It’s already mid-August? Where in the heck did the last eight months go? Feels like the election drama from last year never really died down.
Don’t worry, this post isn’t about politics. Not enough time in the day to follow the latest circus sideshow in the Emerald City of Oz. Time has been on my mind, though: specifically, how to write 10k words a week (minimum) while catching up on the massive list of publishing tasks. I think I’ve found the answer.
I already get up every day around 7am to get ready for my part-time day job. Recently, I started getting up at 6am to put in an hour of writing first thing in the morning. The goal isn’t to pound out words so much as to get the mental gears turning, so that later in the day (such as lunch break) I can pick up very rapidly where I left off.
So far, it seems to be working. Plus, it’s a whole lot easier to sit down and write at the end of the day when you know you’ve already got more than a thousand words under your belt and can hit that daily word count goal with just another few hundred. My writing productivity is improving significantly, and as I continue to work out the kinks, I believe it will continue to improve.
On the writing front, I’ve put A Queen in Hiding on the back burner for the moment, and have instead moved on to Gunslinger to the Galaxy. This one is from Jane’s point of view, and so far, it’s a blast. Should be finished with that WIP by the end of September.
On the publishing side, there’s all sorts of stuff going on. I’ve got a cover artist for The Sword Keeper, and the preliminary sketches look really amazing! Also going through the edits and getting the metadata worked out. I’ll probably write the author’s note over the weekend. By the end of next week, it should be up for preorder with a release date of September 23.
My goal is to get to the point where I’ve always got a novel on preorder. Another goal is to have print books and audiobooks for every title more than 15k words, but that’s going to take some time.
This would all be so much simpler if I didn’t spend 30 hours a week at a day job. Time, money, or youth: you can only pick two of the three, and if you’re under 40 one of them has to be youth.
That’s what I’m up to these days. Expect to see some exciting stuff in the weeks ahead!
Hoo-boy, do a bunch of writers have their panties in a twist over this article. Who would have thought that the suggestion to “write every day” could be so triggering? Not just for aspiring writers, either, but for Hugo-award winning authors as well.
I’m being a jerk, of course. So is Stephen Hunter. But he isn’t wrong.
Writing is hard. Habits are automatic. Turn writing into a habit, and you’re much more likely to succeed. That’s it. That’s the whole message.
In particular, I really liked this part:
The most important thing is habit, not will.
If you feel you need will to get to the keyboard, you are in the wrong business. All that energy will leave nothing to work with. You have to make it like brushing your teeth, mundane, regular, boring even. It’s not a thing of effort, of want, of steely, heroic determination… You do it because it’s time.
Now, do I follow this advice? Do I write every day? No, but I probably should. It would certainly make life interruptions easier to deal with. I would probably finish a lot more books, too. Right now, I write almost every day, but there’s a very big difference between finding success and almost finding success.
As far as professional goals go, making writing into a daily habit is a pretty damn good one. Unless, of course, you’re just a professional victim and/or Twitter queen with a writing hobby. Which seems to be the case for a great many butthurt people.
And what if health, or circumstances, or whatever else prevent you from writing every day? What if just the title of the article throws you into fits of self-guilt? Remember that it’s free advice. It’s just an opinion. Take a deep breath and like it or leave it as you will.
Personally, I like it. It feels right. If writing were so habitual that I didn’t have to expend any willpower to do it, I could get so much other stuff done. Why would I want to do otherwise?
Last week, George R.R. Martin surprised no one and disappointed everyone when he announced that The Winds of Winter would not come out before the next season of the Game of Thrones TV series that covers the events in that book. He apologized profusely to his fans, most of whom seemed to take it graciously, at least to his face. However, it spawned some heated discussions in the online communities that I frequent (most notably The Passive Voice) about the implicit contract between writers and reades.
This discussion is not new, even with regard to Mr. Martin. Way back in 2009, Neil Gaiman addressed this issue in a blog post where he stated quite memorably that “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch”:
People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.
You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.
No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.
So that’s one end of the spectrum: that writing is an art, that it can’t be forced, that trying to force it is wrong, and that writers have no obligation to their readers to force anything. Readers should not stalk their favorite writers or tell them what they should or should not be doing to produce the next book. As Mr. Martin said in his latest post:
Unfortunately, the writing did not go as fast or as well as I would have liked. You can blame my travels or my blog posts or the distractions of other projects and the Cocteau and whatever, but maybe all that had an impact… you can blame my age, and maybe that had an impact too…but if truth be told, sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn’t, and that was true for me even when I was in my 20s.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Larry Correia. Two days after Mr. Martin announced that The Winds of Winter would not be finished in time for the TV series, Mr. Correia announced his own plans for the year: which of his books are coming out, which books he plans to write, which project he’s going to collaborate on, and which conventions and events he will (or more notably, will not) be attending.
I don’t know whether he meant this as a dig at Mr. Martin specifically, but he included the following statement:
To all those sensitive artist types who whine about how they can’t rush art, and can’t get any writing done, oh, BS. Quit your crying, put your big girl panties on, and treat it like your job. Because it is a REAL JOB. And like all real jobs, if you don’t work then you shouldn’t GET PAID. So shut up, quit screwing around, and get back to work.
