Home » Fiction Fundamentals, Writing Advice » How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day

How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day

24 November 2011

From fantasy author Rachel Aaron:

When I started writing The Spirit War (Eli novel #4), I had a bit of a problem. I had a brand new baby and my life (like every new mother’s life) was constantly on the verge of shambles. I paid for a sitter four times a week so I could get some writing time, and I guarded these hours like a mama bear guards her cubs – with ferocity and hiker-mauling violence. To keep my schedule and make my deadlines, I needed to write 4000 words during each of these carefully arranged sessions. I thought this would be simple. After all, before I quit my job to write full time I’d been writing 2k a day in the three hours before work. Surely with 6 hours of baby free writing time, 4k a day would be nothing

. . . .

But (of course), things didn’t work out like that. Every day I’d sit down to add 4000 words to my new manuscript. I was determined, I was experienced, I knew my world. There was no reason I couldn’t get 4k down. But every night when I hauled myself away, my word count had only increased by 2k, the same number of words I’d been getting before I quit my day job.

Needless to say, I felt like a failure. Here I was, a professional writer with three books about to come out, and I couldn’t even beat the writing I’d done before I went pro. At first I made excuses, this novel was the most complicated of all the Eli books I’d written, I was tired because my son thinks 4am is an awesome time to play, etc. etc. But the truth was there was no excuse. I had to find a way to boost my word count, and with months of 2k a day dragging me down, I had to do it fast. So I got scientific. I gathered data and tried experiments, and ultimately ended up boosting my word count to heights far beyond what I’d thought was possible, and I did it while making my writing better than ever before.

. . . .

Drastically increasing your words per day is actually pretty easy, all it takes is a shift in perspective and the ability to be honest with yourself (which is the hardest part). Because I’m a giant nerd, I ended up creating a metric, a triangle with three core requirements: Knowledge, Time, and Enthusiasm. Any one of these can noticeably boost your daily output, but all three together can turn you into a word machine. I never start writing these days unless I can hit all three.

Side 1: Knowledge, or Know What You’re Writing Before You Write It

The first big boost to my daily wordcount happened almost by accident. Used to be I would just pop open the laptop and start writing. Now, I wasn’t a total make-it-up-as-you-go writer. I had a general plot outline, but my scene notes were things like “Miranda and Banage argue” or “Eli steals the king.” Not very useful, but I knew generally what direction I was writing in, and I liked to let the characters decide how the scene would go. Unfortunately, this meant I wasted a lot of time rewriting and backtracking when the scene veered off course.

This was how I had always written, it felt natural to me. But then one day I got mired in a real mess. I had spent three days knee deep in the same horrible scene. I was drastically behind on my wordcount, and I was facing the real possibility of missing my deadline… again. It was the perfect storm of all my insecurities, the thought of letting people down mixed with the fear that I really didn’t know what I was doing, that I wasn’t a real writer at all, just an amateur pretending to be one. But as I got angrier and angrier with myself, I looked down at my novel and suddenly realized that I was being an absolute idiot. Here I was, desperate for time, floundering in a scene, and yet I was doing the hardest work of writing (figuring out exactly what needs to happen to move the scene forward in the most dramatic and exciting way) in the most time consuming way possible (ie, in the middle of the writing itself).

As soon as I realized this, I stopped. I closed my laptop and got out my pad of paper. Then, instead of trying to write the scene in the novel as I had been, I started scribbling a very short hand, truncated version the scene on the paper. I didn’t describe anything, I didn’t do transitions. I wasn’t writing, I was simply noting down what I would write when the time came. It took me about five minutes and three pages of notebook paper to untangle my seemingly unfixable scene, the one that had just eaten three days of my life before I tried this new approach. Better still, after I’d worked everything out in shorthand I was able to dive back into the scene and finish it in record time. The words flew onto the screen, and at the end of that session I’d written 3000 words rather than 2000, most of them in that last hour and a half.

. . . .

Every writing session after this realization, I dedicated five minutes (sometimes more, never less) and wrote out a quick description of what I was going to write. Sometimes it wasn’t even a paragraph, just a list of this happens then this then this. This simple change, these five stupid minutes, boosted my wordcount enormously. I went from writing 2k a day to writing 5k a day within a week without increasing my 5 hour writing block. Some days I even finished early.

Link to the rest at Pretentious Title

Fiction Fundamentals, Writing Advice

7 Comments to “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day”

  1. This was a wonderful post–I have a sense my word count is about to skyrocket. I am feeling pretty thankful right now to have seen it since I’ve never before been to Rachel’s site. Thanks PV!

  2. Hollister Ann Grant

    I also appreciate this wonderful, practical post. Thanks, Rachel.

  3. I’d like to chime in and say this was really helpful to me. I’ve already increased my productivity a great deal and I’m looking for ways to take it to the next level. You’ve posted other stuff about writing that have also been helpful, PG, so thank you and thanks to Rachel too.

  4. I feel the same way. Write often. We’ll be lucky enough to do a job we like. It’s not rushing. Other people work 7hrs a day, so why can’t writers? Even big sellers write often, so others have no excuse.

  5. Yeah, I feel like the people who are all, Just sit down and let it FLOW!!! have never written much on deadline. Maybe it’s because I come from a nonfiction background, but I outline like crazy–rough outlines, detailed outlines, scene outlines, you name it. At least for me, it saves a ton of time, which is no small consideration when your income depends on your output. And as Rachel Aaron discovered, you don’t need an uninterrupted six-hour block of time to outline.

  6. Sounds easy enough to try. Thanks for the tips!

    ~Angi

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