(Or, How I Wrote 30,000 Words in 4 Days to Finish a Novel)
Hey there Scriptaccinos! Welcome back to Aunt Scripty’s House of Mayhem, where we’re getting ready for pumpkin lattes, candy corn, and NaNoWriMo!
People have asked me more than twice about how I manage to be so productive. I work a full-time healthcare job, and yet, in the last year, I’ve created (85+%) or curated (~15%) over 2,000 blog posts, published 3 books, and written at least 200,000 words of personal writing.
I’m not a superhuman. Actually I’m pretty average. And I’ve set myself an enormous personal challenge — write a trilogy of fiction before the end of 2017. While blogging. And helping you all with NaNo.
On the most recent note, I came into October with 18,000 words of a novel written. I wrote the last 30,000 words and finished the project in four days, while answering bucketloads of blog questions (the last 10 days worth of content was also written in that timeframe), contending with a mild fever, and Life Stuff. Oh–and I’m about 14,000 words into Book 2 already.
I have been accused of being a machine. I assure you that beep boop boo–
….uh oh. Who found my secret pictures?!
And yet the number 1 request from my readers is the desire that I clone myself. If only I were Tatiana Maslany…
You don’t have to do all the things I’ve been doing to hit those levels of productivity. But a lot of you are doing NaNoWriMo, and I want to give you some advice for how to Get It The F*** Done, Mate.
I’m also going to give you the techniques I use and some of the books that I’ve read that are helping me along the way. I’m constantly striving to improve how much work I get done with the same measly 24 hours as anyone else.
Defend Your Time
Everything demands your attention. Work does. Your cuddlemate(s) do(es). Your TV calls to you. YouTube beckons with lures of dancing cats. Tumblr will eat your soul if you allow it to.
So you need to… [Tumblr Mobile: Read More]
…establish a writing time. Get up an hour early. Stay up an hour late. Do it on your lunch. Whatever it is, establish a time and defend it. Tell your honey “This is my writing time. This is important to me. I need it.” Sacrifice some TV time. Writing Time is sacred. If you use headphones, put a Post-It on your headphones that say “Writing. Please Do Not Disturb.” (Yes, it’s dorky, but it will work.)
If you need to be in a different physical space to write, go there.
You also have to defend your time from yourself, more than anything. Set an alarm on your phone: This Is Writing Time. Turn off your internet. Silence your phone. And, once you’ve started writing, put it in another room — or at least out of your sight.
You’ll need about an hour and a half every day for this. Ninety minutes. If you can work for 90 minutes a day, six days a week, you can write this novel in a month. (I actually recommend seven days so you don’t lose momentum.)
If your day is jam-packed, decide what’s truly necessary, and what can be smooshed out of the way to make room for your writing time.
Techniques: The Pomodoro
By far, writing in sprints is the number one way to get your stories done. But word sprints are an art form. They need to be done in a special way.
The point of a word sprint is this: For 25 minutes, you will do nothing but write. Phone Off. Butt in chair. Hands on keys. Write.
The best way to do this is to set a timer on your phone for 25 minutes. (If your phone lets you set up multiple ones, like mine does, set another for 5 minutes; you’ll use this when you’re done with your Pomodoro to take a break.) Don’t listen to music that has words. If you can, I actually recommend putting your phone in another room so that you have to get up to make the beeping go away.
For those 25 minutes, you can do nothing but write.
When you’re done, I want you to tally up the number of words you’ve written. (I just make a note in Notepad or StickyNotes on Windows with: Starting Wordcount, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. Track how many words you write in each Pomodoro. (It takes about 4 seconds with a Calculator app.)
NaNoWriMo means writing 50,000 words in 30 days, which is scary. But a smaller target is 1667 words in a day. Still daunting? That’s fine. Do 3 Pomodoros with a target of 650 words per 25 minutes. That’s 26 words in a minute, and it will take you an hour and a half to do three of them. (If you can, I highly recommend 4 — I find the 4th Pomodoro is where I start to hit my stride.)
Make It A Game.
Humans love games. Our brains think they’re better than crack. Seriously, Mrs Scripty has been playing hours of Bejeweld Blitz lately.
