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That blogpost about writing 10K words a day - Helen's journal and online home
In which an old dog attempts to learn new tricks.
That blogpost about writing 10K words a day
I remember reading this when it was first posted, but a couple of LJ friends have picked up on it again and as I'm gearing up to start writing seriously again, it got me thinking...

The thought of regularly hitting 10,000 words a day is a bit boggling[*] and despite her protestations that quality doesn't suffer, I have serious doubts. Though having said that, she's probably just aiming for clear, almost invisible prose rather than anything more literary. Also she's writing for 4 hours at a time, whereas I usually do 1-1½ hours a day when I'm being productive, though even multiplying my usual daily word count by 4 only gives me 3000-4000 words per day. This fits with probably my best writing day ever being 5000 words written while travelling back from Worldcon in Glasgow.

However, that's not to say that I disagree with her suggestions. Her pre-planning is the way I've always written, so if you're not doing it at the moment, it's worth giving it a try. All my life I've had to fit writing around other things, so I want to spend my writing time writing rather than thinking up what happens next. But it's rather amusing to see the way I've worked for over 40 years suggested as some kind of wonderful new revelation. :)

I used to do the pre-planning purely in my head by day-dreaming scenes over and over until I got them as I wanted, then I'd write them down. I could do this while out walking from A to B, travelling on buses or trains or doing routine jobs like washing dishes. I was, basically, creating the novel in my head and then writing down the finished product. The danger with this kind of mental pre-planning is that you can get to a stage where the scene in your head is a vivid sensurround movie (with images, smells, sounds, sensations and dialogue) and hence when you finally come to write it down, the story on the page feels disappointing in comparison. Therefore, more recently, I devised some scene planning sheets, simple forms with boxes to remind me of everything I needed to know, such as: where the characters were; details of description; who exactly was present; what the weather was like; what had just happened and therefore what mood everyone was in at the start of the scene; what events/plot points had to happen; and what would change in the scene (mood/amount of knowledge/relationships) and so on. So now I try to write after I've got all I need to know but before the scene gets too "perfect" in my imagination.

The pre-planning method definitely fits with having a day job or other time-consuming commitments. Even in the busiest job you will have moments of down-time where you can scribble another idea into a notebook or onto a planning sheet as you relax for a moment and have a cup of coffee. This is just pre-planning, remember, so it's just ideas about what will go into the scene, not actual writing. Though having said that, if the perfect simile occurs or one of the characters utters a really good line of dialogue, it gets written down and incorporated later.

I've also found that some of the writing process seems to be unconscious, so I try to feed in various ideas and then leave my brain to get on with it. Next time I have a moment to sit and think consciously about the novel again, it's surprising what comes out.

When I do finally get to my next writing session, having all the notes helps me to get into the flow more quickly and prevents Blank Page syndrome where I just stare at the screen, not knowing where to start. It usually takes me about 15-20 minutes to really get going, then the next 40mins to 1 hour are the most productive. For me, having the notes on a printed form helps prevent the Already Written feeling that can occur if I try to make detailed notes in precis form. Though having said that, since doing the creative writing courses, that's not such as much of an issue as it used to be because I no longer consider a very spare narrative which consistes of stage directions, minimal description and dialogue to be a finished product.

To be honest, most writers don't need to write anything like 10K words a day. If you write a steady 400-1500 words a day, that's a novel a year. This is a perfectly respectable rate, especially for someone who's working or has other commitments such as childcare etc. Some people need/like to do a rolling re-write so that at each session, they go over what they wrote last time and tweak it, then carry on from where they left off. Though the daily word count may be less, because the completed draft will be much polished, they'll save time at the revision stage, so it's just swings and roundabouts. However, I suspect most writers would like to be more efficient, so as green_knight says here, Rachel Aaron's actual point is to look at your own writing process, decide where your bottleneck is and then see if you can devise ways of using spare moments during the day to jot down plot ideas or maps of the journey or character descriptions or choreograph a fight scene or devise menus for the royal banquet etc. etc. so that your writing time can be spent actually writing.

[*]And I personally would never even attempt that much due to slight RSI issues that I want to remain slight and not become serious!

[Cross-posted from Dreamwidth by way of a backup http://heleninwales.dreamwidth.org/47152.html. If you want to leave a comment, please use whichever site you find most convenient. Comments so far: comment count unavailable.]

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20 comments or Leave a comment
la_marquise_de_ From: la_marquise_de_ Date: June 12th, 2012 08:24 am (UTC) (Link)
If I wrote 10k a day, my shoulders would die. Physically, I can't do that.
I know people who can post that kind of total regularly with voice activated software, mind you.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: June 12th, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
It would be my wrists/forearms that would give way. I've still got twinges in my left elbow/forearm, which is presumably a result of all the typing I did for the final essays for the children's literature course and the last batch of marking I did.

