Tuesday, August 2, 2011

12 days of glory

I've talked about my process for fast writing before, the combination of knowledge, time, and excitement that let me take my word count from 2-3k a day to over 10k per day. However, every time I get on the subject of writing fast, I always have to add the caveat that these numbers were achieved on the final two books of a five book series, usually toward the end of the book. For me, the end of a book always goes faster than the beginning or the middle. I find it much easier to write with the momentum of a grand finale pulling me forward. Also, I was writing well known characters in a well established world.

Because of these factors, it was hard for me to tell if my insane numbers were really coming from my system or from the books themselves. Had I really turned myself into some sort of super writer, or was I just caught up in the end of a story I'd wanted to tell for years? Was Eli doing this, or was I? So long as I was working on Eli books, there was no way to tell. The real test would only come when I sat down to write a new book in a new world. If I could keep pulling crazy numbers there, with no Eli or Josef or Nico to prop me up, then I'd know for sure that my increased productivity came from me. Last month, with the final Eli book turned in, I took the plunge. This is how it turned out, taken straight from the writing worksheet I keep on my title page:

Plotting started: July 17, 2011
Plotting finished: July 20, 2011
Novel started: July 21, 2011
Novel ended: August 1, 2011

You're reading that right. I plotted the whole book, start to finish (as well as outlines for two sequels), in three days. And then I wrote the book in 12. Actually, that's not even right. Check out my progress table:

Time Written
Word Count
Words Per Hour
9:00 - 12:30 (3.5)
1:30 - 6:00 (4.5)
7:30 - 10:00 (2.5)
3877 (11882)
Home (night)
1:30 - 6:30 (5)
7/24 - 7/25 (perspective switch)
8:20 - 10:20 (2)
1:20 - 6:00 (4.5)
9:00 - 10:00 (1)
1076 (5195)
Home (night)
8:00 - 11:00 (3)
1:00 - 6:00 (5)
7215 (9742)
1:00 - 6:00 (5)
8:30 - 11:30 (3)
12:30 - 6:00 (5.5)
7701 (11537)
5:00 - 8:30 (3.5)
4:30 - 8:30 (4)
8:00 - 11:30 (2.5)
1:00 - 6:20 (5.3)
7203 (11272)

One of the things I talk about in the fast writing post is the importance of keeping records. There are many different ways of recording your writing, but this is how I keep track of mine. As you can see, I actually wrote the book in 9 days, because I took the 23rd off and spent the 24th - 25th going back and switching the first five chapters from third person to first, which I count as editing, not writing. But even if we go ahead and count those two days, it still means I wrote a novel, a brand new novel with a world and characters I'd never sat down to really flesh out before the 17th, in 11 days. 

Sorry Eli, looks like you can't claim credit this time.

But how did I do it? Beyond what I talked about in my fast writing post? 

Well, first, I wrote a lot. As you can see from the table above, I spent between 6 and 9 hours a day at the keyboard writing pulling between 800 and 1600 words an hour. This sort of writing is not without its cost, I think my baby and husband have forgotten my face and let's not even talk about the state of my house or the pile of mail that's threatening to crush my dining table. This is not the sort of crazy writing project you can embark on unless you're a pro writer between books with a very forgiving family. If I'd taken things a little easier I would have had a life and still finished the novel in 20 days, which is perfectly acceptable, but this time around I was trying to see just how fast I could go. For science!

Second, I always knew exactly where I was going. This was how I kept up the high words per hour rate. Much of the dithering in writing comes from uncertainty. What do I want from this scene? What happens next? Remove the uncertainty and most other problems sort themselves out.

Third, I was really, really, REALLY excited to write this book. It's my first love story, and I've been gushy over my main couple for nearly 8 years. I always swore I would write their story someday, and finally getting the chance to do it was like pulling up a chair to the delicious cake buffet.

So there it is, time, knowledge, and excitement coming together to make a crazy writing alchemy of fantastic word counts. These last two weeks have been the most intensely fun experience of my writing career (at least so far as the actual writing part is concerned). I loved working like this. I literally bounced out of bed with joy in the mornings because I knew I'd get to write that day. When I was writing it was like I was taken away with the story, and when I'd finally drag myself from the keyboard, I felt like I could conquer the world. Going so fast was more like reading than writing, only I was in charge of everything that was going on. It was the ultimate power trip, and I'm frankly sort of worried I liked it too much. Not that worried, though.

My work on this book is nowhere near done. I have at least 3 edits ahead of me before the novel is even ready to go to my agent, much less make its way to editors. It might never sell at all, I might start all over, but wherever my novel's story ends, one thing is certain: I can reliably write 6-8k a day on any book in any world. And that, my friends, is awesome.


Daniel R. Marvello said...

[Bowing and exclaiming "I'm not worthy!"]

Congratulations on such a stellar writing sprint. I know that "conquer the world" feeling after a good session; I think that's what keeps me excited about writing.

Thank you for sharing your methods and your progress!

Shawna said...

