do.

darkbrightly said...

Excellent tips! Thank you so much for this. I've had great days before, but never really systematically figured out why they were so great. The planning aspect is more important for some stories than others - the more complicated the story, the more I need to plan (because it's not worked out in my head as clearly yet). As I attempt NaNoWriMo again this year, I'll be using your tips. Thanks!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

I absolutely love this! I already outline scenes before writing them, but you had several great tips for fine-tuning my writing process. I'm definitely sharing this with my writing friends. Thanks!

Raven said...

The longer you write, the faster you write and the better you write. I've noticed the same thing in my own writing on a smaller scale. If I write for 30 minutes, I typically end up around the 800-word mark, but if I write for an hour, my average is closer to 2,000 words . . . meaning 1,200 in the second thirty minutes. So, since then, I never do sessions of less than one hour if I can help it (as a first year teacher, I might have to do some shorter sessions just to stay sane this year.)

Anonymous said...

How do you count "editing time" for your word counts? Or scene rewriting time, especially if you start the next day with rewriting the stuff of the previous day..

CB Soulsby said...

Wow. All I can say is wow. I've just used the "knowledge" side of the triangle to make sure I wrote a scene that made me enthusiastic. I tracked how long it took me to write that scene: 1200 words in 30 minutes including the time it took me to prepare. I normally do 1000 words an hour. I'm totally impressed.I think you might be a genius.Thank you!

sid401k said...

This looks like a really great book, and I'd love to read it. Unfortunately, it only seems to be available for the Kindle, and I have a Nook. I will gladly PayPal you the $0.99 if I can have 1) an epub file, OR 2) a pdf file, OR 3) any other file format (including Kindle) that I can convert to an epub file (in other words, that isn't DRM locked to prevent conversion).

** Bambi eyes **

dissertation writitng free said...

I can definitely see the difference when I do.

Jen Greyson said...

For the record: you are a friggin rockstar! I've been lurking about on your blog since you first wrote this post, and tonight I just finished reading the 2k to 10k book.

The refresh was awesome, and I love that the book had new exciting details. (some that hit remarkably close to home for how I've been feeling about my crappy output) I've been reading enough reviews and your exciting posts about Eli, that I finally bought the first three, and (since I knocked out a double-my-wordcount-day thanks to you) I'm going to reward my self by starting them tonight.

Thank you thank you for sharing your awesomeness. Today was a 2400 word day (on a sunday, with family dinner and two toddlers, so I'm calling that a huge win) I KNOW that before the end of the month I'll crack a 10k day.

Jen

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Liam Livings said...

I tried this,and it's amazing.
You can read on my blog for how it worked for me during January.
Liam Livings
http://www.liamlivings.com/1/post/2013/02/writing-goals-for-2013-and-how-i-accidentaly-did-my-own-nanowrimo-in-january.html

Liam Livings said...

I tried this, and you can read about it here:
http://www.liamlivings.com/1/post/2013/02/writing-goals-for-2013-and-how-i-accidentaly-did-my-own-nanowrimo-in-january.html
thanks
Liam Livings

Luna said...

Writing is hard. No doubt about it. My most sincere respects to your work. Facing a white paper (or screen... ;) ) is the most challenging thing

Luna said...

Writing is hard. No doubt about it. My most sincere respects to your work. Facing a white paper (or screen... ;) ) is the most challenging thing

Luna said...

Writing is hard. No doubt about it. My most sincere respects to your work. Facing a white paper (or screen... ;) ) is the most challenging thing

Bummble said...

Hi!

Loved this article, and I would love to buy they whole book - but while I do have an e-reader, it's not a Kindle (and I can't buy from Amazon anyway since they don't take Paypal and I'm in the Netherlands which they don't seem to like...).

Is there any way I could Paypal you some money and you send me the book as a pdf, epub, mobi, etc kind of file?

My email is hedera.b (at) gmail etc.

Cheers!

Byron Lee said...

I just want to second the idea of having the ebook available in another format / purchase option. I own a Barnes and Noble nook, so that option would be great.

Elizabeth Sims said...

Awesome blog, Rachel. I've just referenced this post in a conversation on James Duncan's blog. He's my editor at Writer's Digest Books. I have a book coming out from them soon. Recently have been looking into how to increase productivity. Your output is enviable, and I really admire your generosity in your blog.

Anonymous said...

I love this post. Thank you SO MUCH!

^_^!

Anonymous said...

I have been trying this for the past few days and seen a lot of improvement. Another thing I found that DRAMATICALLY increases my word count is listening to classical music. Thanks for posting!