I have experimented with Dragon in the past and when I upgrade my computer, I may see about getting the latest version. It's terribly frustrating, but it does help the productivity when you don't want to aggravate the RSI.
khiemtran From: khiemtran Date: June 12th, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
For me, it's my back, and also my eyes if I'm writing on a very regular basis. I guess I don't have the physique to be a writer... :)
la_marquise_de_ From: la_marquise_de_ Date: June 12th, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have Dragon, too, but it's not a natural way for me to write.
khiemtran From: khiemtran Date: June 12th, 2012 10:07 am (UTC) (Link)
It usually takes me about 15-20 minutes to really get going, then the next 40mins to 1 hour are the most productive.

Hmm. That's what I find too. Although these days I'm lucky to get an uninterrupted hour to do anything (except perhaps, when I'm walking or running).
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: June 12th, 2012 06:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I currently have no excuses whatsoever and it's just a case of getting my act together now I'm no longer working and the studying has ceased for the summer. I think posting about writing is my way of working up to actually doing some. :)
peadarog From: peadarog Date: June 12th, 2012 12:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
My best ever day was just short of 6K. More typically, I produce about 2K from 4 hours of actual work.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: June 12th, 2012 06:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
When a novel is going well, I can produce a steady 500-1500 words a day. That would be from 1-2 hours work. As one of the comments to the original post said, concentrating purely on word count is not necessarily a good indication of anything.
peadarog From: peadarog Date: June 12th, 2012 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Indeed not!
birdsedge From: birdsedge Date: June 12th, 2012 01:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have written 10k in a day. I've even done it (or close to it) for two or three days running, but that's about it. After that the ends of my fingers feel bruised and I mentally shut down for a while.

I can more realistically do 5k a day, but only when the rest of the world lets me. August is a good month for writing - when business slows down and the people who want a piece of me are away from home.

I cleared the decks for NaNoWriMo a few years ago and produced 50k words in three weeks. The following year I did 60k words in a month, but then I had to let the real world in and it took me so long to catch up with life that it was a couple of months before I started writing again.

I know I'm a burst writer when I'm working on a first draft. I don't mind the burst -- burst days leave me feeling invigorated with my head full of ideas -- but I'd also like to train myself to do the steady 1k words a day when I'm not in 'burst' mode.

To write a publishable book a year I reckon you need to be able to complete a first draft in about 4 months to allow time for revision and all the work that goes along with the publishing process. That's about 25k - 30k words a month -- something under 10k a week. That should be doable.

I take my hat off to writers like Karen Traviss who at one time (I don't know about now) was contracted to write four books a year and was loving it.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: June 12th, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you're a burst writer, then the rules are different. :) papersky wrote Farthing in about three weeks, if I remember correctly, but then she won't write for ages and ages between novels, during which time, the next thing is presumably incubating. Writing a steady 10K a day for weeks on end can't be good, unless you are a genius.
birdsedge From: birdsedge Date: June 12th, 2012 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Agreed. I certainly couldn't do a steady 10k a day.
readthisandweep From: readthisandweep Date: June 12th, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I write random notes (& I mean random - anything from sound bites & snatches of dialogue to complete scenes) & before I begin a novel I can fill an A5 notebook

Before I do begin I write character profiles & then an outline. I make a note of the time line & any other pertinent info.

Then I get on with it.

When I'm on a roll, I'm content with anything from 500 - 5,000 words per day. As I don't have to fit my writing around anyone else, or a paid job, it's purely about me & the level of my commitment.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: June 12th, 2012 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
When something is going well, I'm happy with anything over 400 words a day. Actually, if I sit down to write, my spreadsheets show that I usually get around 1000 words in just over an hour. My main problem is that I don't spend enough days writing. I'm just hoping that my renewed interest in thinking and posting about writing is my way of working up to actually doing some. :)
readthisandweep From: readthisandweep Date: June 13th, 2012 09:00 am (UTC) (Link)
YES! Recording the process definitely works for me. Whenever I slack, & have nothing to report, I feel 'guilty.' And feedback on one's progress really is useful.

May your Muse be with you!

sartorias From: sartorias Date: June 12th, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Being more efficient is always better, but processes vary so much.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: June 12th, 2012 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Indeed. As I said above to birdsedge, some people are burst writers. A story will incubate and then it will all splurge out in a rush, but they don't usually keep up the large wordages week after week after week, which is what the original blogger seemed to imply was what she was after.
sartorias From: sartorias Date: June 12th, 2012 06:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the danger of huge wordages week after week is to fall into wellworn patterns.
veronica_milvus From: veronica_milvus Date: June 12th, 2012 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
200 words per week is a lot for us poets!
birdsedge From: birdsedge Date: June 12th, 2012 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, yes, but my husband writes songs and manages to say as much in 4 verses as I say in a 100k novel! :-)
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