Write Faster (and Better, Too)

Equestrian and Horse JumpingHave you read Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love yet?  You really should– it’s great.

Shortest.  WU post.  Ever!

Just kidding.  But not about my recommendation of Rachel Aaron’s book, it really is well worth checking out.  Now just to be clear, I don’t know Rachel at all, never met her, never even e-mailed with her.  I hadn’t heard of her or her book until another author whose blog I follow mentioned that she was giving the strategies recommended in the book a try.  This was six months ago, just after we’d had our third baby, and frankly anything that promised to help me write more efficiently in the obviously limited time I had sounded well worth looking into. So I downloaded the book and dove in.

It’s been awesome.  Seriously.  In the six months since my sweet baby boy was born, I’ve written two full-length books and am just this month finishing up a third.  I wouldn’t say that’s entirely due to having read 2k to 10K, since there are so many other factors that go into a creative streak.  (If anyone has others to share, let me know; I would LOVE to be that productive all the time).  But (I know I’m sounding kind of like an infomercial here, but it’s really true) the strategies Rachel recommends have helped hugely for sure.

I admit that I was skeptical at first of the title.  10K in a day?  I’m not sure I could ever write a book that fast.  I’m not sure if I did write a book that fast it would be worth asking anyone, even my mother, to read it.  Every writer is different, and I’m sure there are those who can write faster and still write well.  But I’ve found I have to live with my characters and my story for a certain amount of time before I really understand them and can do them justice.  If you feel the same, I completely understand that.  Good stories take time.  But the book isn’t about trying to boost your output willy-nilly up to 10k, forget about quality,  it’s really not.  I’m not currently writing 10K a day or anything like, but the strategies have helped me consistently write 2K in the same amount of time I used to take to write more like 1,000 words.  That’s still a speed I’m comfortable with, but it is also helping me finish the books twice as fast.  More importantly, the techniques don’t just bolster your word count.  I mean, we could all just add a minimum of 2 adjectives to modify every noun we write and call it good.  (He sat on the chair.   He sat on the big, red chair.  Look!  More words!)  More words isn’t the point; for me, the strategies really do make the writing better.

Okay, so what does the book actually say?  Rachel’s strategies are really simple– so simple I was kind of smacking myself in the head and wondering why, 10 books into my career as an author, I’d never thought of that.  But that makes them all the easier to implement.  Here are my two favorites:

  • Plan out your scenes first.  Now in the great plotter/pantser debate, I’m a plotter all the way.  But even if you’re a pantser and don’t outline your books, when you sit down to write an individual scene it can be incredibly helpful to figure out exactly what’s going to happen in the scene before you write it.  I like to take 5 minutes (or less) to just jot down a quick note-form sketch of how the scene is going to go.  That way when I actually write it, I can focus on the writing and getting the wording exactly right instead of getting bogged down with figuring out what’s supposed to be happening and how to move the action forwards.
  • If you’re not excited about a scene/chapter/section, figure out why.  We’ve all (I hope!) had the experience of feeling like we’re kind of slogging through writing part of our book, just hoping to get to the scenes we’re really excited about.  But instead of slogging, I’ve found it’s hugely beneficial to take a step back and ask myself why I’m not excited about a particular chapter or scene.  Sometimes I can’t identify exactly what’s wrong (hate that!).  But what I can almost always do is  ask what I could add that would make me completely, crazy excited to work on whatever scene I’m currently slogging through.  Simple, but it really works.  If you’re excited about the writing, it’s automatic–almost effortless– to write faster, and your scene/chapter/section will be better, as well.

Rachel also recommends keeping a chart of the hours that you work and the word counts you achieve in those hours so that you can figure out your most productive times of day.  I wound up not doing that, since I have a wee baby and homeschool my 2 older ones.  I’m sure my schedule and days are no more hectic than many of yours, but sometimes I feel kind of like the definition of time not your own.  I figured it would just depress me to know what my most productive hours are when the odds of my being able to actually work during them on a consistent basis are fairly low.  But I do think it’s a helpful idea that I’m stock-piling for the future.

Your mileage may vary, since there are as I firmly believe as many ways to write a good novel as there are good novelists.  But for me 2K to 10K gets an enthusiastic thumbs up.

What about you?  Do you set yourself daily wordcount goals?  Have you tried strategies to boost your productivity?

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About Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.

Comments

  1. says

    As a veteran NaNo’er I find it hard enough to write 1,667 words per day for 30 days straight. What I’ve learned after three years of doing that more than anything else, it takes tremendous drive and discipline–what Pressfield referred to in his brilliant book, The War of Art as not giving in to Resistance. I like the techniques you’ve shared. Writing every day is crucial, but every writer has to find the sweet spot, whether it’s 1,000 words, 500 or 300. I applaud your productivity. Keep up the great work! Thanks for sharing these insights.
    CG Blake´s last blog post ..Please.Stop.Doing.This.