Kristen said...

I definitely need to try #1. With a newborn in the house, this will likely be key. I also agree fast does not equal junk. I write most of my books in around 3 weeks after work and on weekends. Editing time is a lot longer, of course! Though I hope #1 will help with this.
Great tips. Thanks for sharing them!

Kristen said...

I definitely need to try #1. With a newborn in the house, this will likely be key. I also agree fast does not equal junk. I write most of my books in around 3 weeks after work and on weekends. Editing time is a lot longer, of course! Though I hope #1 will help with this.
Great tips. Thanks for sharing them!

Anonymous said...

I am curious what do you think about Write or Die tool. For me it's the best (and only...) way to write distraction-free - which means FAST and A LOT.



Kristina Marshall said...

Thanks for sharing your writing strategy. I like the triangle model, although it's not always easy to be enthused every time you sit down to work on a story.
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Anonymous said...

What kind of writer the author is? She should probably do something else, typing meeting minutes probably?

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for this! I'm going to try this tomorrow as I have a dissertation due very soon and need to write 10,000 words by this Sunday to meet a deadline. Will let you know how this turns out come Sunday.

H said...

Thank you for your points, which are clever and helpful. I'm certain they will help me and many others to increase their daily word count.

However, I have to counter the thinking BEHIND your post, with Ghandi's famous words: "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

I hope your drive to succeed still leaves time for smelling the roses! Be kind to yourself.

Dara said...

I. Love. This. And from reading many of your other posts since being recommended to your blog, I love it all. Love your thought process, your explanations, sense of humor, all of it.

Jealous, envious, and following,
Dara the Writer

Shopnerkotha said...

That is good article.How can it possible.I think need lots practice and count words. Best of luck.

Neeraj Kulkarni said...

That was a great post. I especially liked the non-internet period which you talked about while you were working in the coffee shop. Although I am not a professional writer or a novelist I do have to do a lot of writing or rather typing to get the work done.

I really never keep track of how much words I have written in an hour or so, but maybe keeping a track is what matters to get the things rolling. There are so many things which are still pending and I would love to finish them.

I don't know how I stumbled upon your blog but I am happy I did.

Thanks.

Ruha said...

I have used mind maps since I was a undergraduate student to plan assignments and used this to write a play that I enthusiastically wrote to completion in three days. Now I have a writing goal of 75k over three months and I am confident that I can do it. I do a lot of research online, so I will have to disable the time wasting elements such as facebook and blogs although some of these are very useful for helping me reorganise myself.
Also thinking about how to keep enthusiastic as with academic writing it can get boring fast. I use blogs from the thesis whisperer and 3 month thesis to help me plan a day full of variety as with the summer coming and I have been given a house near the beach to write in, I will be looking out the windows longing to walk, swim and escape on adventures. Maybe night time will be my best writing time.

Mrs. B said...

Thank you for the advice, and thank you very much for offering it for free! I am working on my Master's thesis and have a lot of writing to do. Because I also have a regular full time job, there is very little I can do abut time, but the suggestion of knowledge is something I will try starting tomorrow. I of course, have a basic outline, but I think I could write faster if I started with short-hand notes, and went back to fill them in and polish afterward. Thanks again!

Ra said...

I can't thank you enough! I'm glad I hit upon this blog. I was in this really frustrated state, having completed 40,000 words and had to hit the 80,000 mark in about a month, so that I could go on a vacation.

What you've said is such a small yet vital thing. I didn't evaluate my time, because I get distracted often. The only change I implemented was to stop stumbling (StumbleUpon) and sticking to just one source of distraction (like a game)that I played like taking a break.

Otherwise, just the one factor 'Knowledge' alone worked miracles for me. I've increased from 2000 words/day to 5000 - 6000 words!

Thanks and thanks again!

Indebted,
Rama

Ra said...

And yes, I have a 11 month old kid too... a handful really!

Rama

E. Kaiser Writes said...

Thanks for sharing! These are conclusions I've been coming to myself the past few years, more intuitively than having any evidence. It's nice to see statistics like you lay out here!
My best writing time starts mid-afternoon, and I can roll for a few hours or late into the night if the scene grabs me. Arranging writing time right there is a bit of a trick... ;-)
Enthusiasm is so important! I'm a non-linear writer, to by the end for things there are snippets that need to be written to "sew" certain "patches" together, and they're not as fun. But since I already know what they need to say, where they start & end, I can get them finished in a relatively interesting way regardless.
The planning part I'm still trying to find a balance, since I'm an "out of the mist" writer, if I know what happens I loose enthusiasm. So getting the "goal points" in without strangling the story with too many details: that is the balance. :-)
Again, thanks for sharing!
Elizabeth

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Nicole Wiggins said...

