Slowly increasing my word count, the natural way

I wrote a couple of days ago about how I intend to experiment with myself, see if I can increase my writing speed a bit. I started this week, and while I only had two days to test some new techniques, the first couple of things I’ve tried seem to be showing results. (Tuesday was taken up with grandmother duties, as well as the Big Project redux, some files that had to be redone.)

I’ve taken several fast writing courses over the years, have participated in several Nanowrimos, and while they might have increased my output temporarily, none of them ever resulted in a lasting change in my daily word count. What all of those courses and venues have in common is that they all insist that you can’t look back, you have to keep writing forward, or else you will end up in editing mode, which will kill your creativity.

Recently, there were a couple of threads on the Kindle Boards started by writers with amazing daily word counts, one of them being the lovely and talented Elle Casey, an expat like me. And to my amazement, this woman who regularly writes between 5,000 and 10,000 words a day, goes back and fixes her chapters before she moves on:

I edit as I go, re-editing previous chapters on average of 3 times before moving on to the next. My first draft is therefore very close to final draft quality.

I found that single point amazingly liberating. One of the things that tends to kill any fast writing project I start is the idea that I can’t go back and fix things. I tend to write pretty research intensive books and short stories, and I feel like, if I don’t get the research right, I just might be taking the book down a dead end and I won’t notice until I get there. Most fast-writing techniques won’t allow me to stop and research — I’m not supposed to do that until the end of the book.

But here is a writer who puts out a book a month, saying she edits as she goes. So what isn’t to stop me from editing — and researching — as I go?

So I decided to start with myself, try to figure what my best writing days have in common. My single best writing day was a 5,000 word day when I wrote the climactic scenes of Yseult. Another really good day was when I wrote my short story “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” (which then went on to be nominated for the Nebula Award) in one day. Those two memorable writing sessions had one thing in common: I knew what I was going to write that day. For “Mars” I had a pile of research notes, I’d figured out all the things that had to happen to create my Catch 22 situation, all I had to do was put them in fictional form. For Yseult, my ideas for those last scenes were more vague, but I knew where I was, I knew the characters inside and out, and I had death and revenge to carry me forward.

Another great resource helped me to figure out the first couple of steps of my self-experiment, Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. She mentions that an integral part of increasing her writing speed was “Know What You’re Writing Before You Write It” — given my own experience, obviously a method that is much closer to my own creative nature than the just-keep-moving-forward school.

So what and how am I doing?

I’m only starting with a couple of changes to my writing routine at a time, testing what works, as it were. Here are the changes I made in the last couple of days:

– No Internet when writing the first draft of a scene.

– Before writing the scene, I note in longhand in a spiral notebook what I want the scene to accomplish and the most important things that are going to happen. Then I don’t waste a lot of time sitting there, wondering what the h@ll I could possibly do with my characters now.

– When the first draft of a scene is finished, get out research books and turn Internet back on and flesh out the things I skipped. (Along with basic editing.)

These relatively simple changes to my writing routine have resulted in 2800 new words on A Wasted Land (Book III in The Pendragon Chronicles) in two two-hour writing sessions. I know I’m not setting any records with that output, but here’s the really important part:

– My average output for years has been between 500 and 1000 words a day (when I’m lucky).

– These changes were completely painless.

– They felt natural.

– I got a huge kick out of writing this way.

– I’m happy with what I wrote, and I wasn’t just writing to reach some arbitrary word count goal. I had a block of time to write, and I stopped when that block of time was over.

There are a few more things on my list of strategies to try. I’m particularly curious to see what I can achieve with this method (and any others I may still implement) if I have a few more hours to write at my disposal.

It’s too early to draw many conclusions, but I think it’s safe to say that with a little experimentation, you just might achieve more than you think. Especially if you go with what feels natural to you as a writer.

11 thoughts on “Slowly increasing my word count, the natural way”

  1. Good for you Ruth! You’ve gathered the information and sifted it for golden nuggets! Glad it’s helping (that word-count’s not to be sniffed at, esp. as it’s not entirely unedited) and that you’re sharing your ideas. It saves me doing it 🙂 From what you say, sounds like you and I write similarly. I cannot storm ahead without thought to what’s been written. Well, I can and I have, but it’s uncomfortable and means lots of work afterward. Also, the relay of re-reading what I wrote feeds what I’ll write after it, like cross-stitch. 😀 Best of luck. X

    1. Ditto on the uncomfortable and lots of work afterward! That’s why I decided to just try and play with my own methods, see id I can’t eek out a few more words using what feels right rather than unnatural. 🙂

  2. How interesting! These are all such simple, obvious changes and yet there are probably plenty of us out there who would never even think of them (though I can certainly vouch for the turning off the Internet while writing!). Great that you’ve found something that is working so well for you. I might have to try some of them.

  3. These changes make a lot of sense, Ruth. I’m glad you’ve discovered them and are finding they meet at least some of the “good fit” category.

    It makes me wonder about my own writing. Last month I also participated in the JuNoWriMo challenge… I hit a few 8K days early on in the month, both of them while editing as well as writing. Both days were also days I’d spent time beforehand doing a lot of planning and arranging the flow of scenes.

    Hmm! I think you’re onto something here. 😀

      1. I’m sure you will. Though, if you want a boost, I found working with Angi Black on Twitter doing sprints worked well for that. She’s amazing.

  4. i write my scenes having worked them out in my head – have even run the conversations through with younger cat:) before I begin – so know where it should go. depending on wrists or how complicated (dragon isn’t fond of complicated ) can usually manage 2-3 k a session however I do minimal editing on first round (I would have to do so much with my dyspraxia the work would never progress so I run it through vearious edits at end – recently have begun doingedits on sections ai’m writing a new section so notdoing wohole book at once -that seems to be working okay – it’s all to do with what suits each of us:) so well done you:)

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