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    • says

      CG, I have tried NaNo as well and found it HARD in the past to maintain the word count. A lot of it really is just practice, though. As you say, writing every day is key. Stretching your word-count muscles every day makes them stronger– at least for me.

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  2. says

    I don’t really monitor my work counts like I used to. I layout my goals by scene, whatever the length, and making it as effective as possible. But, like Chris, I really like the techniques you highlight here, Anna. Regarding pre-plotting a scene, I’ve been simply jotting down who the POV character is, what their goal is for the scene, what motivates them, what the conflicts are, and how it will end in a crisis. Yep, just the GMC + Crisis (or sequel to crisis). I have Cathy Yardley and her GMC scene chart to thank for this. If you want to go all the way with the strategy, you can do an entire chart for the novel beforehand. I jot them down from memory before each session and then check it against the chart.

    Scene chart or no, it’s fairly simple, and it’s been a huge help.

    Thanks for sharing, and congrats on your creative spurt. Wishing you many more!
    Vaughn Roycroft´s last blog post ..Written To Death – Writer Unboxed Redirect

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  3. says

    I recently joined the thousand word a day challenge (about a month ago) with the goal of writing more. I’ve also read Rachel’s book and loved it.

    It’s hard getting into the swing of things, initially. However, I think if you can get a solid start, it becomes an easier habit and you learn to be more efficient. I had a minor setback with my vacation coming shortly after I started my challenge, as well as a change in schedule due to my kids’ summer break. But I’m getting back into the swing of things.

    I think getting yourself into the routine helps a lot in developing momentum, so you can keep it going when life throws time challenges your way.
    RJ Crayton´s last blog post ..Sometime Waiting is the Hardest Part

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    • says

      Exactly, RJ. Life constantly throws challenges and interruptions our way– getting into a routine and building up momentum is a great help in continuing to write right on through them.

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  4. says

    Anna, here’s an outsider perspective. I don’t do any of this word counting per day thingy. I know it works for lots of writers but for me, the “push” to write x amount of words or scenes in a given time is like poison to my creative juices. Makes me feel like I’m in a race with a task master instead of writing for the pleasure and experience. My stories, plot, characters unfold, no outlines, but I do have an idea of the road ahead. Most things happen on the page, 1,2,3. Someone once called me an intuitive writer. Maybe, I guess so. Slogging? What’s that? I’m working on my third novel now and it’s rolling along at a pace that wakes me up at 3 am with scenes and dialogue. Sometimes I think my characters aren’t characters at all, but real people that I’m living with 24/7. Who could put a clock and word count on these people? Or make them adhere to a preplanned plot? I know I’m likely the lone voice here and most comments today will be praising these techniques for writing faster, better, producing high quantity, but for some of us, there’s the other path to “The End.”
    Paula Cappa´s last blog post ..Penny Dreadful Stories, Read ‘em Here!

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    • says

      Paula, as I said in the post, there are as many ways to write a good book as there are good writers. We all have our own creative sweet spot, for sure, and I would never suggest that you alter yours if you’ve found what works. For me, a daily word count goal is hugely helpful– crucial, even. I can’t count the number of times when working to meet my goal has pushed me to keep going past the ‘comfort zone’ and led me to make new and totally unexpected discoveries about my stories and characters.

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      • says

        I loved your article, Anna! I have found that I’m most productive with a deadline, with the proverbial gun to my head. I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I agree that there are times when books practically write themselves. As the mom of three (1 in college, 1 in high school, 1 in junior high), a full time high school English teacher, wife, and graduate student, I’m all about making the most of my time!

        I plot first, by sections (3-act play), then chapters, then scenes within chapters. By the time I sit down to write, I know what is going to happen in that book. That helps me a lot. A LOT!

        I just bought and downloaded the Kindle e-book suggested in the post and I’m really looking forward to diving in. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. says

    This is tricky. I usually just write until I get tired of it for the day. I know that may sound harsh, but I do. I need motivation. the other day, I wrote over 2k because I was doing a writing sprint with Jane Espenson on twitter. I was hpyed. I don’t know if it was because I was doing it with her, or because i felt like writing. I just signed up for Camp Nano Wrimo just now. I had tried it in the past and it did work for me AT all. But, a lot of my blogger friends are doing Nano right now, so I want to try and actually finish something that I start. I am going to get that book, when I get some money! Thanks for this great post, Krystol.
    Krystol Diggs´s last blog post ..Fear of writing, do you have it? IWSG Blog Hop

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  6. says

    I’ve been using Rachel’s book for a good while now, and I find the critical part is also putting 5 minutes or so into revving up my Enthusiasm for a scene after I’ve figured out what goes into the scene.