Thank you for this! I have been floundering on the opening to my next novel (my editor expects it in 5 mos- I've been crawling)....

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! This is amazing! Just wanted you to know that you don't just help adults(although you may know that already). I am 13 and I find your book amazingly helpful! It also really spurs me on and makes me want to write! Thank you again.

DC said...

just the knowledge aspect helped me double my daily word count and maintain it thru wrimo. it helped me finish w/2k a day, which put me ahead anyways, as well as some 5k days. i don't think i would have finished w/o understanding the knowledge principle alone. looking forward to figuring out the other two as i'm starting my 2nd novel. Thanks!

Cecilia said...

Thank you for the triangle. A lovely lady named Sarah insisted I read your blog and pointed me in the right direction. I am so glad I read your post.

Chandler Ryd said...

Thank you! I recently discovered this post, and it has revolutionized how I write!

AbbyRose said...

I am going to try this! Writing is one of my passions, but I seem to never have enough time to write much at all. Thank you so much, I am excited to see if this helps me!

ammon17 said...

Here is a method that has always boosted my writing speed/quality.

Think about where you want a chapter to end up, and write that ending paragraph first thing, before getting down to the nitty-gritty details of actually writing. Then along the way, when all your synapses are firing like crazy and the ideas are really flowing, reach ahead PAST the current sentence/paragraph you are writing, and add in further checkpoints -- culmination spots in the scene that you're just 'dying' to get around to writing. These can be most anything -- whatever makes you, the writer, most enthused. It could be... where where you want the action to go, the conversation to lead, or the description to culminate... Anything!

I always have my best AH-HAH! moments right when I'm in the thick of writing a scene. And when you get that lightning realization of where and how the chapter's plot is developing, take advantage of it. Jump ahead and give yourself something to work towards.

Ben said...

Many of your points remind me of Halmos' "How to write mathematics". It's become a standard text for writing about maths (every graduate student knows it). Halmos talks about the importance of organising and knowing what you'll write before you write it. He also describes "spiral writing". I'm interested how useful non-maths writers find it. There are some parts which are obviously very maths-specific, but others I feel are very general. It's only 30 pages and available free here http://www.math.uga.edu/~azoff/courses/halmos.pdf‎

Melinda Brasher said...

Thanks for this. Really inspiring. I think my best day EVER was about 8000.

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Maina Khan said...

Great insights! I agree, writing "fast" doesn't necessarily mean you're spewing out junk. It usually means you're planning more effectively, working harder, and working longer hours than other writers.

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Maina Khan said...

Great insights! I agree, writing "fast" doesn't necessarily mean you're spewing out junk. It usually means you're planning more effectively, working harder, and working longer hours than other writers.

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Maina Khan said...

This may be an obvious one, or it may be one so obvious that no one even thinks about it -- but typing speed can be a huge boon
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Anonymous said...

Wow! I can't thank you enough. I was struggling with a Suspense/Horror Novella. I wasn't getting anywhere for days! This morning I sat down and wrote out two fast paced scenes with your note pad method. BAM! 1200 words in about 1.5 hours. The notepad exercise took a grand total of 10 minutes for two scenes! The best part of all is the scenes are exciting to me and they were a pleasure to write once I had the dialogue jotted down. Please keep me posted on all of your fast writing techniques.

You're awesome for sharing this!!!

Loe López said...

Thanks a lot! Really. I speak spanish and I read this article translated in another blog, so, really thanks for this. I'm going to change a lot my way to write.

Isi LPP said...

Wow! Sounds amazing! I think I'll try to practice with my own triangle. I've been writing some story since 2010 but I've only finished one of them. I always try, but I haven't enough time, so that could be a great idea. Maybe I'll finish some of my storys!

Thanks, thanks so much for the advice. Lots of kisses from Spain.

Kitty Wade said...

Hi Rachel! Thanks heaps for your post on this! I'm a mother of a little one too and also work full time with my husband on our own business. My dream is to become a writer and I have been taking steps to following that path by writing daily. I found your tips on how to write faster really helpful as when writing the windows of opportunity can vary at the moment. I gave your technique a try today and wrote 3000 words in an hour! Yay! Thanks again, all the best, Kitty x

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