Brick by Brick

PhotobucketSo when I asked Teri if she had any suggestions as to what I should write about this month, she jokingly suggested that I tackle how I write so quickly. I’m pretty sure this was because I’d just tweeted (are you not on Twitter yet? For shame! Go join today!), that I’m nearing the completion of the first draft of my fourth book, but I thought it was good fodder for discussion all the same.

Because, you see, I don’t actually write all that quickly. I think it just seems that way from the outside view. What I do instead is sort of what a bricklayer does when building a house: I lay down each level, brick by brick, until I can step back and say, “Wow, I actually constructed something pretty sizable here.” So let’s break down how I do that.

I started writing this book, as of now titled The Memory Of Us, in November. I sold The One That I Want, my book that’s out in June (eek!), on a pitch alone, and I didn’t feel comfortable doing that again. I struggled too much with that manuscript to box myself into writing off of a singular paid-for-concept, so I wrote the first four chapters (let’s say, about 12k words) pretty quickly. I don’t know, within a week or so. But that’s when I was on the high of stumbling across a great idea, and I was 100% jazzed with putting it down on paper and seeing where it could go. You guys know that high – the, I-have-to-get-to-my-computer-and-purge-myself-of-these-awesome-ideas high. Well, we sold the book and then reality struck me smack in the face.

Namely, that the writing was always going to be as easy as those first four chapters, and that, yes, this was actually going to be work, sometimes, not so much fun work, arduous, do-anything-to-procrastinate work. (I’m a big fan of hyphens today, evidently.) So this is what I did, and this is how, even when I was crawling through the muck of the manuscript, I’ve nearly come out on the other side: I told myself that, come hell or highwater, I had to write 1k words a day. One thousand. Really, that might sound like a lot, but it’s not. I spend a lot of time in my head, crafting what’s going to happen to my characters and what they’re going to say and how they’re going to react to whatever calamity I throw at them, so once all of that brainstorming is done, sitting down and banging out 1k words shouldn’t be too tough. In theory. Many days, it was excruciating. Like, I’d hit 999, and immediately log off. But the funny thing about this method is that 1k words + a few months means that you almost have a completed first draft. That’s, what, somewhere in the ballpark of 20-25k words a month (I don’t write on the weekends), and given that I have a May deadline, it was the only way I knew how to keep going while maintaining a steady and accurate route.

1k words. In all honesty, I spend so much time mulling over my story and characters that once I sit down, 1k words only takes me about an hour. But I don’t see this as writing quickly, I see this as writing strategically. Sure, not everyone can commit to 1k words a day. So start smaller. Start with 500. For me (and I suspect for many writers), writing is a little bit like working out: the more you do it, the easier it is to incorporate it into your routine, but once you’ve fallen off the wagon, it’s pretty damn hard to get back into. So I didn’t allow for that. Instead, I went at it almost clinically. But it worked. I’m at about 75k words four months later. I laid each brick down individually, and now, I can step back and see the enormity of what I built. Not bad for a few months work.

So do you guys have a writing plan in place? How quickly do you complete your manuscripts?

Allison Winn Scotch
New York Times bestselling author
Time of My Life (Random House)


About Allison Winn Scotch

Allison Winn Scotch is the author of four novels: The One That I Want, Time of My Life, and The Department of Lost and Found, and The Song Remains the Same. She lives in Los Angeles with her family, where she is at work on her new projects.


  1. says

    I’m still at the 500 daily quota level, but 1k is my goal. 2k would be especially nice, but I’m just not there yet. And you’re right: at least for me, it’s like working out. 500 used to be a struggle. Now it’s almost easy, because I’ve built up that “muscle” — and 1k is the new struggle.
    .-= Kristan´s last blog ..Get ya head in the game =-.

  2. says

    0.0 Yikes. This makes me feel like a freak of nature. I wrote the first draft of my 70,000-word novel in just two weeks.

    But over a year later and I’m still revising, so it’s not a method I would recommend! 1,000 words a day sounds much more reasonable.

  3. Meg Mitchell Moore says

    Great post, Allison! That’s EXACTLY what I commit myself to: 1,000 words a day on my work days (Monday through Thursday in my case). My time is pretty tight due to my children’s schedules, but I have it down to a science. Drop the kids as early as the school will take them (8:50), back at home by 9:03, fiddle around for a little while, then get out those 1,000 words before I have to leave again at 11:40. I find the time constraints actually help me keep to the 1,000 words. I’m on the second book now (first is due out next year) and knowing I have an editor waiting for the second manuscript also keeps me going. Which reminds me: I should be writing…

  4. says

    I commit to writing 500 words a day, on something…anything, and I did punch out a first draft in 30 days. Once. Under NaNoWriMo mania. But this second novel has taken me longer, maybe because I’m a little more serious about it, and the rewrites are what’s killing me.

