Work Smarter, Not Harder

Originally, I wanted to have Book 2 complete with at least one round of editing done before the end of the year. Then I ended up throwing out the 65,000 words I did for the first alpha version. The story was not going where I wanted it to go and it was terrible.

That necessitated starting over, and it was now late September. But I had written the bulk of (latest version of) Book 1 in under three months, I figured I could do the same thing. At my usual pace of 2,000 words a day, I could get it done before the end of the year. But then things got in the way. Thanksgiving, another revision of Book 1 and getting it ready for publication. So, by the end of Thanksgiving, I sat at 51,000 words, 14,000 less than I had done previously, and only four weeks until I head to my parents for Christmas.

Try as I might, I’ve never been able to break my 2,000 word a day average. I’ve had 7,000 word days on very rare occasions and more regularly 3 or 4,000 word days. ┬áBut these would always been off-set by days where I barely got a page (about 600 words), bringing my average back down to 2k a day for any given week.

Recently, I read a blog post about an author who had been in a similar situation. She had been writing at about the same pace at me and found herself behind schedule. Over time she worked out a system for herself where she got to 10,000 words a day.

  1. Knowledge
  2. Time
  3. Enthusiasm

The first one proved to be the most significant detail for me. Big, long term, detailed outlines just don’t work for me. I’ve tried them, and it’s one of the reasons I threw out the first alpha of book 2. I tried to make stuff fit the outline and it was crap.

Now, outlines are important. You need to know where the story is going. But my outlines tend to be very high level surface stuff, and more about where the big picture story is going, and I figure out how the characters get there as I write. This often necessitates changing where the story goes to fit what the characters do. This is part of the fun I get out of writing, trying to figure out how to make all of these competing things work together.

But this process takes time. Its the primary reason that, even if I sit at my computer for 8hrs a day, I often don’t get very far. I’ll write a few words and try to figure out what happens next. But the important key to her stance on Knowledge is deciding these things BEFORE you try typing any of the words, and without doing a super detailed outline before you start anything.

The approach she has used involves, at the start of each writing session, working out each scene in advance. What’s going to happen, the general back and forth between characters. Then when you actually turn that into text, the hard part is done. This way preserves the natural growth of a story, because you are only planning the details a few scenes at a time, but gives you the ability to fly through actually writing the scene.

The second point, Time, was not as big a revelation for me but, important nevertheless. I’ve made writing my career and so have as much time as I want to devote to it (for now, that will change in three months). But I often do many things during the day that aren’t writing (and also aren’t playing Skyrim). Because I’m h0me, I’ll clean or make home repairs or run errands etc. All things that need to be done, but that I shouldn’t do during writing time. Some days I would only write for 2-3hrs and spend the rest working around the house (with a liberal dose of wasting time on the internet thrown in).

The final point, Enthusiasm, I found almost as relevant as the first one. In order for a section to be compelling to a reader, it has to be compelling to you the author. In the first alpha of book 2, there were a lot of non-compelling stuff in there, because I thought it was necessary to have to get to where I planned to go. But it was boring. On this second version, one of the reason I spent so much time trying to write a scene was trying to figure out what was interesting about it, while I was trying to write it.

During the initial scene creation session each morning, part of the planning process is knowing what exciting things are going to occur in the that scene that you want to write. That makes it easier to write when you get to that step.

Now, it’s only been two days since I’ve been trying this approach. In those two days I’ve done 7,000 words, a far cry from the 10,000 words a day she achieved. But it’s also an almost 100% increase over my average. My scene planning should get better the more I try it. They’re still pretty light and could use some more detail. Especially going back through the text and my notes to find the necessary details so I don’t have to stop and do that, it can really grind you to a halt when you have to try and figure out what color eyes a character, who was only briefly in a scene 20k words ago, has.

We’ll see how this goes in the long term, but for now I’m excited with the progress.

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2 Responses to Work Smarter, Not Harder

  1. Jake says:

    Sounds like daily storyboarding? I like it.

  2. Maarkean says:

    That’s a good way to describe it.