So make your word count a game. How many words did you do in your last sprint? Let’s top it! What’s your strongest day in the month? Top it! Push yourself to write more and write faster. You’ll get more into the zone and sooner than you think you’ll be blinking and going “Wait… did I just win NaNoWriMo?”
Know What You’re Going to Write (Before You Write It)
This is so important. I cannot even begin to tell you how much this helps. If you want to write quickly, this is how you do it. You plan to write, and then you write the plan.
Whoah! you say. Outlining?! you say. I’m a pantser, like my aged grandmother before me! We don’t need no stinkin’ outlines!
You might not need them. But they help. Especially in a project like NaNoWriMo, or mine (12 Weeks to a Trilogy), knowing where you’re going will help you decide what matters and what has to get written.
If you plan nothing else about your book, I want you to plan three things:
- The Inciting Incident
- The Midpoint
- The Climax
Do not skip the Midpoint. It will help you. I swears it. (The Midpoint is a big change that causes your character to take things seriously; it’s the big Shit Hits The Fan moment of the middle of the story. It’s a huge false victory or false defeat.) Then all you need to do is get to the next big scene: Write from the “hook” to the Inciting Incident, from the Inciting Incident to the Midpoint, the Midpoint to the Climax, and resolve all the little things after. That’s it. Four easy phases.
A Basic Scene Structure Helps. Really.
A scene is a product of six components:
- A Goal — what your hero wants
- Some Obstacles — what gets in the way
- A Disaster — something catastrophic happens that prevents them from getting their goal (or lets them get what they thought they wanted — for an enormous price)
- The character’s Reaction — how they feel about it
- A Dilemma — what do we do now after that Disaster?
- A Decision — a plan for how to proceed.
That’s it. And the easiest, most helpful thing you can do before writing a scene is give just one sentence to an outline of what you want. Six sentences will get you so far in knowing where you need to take your scene.
Let Yourself Write Shit
First drafts are made to be awful. All of writing is rewriting. You won’t write a good first draft in a month. But guess what? All a first draft has to do to be perfect is exist.
Small Tricks That Really Help:
- Research Before or After, Not While, You Write. You don’t have to know everything in the moment. If you need to research something — a gun type, a character’s favorite car, whatever — just [put it in brackets]. You can come back and work on those later.
- TK will TKO Your Interruptions. The letters TK are an editor’s mark for To Come. Like brackets, they are magical. Not sure what to name the whizbang gizmo? “Stop or I’ll destroy you with my [gizmo TK].” And move on.
- Eat the Elephant Bite By Bite. You’re not writing a novel and you don’t have to write 50,000 words this month. You’re writing one scene, and you’re trying to write 800 words this Pomodoro. That’s it. Miss your 800? Hit it next time.
- Take Walks. Your 5-minute breaks between 25-minute Pomodoros? Use those to physically get up and walk around. Don’t stare at the Internet. Go up and down some stairs or go stare at the sunset. Get away from screens.
- Leave Tags. When you stop writing, stop in the middle of
- a sentence. It makes it so much easier to pick up momentum when you sit down again.
- Watch The Movie and Write It Down. It can really help to just picture your scene in your head like a movie, again, before you write. (You can watch it on Fast Forward.) When you sit down to write, just write what you see.
- Defend Your Space. Make your own little world. Put in headphones or earbuds and listen to music. I try to either use something appropriate and ambient (like wooden ship sounds for a pirate story) or music set up to be productive (like this upbeat productivity mix).
For all your Scrivener users out there, I made an outlining Scrivener doc!
- A Foolscap outline (to help you with global structure)
- Integrated Save the Cat! beat sheet cards (to help you figure out where things belong) with word count targets for 60k, 80k, and 100k projects
- Obligatory Scene lists for Thrillers, Redemption stories, and Love stories
- Scene cards which include the six-phase scene structure up above.
- It’s what I’m using to write the novel I’m currently on, and I think it will help you out. [Here’s where you can download it.]
Also, the structural cards are separate from the Manuscript for the document so that you don’t wind up with random things in your exported ebook/docx/whatever.