    I think you’re right, though. Writing is like working out. It’s easy to put it off for a few days, then much harder to get back on the treadmill.

  5. says

    Goodness! I belong to a writing community where we write flash fiction (1k words or less) and post the stories to our blogs with links to them.

    Sometimes I struggle to write 700 words in one week, other times I need to edit story down to 1k.

    But I think it’s as you say. Writing EVERY day is the key. Also, since I spend most of the time wondering/thinking about an idea, it might be better for me to exercise the brain, as well as the writing arm, heh!

    Well, will try it your way. Thank you!
    .-= Marisa Birns´s last blog ..Avocation =-.

  6. says

    yep, a thousand words a day is my quota too. usually they come easily. sometimes, they do not. i’ll be checking word count every ten seconds and it seems like i’m actually going backwards! yesterday was a super easy writing day and i thought i must have done over a thousand but when i checked it was only 699! i let it go because it had been such a successful session.

    sometimes when i am short one day i’ll try to make up the difference the next day. i like the feeling of maintaining quota even if it’s staggered. so today i am aiming for 1301 words!
    .-= denice´s last blog i am grateful for… =-.

  7. says

    I shoot for 2k a day when writing first drafts. I used time writing to reach that goal, otherwise I’d just sit and read blogs and stuff. My manuscript may wind up a little bloated due to the urgency of timed writing, but I’d rather have too much to work with rather than too little.
    .-= Jonathan´s last blog ..It’s Only Fear =-.

  8. says

    I’m usually able to get 500 – 1000 words on my lunch break at work. (Because of a recent layoff, I’ve been more productive).

    If I don’t hit 1000 words at lunch, I’m usually able to find time in the evening to get there, or write a bit more on weekends to make it up.

    But just 250 words a day, 6 days a week gets you a novel (or close to a novel, depending on length) in a year’s time.

    I’ve found that I need to produce a higher word count to keep my head in a story, but I know people who the 250 word a day thing has worked for.

    When I was laid off from my last job, the first month or so (time I thought I’d be hitting 1500 words a day), I didn’t produce much. I wrote at different times during the day — not on a schedule.

    Once I scheduled writing time each day (just before and after lunch), I was back up to a word count that pleased me.

  9. says

    I also set a goal of 1k per day. I work the night shift so I was able to find a good chunk of time in the morning to write. This began when I was under the pressure of NaNoWrimo (so I actually set a goal of 1,100-1,200 per day). NaNoWriMo gave me the motivation to actually start my first book. It gave me confidence that I could actually tackle something this huge. It’s very rewarding.
    Great advice, Allison!
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Not Quite Easter-y =-.

  10. says

    The 1000-words-a-day strategy got me to completion on my first novel — before that I was always starting and stopping, and starting again, and stalling. At this point I don’t write every day, but go in surges instead, since I work a full-time job and it’s easier for me to do a 10K surge on a weekend than it is to hammer away on smaller sections throughout the week. But I do really want to get a solid first draft on this novel before the publicity and other author-y stuff on The Kitchen Daughter kicks in, so that may change. And I do *think* about the book every day, so even when I’m not putting words on the screen, I’m plotting, researching, naming my characters, and doing other things that keep the book on my mind.
    .-= Jael´s last blog ..wordless wednesday xxxiv =-.

  11. says

    I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice and each time that initial, insane, crazy fast 50,000 words in a month lays the foundation for a manuscript that then takes me another 2 months to turn (at 1000 words a day) into a first draft of 100,000 words. Which is nice to have and all, but . . . I write ‘fast’ because half the time I don’t even know what the book is about until I’ve finished the first draft. And then the real work begins.
    .-= Sarah Woodbury´s last blog ..The Fictional King Arthur (rant) =-.

  12. says

    I tend to be a bit of a burst writer–plugging away for months, then writing a LOT in the last half of the book. Most of the time, I still show up every day and do something with the book, getting to know it, writing a page or two or six, then ambling back to research or character development or whatever. Then it will hit a tipping point and I write 3-5000 words a day for a few weeks. (Crash) Then rewrite.

    Carolyn See preaches 1000 words a day, every day, for the rest of your life. It’s a beautiful, productive pace (and yes, it doesn’t take that long when you actually sit down to do it).
    .-= Barbara Samuel O’Neal´s last blog ..Award news for THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS =-.

  13. says

    I try to do the same, getting out 1000 words a day every working day (I take weekends off, but it’s according to family schedule, so it’s often in the middle of the week), and boy, some day’s it’s just the most horrendous challenge. It shouldn’t be, considering the sum, but man! Other days, of course, I can bang out several pages and not realize it, so it all balances out.

