When I started writing seriously three years ago, I thought it was a miracle that anyone would pay me for my work. I sold my first story to a magazine and they immediately asked me for another one! That was quite the vindication of my creative writing.
The novellas they were asking for were around twenty-thousand words. I could do one in about a month, take a few weeks off, then do another. It was a nice side income, but unless I could find a way to do more than one a month, there was no way I could write enough to make a living. Not at 500-700 words a day, anyways.
Over the following years, with hard work and practice, I was able to increase my daily average to about 1200 words. Mind you, these were solid words, and ones I liked. If I went further, I would always end up with writing that fell flat.
When I started With the Dawn a year ago June 1st, I assumed that 1200 words per day was my best. While I was drafting and outlining, I would occasionally have massive days, but they were more like storyboarding than writing prose. A drafting outline, as it were.
In September of last year, I began Blood Sacrifice, which is book 2 in Faith of the Fallen. I was still going at the same rate. It took me a little over two months to finish the first draft. I took a month off and started Book 3, which I’m still working on.
Other life events have forced me to pause or slow down my writing. Since I have a book on Kindle Scout, I started looking for a way to up my game. Writing two-to-three books a year wasn’t going to cut it. I’ve tried some methods of increasing my writing before, Rachel Aaron talks about her method of writing ten thousand words a day. I admire her greatly and thoroughly enjoyed her Eli Monpress books. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get her method to work for me.
You might have noticed my implication that I started book 3 in January, and you would be correct. Now it’s June. and I’m still working on it. What happened?
Well, I tried to outline.
Many authors who write a lot of words per day sing the virtues of outlining. I thought for sure that this was the way writers were supposed to write. Virtually all the authors I admired wrote to outlines. After several stalled attempts at book 3–and even getting to the point where, at 20,000 words in, I had to start over–I came to this realization:
I. Can’t. Outline.
It isn’t that I don’t know how, or that I’m not good at it. But when I outline, I’m not at all creative. All my ideas are low-hanging fruit. They sound great in my head, but when I actually start writing… zero excitement.
I’m what Gene Doucette calls a pantser. I have an intuitive grasp of storytelling, and when I write, I need only a vague notion of where I’m going. If I try to overthink it… *poof* creativity gone.
Which brings me to Chris Fox. Specifically his 21 Day Novel Writing Challenge. I didn’t write a book in twenty-one days. However, I watched him do it, and I realized two things. Like Rachel Aaron, he outlines everything. But, because he demonstrated his process in a video, I was able to watch, and it shed some light on my own process.
When I write, I always know where I’m going. If I get lost or stuck, it’s usually because I went the wrong way. I back the truck up–or in my case, the stylish crossover–and I go in a different direction.
I needed to find a way to do that, and write 3-5k words a day. Last Monday, I followed Chris’ advice. I set my alarm for five AM, something I haven’t done since I was in the Army, and went to bed.
When the alarm went off, I woke up and snuck out of the room so as not to wake my sleeping darling, got dressed, and went for a walk. Twice around our block is a half mile. Afterwards, I took a shower, blow dried my hair, sat down at my desk and wrote.
In the past, I would write for about four hours and get in about 1200 words–total–on average. On Monday, I wrote for one hour and cleared 2,500 words. On Tuesday, I wrote even more. This morning I hit 3200 words.
What am I doing differently? For one, the mornings have always been my most productive. Even when I had to get up and punch a clock, I always resented my employers for getting my best hours.
The other thing is the biggie: sprints.
Instead of staring at the screen for four hours, I would spend ten minutes thinking about the very next thing I wanted to write–sort of like outlining, but restricted to only the next scene in the queue. Then I set a timer for twenty minutes, put on my writing music (right now it’s Twenty-One Pilots’ Tear in My Heart to get me started, before switching to mostly classical) and write.
Suddenly the timer beeps and I’m 700-800 words in. A five-minute break to grab some water and stretch my legs, then I’d sit back down to rinse and repeat. Four sprints later and I’m hitting 3200 words… by 9:00 A.M. Good words too. Words I’m proud of.
I know I can write, and I know I can write books people enjoy–the real question for me has always been “Can I write enough in a year to bring in a decent income?” Because to be perfectly honest, I desperately do not want to go back to working outside the home.