The part that really stood out to me, though, was his announcement that he would not be at DragonCon or GenCon this year:
I’m skipping DragonCon and GenCon this year, which pains me because I love those, but again, I’m trying to up the novel production, and all those cons in a row over the summer kick my butt.
I found it interesting because George R.R. Martin is well-known as a frequent convention attendee, to the point that by his own admission attending these conventions is his “way of life.” Larry Correia knows that his writing productivity takes a hit when he attends too many conventions, but George R.R. Martin either doesn’t know or has chosen to prioritize attending fannish events over his own writing.
This made me curious about Mr. Martin’s writing productivity, so I did a little digging and found the following figures, calculated by his fans:
Those numbers are rather stunning. He averaged only 200 words a day when writing A Dance with Dragons? Just for reference, this blog post is about seven hundred words so far, and I’m writing it while taking a break from my other writing (word count so far today: 1,100 words, and that’s a little low). Even if we allow for five drafts written at the same speed, five drafts still only comes to 1,000 words a day.
Now, I do think Mr. Gaiman makes a good point that it is neither healthy nor helpful to try and micromanage everything that a writer does. We can’t spend every waking hour working on the next book, and even if we did, it probably wouldn’t turn out as well, because refilling the creative well is an important part of the writing process. And I also have to admit that if you ran a similar calculation on my own books (especially the early ones), you would probably find some similarly embarrassing figures.
(Though to be fair to myself, I tend to have multiple irons in the fire at any given time, so a straight start date to publication date calculation doesn’t tell the whole story—and it probably doesn’t tell the whole story with George R.R. Martin as well. But still, even if those figures were twice as high, they would still be absurdly low for a working writer.)
When Mr. Gaiman and Mr. Martin say that the writing “comes when it comes” and there’s nothing they can do about it, I think they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Writing is an art, but it is also a craft. It can’t be forced, but it can be structured. Mr. Correia has evaluated how productively he writes and structured his convention-going plans accordingly. Has Mr. Martin?
I also think they’re dead wrong about the writer having no obligation to the reader. That’s total bunk. Reading is an act of collaboration between the writer and the reader: without readers, stories would never exist. They would just be markings on a page, or electrons on a drive, or at best ideas and daydreams in the writer’s head. If a tree falls in the forest, does it really make a sound? If a book is never opened, does it ever tell a story?
Part of this may be the difference in perspective between indie writers and traditionally published writers. In the traditional system, writers were paid an advance on royalties by their publishers. The contract also allowed for royalties, but those figures were set so low that most books never earned out their advance. Publishers made up for it by raising the advances for the writers they wanted to keep.
In contrast, indie writers live and die by their royalty checks. Had a good month? Congratulations, you can afford to eat. Had a bad month? Tsk, tsk. Better hurry up with that WIP of yours, because the longer it takes to publish it, the longer it takes for you to get paid.
But even for the fantastically successful writers who never have to worry about how they’ll pay their bills, I still believe that they have as much of an obligation to their readers as the rest of us. Without readers, we would not be able to do what we do. Without readers, it would be impossible to pursue writing as a career. We all want to live the dream, and the only way to do that is by treating our readers well.
So George R.R. Martin may not be your bitch, but I most certainly am. Writing is not something that happens only sometimes: it’s my job, and I do it every day. And as for accountability, I absolutely feel that I’m accountable to my readers. They are the whole reason I am able to do this in the first place. If that makes me their bitch, then so be it.
Back in 2012, I set a resolution to write 10k words of fiction in a single day. I had read Rachel Aaron’s semi-famous blog post about it, and decided to give it a shot myself. The most I managed, however, was a handful of 5k writing days—impressive, but still far short.
In the years since, my writing pace has slowed down a lot more than I would like—not because of writing-related reasons, but because of things like procrastination, poor time management, and general disorganization. Well, it’s time for a change, and the new year seems like the best time to shake things up.
Rather than set a goal like “write every day” or “write X,XXX words per week,” I think this goal will do a lot more to put me in the right direction. It’s the difference between setting a goal to go to the moon vs. put something new in orbit every few months. When NASA set the moon as their primary goal, it not only provided them with the single-minded focus that they needed to get stuff done, but it led to a tremendous amount of scientific and engineering breakthroughs in the process. I’m hoping that something similar will happen with me.
So here’s the deal:
I can type at a maximum speed of about 100 WPM. Logistically, that means that the absolute minimum time needed to physically hit 10k words is 100 minutes, or 1:40 hours. That’s typing at top speed with no breaks, no mistakes, and no time to slow down and think.
I’ve measured my writing in the past, and found that my typical fiction writing speed is between 800 and 1,000 words per hour. To hit 10k words at that rate, I would have to work for an excruciating 10 to 12 hours a day—and that’s pure writing time. It doesn’t include things like breaks, water cooler chats, dinking around on social media, or any of the numerous other ways that regular employees waste time while on the clock.