    It’s very reassuring to know this can steer you well professionally, Allison (depending I suppose on the target book size in the end.. a 200k fantasy epic work as well). How much time does that leave you for revisions and possibly overhauling previous chunks of progress?
    .-= Hayley E. Lavik´s last blog ..In need of professional help =-.

  14. says

    I love how generous you are in sharing your process, Allison, and I think the key to your successful system is the time you spend thinking before you write. I know you said running is a great vehicle for encouraging creativity -for me it’s walking (the lazy woman’s version of Allison’s process). I’m going to do more of that with the next book!

  15. says

    Thanks for sharing your methods. I spend about two months researching and jotting notes down, thinking about direction.
    Then I spend another two months pumping out the first draft. After a 2-3 week break, I’ll spend another two months revising and editing.
    Generally, it takes me from origin of idea to ready-for-editors-eyes about 7 months. When in full writing mode I aim for 1500 words per day, allowing myself an out after 1200 depending on external needs (laundry, dinner, not enough sleep).
    Great post. Thanks a bunch.
    .-= Daryl Sedore´s last blog ..Be Successful and Don’t Deny It =-.

  16. says

    I found NaNoWriMo to be helpful in getting started on a new project and building a lot of momentum. But now that I’m rewriting that scramble as a proper first draft, I’m focusing on one chapter per week instead of word count. That helps me stay focused on my goal, which is to write a good chapter, not just banging out ideas, which I have mostly done already. Sometimes it’s six pages, sometimes it’s fifteen–however long that chapter needs to be.

    I use a weekly writing group meeting as a useful deadline. I try to bring a selection from a new chapter each time.

    It seems that every writer has a different method that works best for her or him, but the successful ones find one that works and stick to it.
    .-= Genie of the Shell´s last blog ..Chapter 5 =-.

  17. Allison Winn Scotch says

    Wow, thanks everyone for sharing your own processes (processi?) It’s good to know that I might be on to something here.

    One thing that I’ve also found that works – for those of you who feel like you only have small windows to write in – is to sit down IMMEDIATELY whenever the idea strikes me. One thing that I’m guilty of is ruminating almost too much – I have a lightbulb moment – and then I continue on with my day rather than writing it right then. Which makes it harder when i finally do sit down to write: if I’d done it in the moment, when I was really inspired, the words would have taken care of themselves. This happened last night after I put my kids to bed: I was mulling something over and normally, I would have left it for the morning, but I really thought I could give it my all RIGHT THEN, so I asked my husband to get dinner ready, and sat down for 25 minutes and literally wrote another thousand words.

    Hayley – as far as revisions, I’ll have about a month to fix some things on my own before my May deadline, but then we have a few months of back and forth with my editor before the final version needs to be done. I believe the final draft will be submitted sometime around Sept-ish.

  18. says

    Allison, while I very much admire and would like to have a brain that worked like yours, my process is more similar to what you wrote just above. I put in the *time* to write every day, but if I don’t do it while it’s fresh, it’s like beating back the jungle with a butter knife. It never works as well as those moments of near-Visitation.

    Of course, at the moment I don’t have any deadlines except those that are self-imposed…
    .-= Jan O’Hara´s last blog ..You Want Me to Wax What? =-.

  19. says

    My will power is in constant flux. Sometimes, I don’t even have the stamina to make it to 500 words. Other days I can write for hours and hours (which doesn’t always translate into a large word count because I edit a lot while I write).

    Ruminating is a huge problem for me too. A light bulb will suddenly pop up and I’ll miss the opportunity because, while trying to flesh out the concept in my head, I’ll forget the original idea. Truly frustrating.
    .-= Dominique´s last blog ..Character: Walk in Their Shoes =-.

  20. says

    Hi Allison,

    I’m a fairly slow writer, so I get discouraged when I hear other people say, “Oh, I finished my novel in 3 months.”

    Still, when I look back over my rough work, I’m usually fairly happy with what I see. Sure, there’s a lot of rearranging to do, stuff to add, language to tighten, but I don’t feel like I’m looking at a complete mess needing a rewrite.

    I figure a first draft in 6 months is more than respectable. For an 85,000 word draft, I need to write less than 700 words per day, 5 days per week, over 26 weeks. Less than 500 per day, if I write every day.

    And I’m definitely with Sarah P. on the walking thing ;)
    .-= Suzannah´s last blog ..6 Writers Who Broke the Rules and Got Away with It =-.

  21. Jamie says

    I agree with Suzannah…it can be very discouraging when you hear stories of those writers who turn out an MS or two or more a year. It’s hard to remember that each person is different and that the way I do it works for me! Great post as always, Allison!