    She suggests asking yourself what it is in this scene that you’ve been waiting since you conceived of it in the book at all to write. What is special? What is inevitable? What is just drying to get written?

    Even after I’ve spent time digging into that What, I find it helps to concentrate for a few minutes on bringing it all to the forefront. In writing (I have an Enthusiasm file for every chapter). And it’s often a lot more than I had thought it would be – which makes me happy to begin. It is making a conscious choice to be excited. Isn’t that the main reason for writing?
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt´s last blog post ..Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 14, Scene 5

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  7. says

    Anna,

    Thanks for this article.

    I just ordered the book and am planning to begin implementing at least many of the techniques as you have. My biggest struggle is time management. My family must come first, and with summer, their lives are not on a set routine. I have older kids, so having them home from school is time with them I’m not willing to trade for more time on my writing. They will soon be off on their own. My writing will always be here. I’m hoping this book can help me find ways to take the time I do have now, and make it more effective.

    Thanks again!
    Jean

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  8. says

    Anna–
    Thank you for your post. I don’t doubt that Aaron’s book “works.” Certainly, its emphasis on quantitative measurement–getting the work out in terms of word count, number of pages produced each day, etc–is in line with current conventional wisdom. By conventional wisdom I mean as it relates to (but is not limited to) self-publishing writers. If the writer can crank out two or more titles a year, more product makes for easier marketing. It makes possible bundled book deals, offers of freebies, etc. It means more titles being “launched” and announced on social media. Always such advice includes the obligatory, finger-wagging admonition to writers to make sure that, however many narrative finish lines are annually crossed, the highest of standards must be maintained.
    More power to any writer who can do all this. Frankly, though, I don’t see it applying to writers whose main focus is on qualitative values.

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    • says

      Barry, I think we’re talking a bit at cross purposes. I hope my post emphasized that more words are NOT the real point, either of my post or of Rachel’s book. The real goal is to make the words you write count, not count your words.

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  9. says

    You sold me, Anna. I’m finding this summer to be not very productive writing-wise. I’ve gotten used to writing when the kids are at school — it is quiet and there is no threat of interruption, and the transition to writing with kids running in and out of the house followed by multiple requests, and my own lack of discipline (this is the biggie but isn’t it nice I have my kids to blame) means that I’m loafing around with the kids instead of writing. Strategies that work for me — the trusty timer. I’ll set it for 20 or 30 min and just write and it’s saved me every time.
    Vijaya´s last blog post ..On Chastity

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  10. says

    Thanks, Anna. The variation that works for me is time-spent, not word-count. When I realized that my “I’ll write when I feel like it” wasn’t working (duh!!), I decided to go to my “office” (spelled guest room) every day for at least 2-3 hours. I even put it on my daily schedule.

    It has worked well for me because, even though the to-do list is always longer than the day has hours, the writing comes first, not weeding the garden or calling the plumber. And knowing I have 2-3 hours to “stretch out” and focus on my WIP and nothing else — a memoir, but with scenes just like fiction — liberates me.

    As you said, there are as many ways to do this as there are writers. I’m just glad I found mine.
    carole howard´s last blog post ..“Ask Not…..”

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  11. says

    After reading about these indy authors that put out a book a month, I knew there had to be a better way. I don’t write full time so a book a month is out of the question. So I experimented during the first half of the year and came up with a program. I have three stages of writing: plot\character development, drafting, and editing. Each stage takes two months. But I can overlap, working on a book in each stage. So I’m working on three books at the same time. Every day I do my plotting for one book during lunch. When I get home I write the current wip for one hour (it’s plotted and each scene has a short description to start with). Then I edit the last book for an hour. It keeps me from getting bogged down in one project. I can easily write 1000-1500 words in an hour, so I’ll end up with a complete novel in two months.

    Theoretically, that’s six books a year. We’ll see if I can keep it up. The key is having a long list of ideas and a short list of ideas with a premise. I have a spreadsheet that plans out my next four books (it will be six). So when I sit down each day, I know exactly what I’m going to do.

    I’ll have to check out your book recommendation, though. Anything to pick up the productivity. And, btw, lets all thank God for Scrivener, iPads, and all the other wonderful toys that make speed writing possible.
    Ron Estrada´s last blog post ..Indy Journey – Day 2 Stats

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    • says

      I have a hard time imagining 10K, too, Carol. At least not until my youngest is in college. ;-)
      Writing/homeschooling/baby wrangling is really probably no harder than fitting writing in around a ‘day job’ as many authors to. It’s all about consistency. And accepting the fact that my house will never be perfectly clean. ;-)

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  12. says

    Rachel’s book was recommended to me by an author friend several months ago, and has been on my reading list. Your post has piqued my interest now, so I think it’s moved it’s way forward in the queue, just after Lukeman’s Dash of Style. So many useful books to study – I love it!