WOW. That's absolutely amazing! I've just started keeping a spreadsheet of my own writing, so seeing this post is totally exciting!

I doubt I'll manage a 12 day rough draft, but suddenly it isn't feeling like such a terribly distant thing, either. :D

Elfy said...

That is stunning! Fiona McIntosh claims she can write a book from go to whoa in 16 weeks, but what you've just done is incredible. Congratulations!

Rachel Aaron said...

Haha, thank you! I was pretty shocked myself. Of course, the first draft was only 75k long, but still, it's a book!

I don't think I could pull off something quite this insane ever again, though. This was the perfect storm for me, plenty of time, tons of excitement, and a solid plot outline. I just zoomed off.

I hope something in all this helps ya'll with your own writing!

haricot vert said...

Thanks for the post!

I've a couple question about your plotting. Your chart shows how many hours you spent writing, but how many did you spend plotting? Also, which plotting method do you use?

Anonymous said...

Yes! Please do share your plotting method. I can completely agree with you that most of the time spent writing is on not knowing where you're going. It took me 9 or 10 months to write my first MS and then essentially re-wrote most of it in the editing process due to my lack of plotting. I still have trouble plotting. When I do plot, I always end up scrapping what I plot in process for something better. Meh.

Anonymous said...

That's AMAZING!! Thanks for sharing!
I can't wait to read the last two books!

hunter_lvl7@live.com said...

First off: compared to the multiple books I've read on writing, your handful of simple blogposts have impacted me a thousand times more than those books ever had. For lack of better words: thank you.

But I have a quick question, if you don't mind.

Assuming you sometimes get those flashes of inspiration -a vague hint of a character's face and story, or a mysterious landscape that you know you've never seen in real life, etc- how do you develop those glimpses into something more?

Do you quickly write down only the brief imprint you received, and leave it alone? Or do you write it down and start trying to develop something right then?

Or am I completely out of the ballpark, and this sort of thing never happens to you, and you don't know what I'm talking about and are thinking about calling the police?! (LOL!)

I just feel like I have tons of tiny pieces of fun ideas, whether it's a short scene or a certain character or a line of dialogue, but I have trouble figuring out what pieces I should combine into one story, and how to really build it UP into something complicated and complete, you know?

Any insight would be amazing beyond my wildest dreams. *-*

Alex F. Fayle said...

With my current first draft of a novel, I'm aiming to do it in 6 weeks which is something I've never done before. I have a job apart from writing and I insist on taking weekends off to spend with my husband (we'd never see each other if I didn't). Even with that schedule I'll produce 3 books in a year, which is amazing speed.

I used to be a Professional Organizer and being productive really is all about metrics. I love counting and measuring!

Shawndra Russell said...

Wow, impressive! I am also in the fast writing camp; I try to churn out 3000-5000k in a half day. I'm so glad to read about your process; it's so validating! My husband also writes but in the painful, perfectionist way, eeking out only 300-500 words per day. He says that's the only way he can write, but that would be so miserable to me! I love the "fast writing" process and glad to find a successful author that believes in this method. Thanks also for the charts and details!

Rob Cornell said...

What I'm most interested in is how you plotted/outlined the whole series in 3 days. That alone would boost my productivity big time.

Scott Pinzon said...

This post inspires me. I write on top of a day job, so I only manage 600 - 1,000 words per day. I will start measuring hours in the chair and words per hour; awesome tip!

For commenters asking about plotting tips, I've found that mastering Blake Snyder's 15-point Beat Sheet saves me weeks of mulling. Though he invented his system for screenwriters, not novelists, I swear by it For more, search on his name plus "Save the Cat."

Luisa Perkins said...

You are so freaking awesome, I can't even tell you. I wrote a novel in record time using your triangle, and it was a pretty dang good first draft, too. Once I finish edits on it and turn it in to my editor, I'll start a new one and hopefully it will go even faster and be even better. Thanks for sharing your fabulousness with the rest of us. You're going in my acknowledgments.

John Brown said...


What else is there to say?

Alan said...

Between this post and your 10,000 words a day post, you managed to trick my brain into thinking it could actually force me to write a novel–and then it did! Within a day after finding and reading your blog posts I suddenly imagined an all-new world, wrote out an outline for a seven book series (which it turns out is part of an even larger 21 book universe), then started writing an actual first draft for the first novel I'd ever write. And in just two weeks I finished it. It's done! It's short at around 60,000 words, but it's young adult and that length seems to be about right (and it was exactly what I was targeting).

I've already started using your tips on editing to work on cleaning up my story so that I can invite readers in, and my wife is anxious for me to finish that; I foolishly let her read my first few chapters as I finished them and now she's demanding the rest!

I've had experience writing quickly, which helped, but I have no doubt that it was your posts that made me realize that an actual novel was within my reach, and for that I am eternally grateful. I've said thanks on Twitter as well, but I wanted to post this here where it's a little more permanent and I could use a few more than 140 characters to say my thanks. So, thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I agree with John Brown. :)

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