So 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)