    I don’t track my output, but I am always eager for tips on how to loosen approach my craft differently. I am seldom a linear writer, so I suspect many of the tips in Rachel’s book will mesh well with how I approach writing. Thanks for your motivational post, Anna!
    John Robin´s last blog post ..Lining up my mibs

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  13. says

    Thanks for your post and sharing the two things that have helped you. I agree – when I know what I’m writing beforehand (even if it’s just a few bullet points), I tend to write more efficiently. I average about 2 – 3K words a day when I’m not working. The thought of pounding out 10k a day sounds like a gargantuan task and makes my head spin. I don’t know if my brain or fingers could move that quickly! Maybe I should start drinking caffeine again? ;)
    Simone´s last blog post ..Eleven essential things I’ve learned about writing

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  14. says

    Great ideas. I can actually write 1000 words a day in an hour. It’s the
    every day part I don’t achieve, at least on my book. However I write 5 days out of 7 on other articles, guest blogs etc.
    The book may take a while, as long as I’m happy! Putting pressure on myself doesn’t work as my day work is as a Process Oriented Therapist.
    Sherry Marshall´s last blog post ..Worldwork and Conflict in the World Today.

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  15. says

    Thanks for the post! I read the book a few months ago and thought it was very helpful. Before I dive into writing my second novel in a few weeks, I am going to read it again. I’m pretty confident that it will take me half the time to write the second. :)
    Rich Amooi´s last blog post ..The Setting – Willow Glen Library

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    • says

      Do you think the faster draft will be simply due to the experience you now have, or because you implement her techniques?

      I ask because I’m wondering what to expect once I get through this first novel.
      Jack Cordwell´s last blog post ..Day 2: Feeling the Love

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  16. says

    I am insanely in love with this method and it has taught me so much about my process! I have to say the thing that has made the most enormous difference for me is keeping the chart. I made some forms and just jot dot the time when I start, then when I finish and how many words I wrote. Very illuminating. So many things I thought carved in stone proved not to be true at all. It showed me my most productive hours, and what I need to do to write just a little more each day. It’s amazing, seriously.
    Barbara O’Neal´s last blog post ..Kindly Shepherd’s Pie

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  17. says

    I loved NaNoWriMo…did it for the first time last year. And in general I enjoy intense writing (although I’ve never written 10K in a day, I’d love to try). I just downloaded Rachel’s book, and I can’t wait to implement some of your (and her) ideas. I’ve always kept track of my word count but never thought of keeping track of time of day I write alone with it. Looking forward to exploring this. Such a helpful and interesting blog post — thank you!
    Julia Munroe Martin´s last blog post ..Fresh Ink Flipped: Q&A with Natalia Sylvester

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  18. Sabre says

    I’d had that book on my Kindle for some time before finally reading it a few months ago. Then just this past week I read Writing in Overdrive. I’ve had some success applying both methods this week. I’m actually pretty giddy that they’re working for me!

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  19. says

    Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll definitely check out the book. I use Candy Havens’ Fast Draft method and it is FANTASTIC!
    I like the 2k-10k idea of planning the scene out first. Thanks again for sharing. And congrats on your writing success this year. That’s fantastic!

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  20. says

    Thanks for the post, Anna. I like the suggestion to track my hours for productivity and will try that when I start my next novel. My word count goes up when I turn off the internal editor, which, at times, is a frustrating process. Writing every day, along with reading quality fiction, opens me up and I eventually crank the words out. Oh, and deleting FreeCell from my laptop helps a lot. Ha!

    Outlining works great for some writers, not so great for others. I suspect where a writer falls in that discussion depends on how much his characters control his fiction. For me, writing is discovery and working to an outline would feel a bit like waking up Christmas morning to a mound of unwrapped presents under the tree.
    TJ Forrester´s last blog post ..You’re Doing It All Wrong (tips for beginning writers)

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  21. says

    Hi Anna,

    I LOVE this book! Thanks for writing about it. I have it on my Kindle, and need to pull it up again, since my writing seems to have stalled.

    When I first read it, my writing count did get a nice bump, and I loved the suggestion she made to first plot in a notebook what you plan to write for that day. That seems to help me before I jump on the computer. Something about writing in long hand…

    And you have your hands full with a new baby, and writing, too! You go, girl!
    Penelope Silvers´s last blog post ..Break Out of that Writing Rut: Tell–Don’t Show–Write More of What You Love!

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