Clearly, if I’m ever going to hit 10k words in a single day, I need to increase the speed at which I write. But how?
Well, I know from my writing log experiment that the time of day doesn’t really affect my writing speed. That means I can start as early as I need to, and the earlier I can start the better. So that pretty much sets up the first step to achieving this 10k goal:
Step 1: Start off each day by writing as soon as possible.
From the writing log, it looks like I tend to write fastest in short sprints that are less than one hour. That makes sense: the longer the writing session, the easier it is to get distracted and fall into the procrastination trap.
I have a hunch that the best way to increase my writing speed is to write in short, focused bursts. I’ve never actually tried to limit my writing time before, but it seems that I could really achieve a lot more focus by doing so. It will take some experimentation to figure out the optimal session length, but judging from the data it will probably be less than one hour.
Step 2: Increase speed by writing in short, focused sessions.
Obviously 10 to 12 hours of pure writing time is unreasonable. Even without a day job or other time obligations, burn-out would be a major issue. A much more reasonable amount of time to plan for would be 4-6 hours of pure writing time per day.
At 6 hours, to reach 10k words I would have to write at about 1.6k words per hour, which is reasonable. At 4 hours, I would have to write 2.5k words per hour, which is a lot tougher but still well below the 6k WPH physical limit, especially if I’m writing in short, focused bursts. From this, it’s not difficult to derive the next couple of steps.
Step 3: Increase average writing speed to 2,000 words per hour.
Step 4: Structure each day to achieve 6+ writing sessions.
The real trick to achieving this, as Rachel Aaron and numerous others have pointed out, is to take care of all the non-writing things that make the writing possible. This involves having an outline of some sort, or at least some idea of what is going to go on the page.
I’m a pantser, so I don’t write detailed outlines. However, I’ve found that it can help a lot to sketch out the next few scenes before I write them, and to browse tvtropes like a menu. In addition, long walks really help me to flesh out the story in my head. Without these pre-writing activities, the blank page can be really oppressive.
In more specific terms, I think it’s reasonable to allot 1-2 hours each day to pre-writing activities. Anything more than that would encroach on my actual writing time. Fortunately, I can usually hit two birds with one stone: for example, using my time on tvtropes to find material for blog posts, or outline the next few scenes in my head while hiking or exercising. But it’s important to make time for these things.
Step 5: Spend time each day in pre-writing activities for the next day.
These five steps seem like a good place to start. I’ll post them on my wall and revisit them in a month or so to see how they’re working out.
Ten thousand words in a single day is going to be tough, but if I can hit it at least once this year, I think it will remove a major block in my head and allow the words to really flow. It’s not just about writing faster, it’s about proving to myself that this is something I can do, and to use that as motivation to accomplish much more.
So I’ve been following Dean Wesley Smith’s blog pretty closely over the last few days, as he posts about his creative process for a novel he’s ghost writing. It’s more than a little mind-boggling–he started literally with nothing, not even a working title, and yet he’s averaging between 5k-7k per day. If he hasn’t already, he’ll probably finish it tonight.
I’m learning a lot from these posts, especially about the importance of switching off your internal critic and trusting your creative instincts. Over the last couple of days, I’ve tried to do just that with the sword & planet novel I mentioned last week, and I can say that it really works! By doing all I can to put words on the page and ignoring everything else, I’m averaging about a thousand words per day and the story is unfolding wonderfully. It’s like a trust fall with my muse, where instead of failing miserably I’ve found she’s there to catch me.
All of this has made me think that I need to reorder my writing routine and make some resolutions in order to keep this momentum going. If I can overcome some of my bad habits and replace them with good ones, I can be a lot more productive, and writing will be that much more fun.
So here’s what I’m going to do this week:
Start every day with writing. Even if it’s only fifteen or twenty minutes, as soon as I get out of bed I’m going to sit down at the writing computer and pound out a few hundred words.
Write in lots of little chunks, rather than one or two large chunks. In other words, don’t put off writing until the chores are done–put off the chores!
Shoot for 1000 words per hour or better. If the pace starts to flag, switch projects if necessary, even if the other project is fanfic.
Go for at least one walk at some point in the day. Walks do more to re-energize my creative energy than just about anything else.
Basically, I’m going to treat my work-in-progress as something fun, rather than work or a chore. I’ll use a stopwatch to keep track of how many hours I write each day, but I won’t give myself a quota.
My writing process isn’t the same as Dean’s, and I’m not going to try to imitate his process, but I am going to pick out what I like about it and see what works. Also, I’m going to focus a lot more on quantity than quality, with the understanding that treating everything as practice will likely improve both.
As for the A to Z blogging challenge, I’ve got two posts left, Y and Z. I haven’t written them yet, but I’ve got a great idea for both of them. Since writing takes precedence, though, I may not get to them until later in the day. It also depends on whether the temp agency calls me up in the morning with a job–they’ve been doing that a lot recently. Last week I was at a factory making toothbrushes for dogs (true story). This week, I could be doing anything–or nothing, as the case may be. I’d like a couple of days of nothing, just for a good chance to write.