Learning to write faster: Confessions of an author and saboteur…

I walk fast, drive fast, eat fast…but write slow. I’ve clocked my top writing speed at around 500 words per hour—and that’s when I am flying, and the manuscript writes itself.

Writing requires thinking. What is he feeling? What is she thinking? How can I show that? What is his body doing? What is her facial expression?How can I say this in a way I haven’t said before? While I try to not get hung up on a single word, phrase, or sentence, I check my online thesaurus often and Google facts frequently. I type a line, backspace, and type again. Three words forward, two words back.

I’ve watched other authors do a 1K in 1 hour sprint and enviously thought, “How the hell do they do that?”

An impossible dream for me.

After writing fiction for more than 20 years, I’ve become much better, but no faster.

I want to increase my writing speed—not necessarily to publish more books per year, but so that I have more time for other things. Like life outside of writing.

So when I heard about Rachel Aaron’s book, 2,000 to 10,000 How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love on author Celeste Jones’ blog, I wondered, can a how-to book really teach me to how to write faster? Can it really double my writing speed?

Before I read 2,000 to 10,000, I knew a few things about my writing process:

  1. It takes me time to warm up and switch into the writing mode. It can take 20-30 minutes for the words to flow easily.
  2. Interruptions kill me, not because of time lost, but because of lost momentum. If an interruption is long enough, I have to ramp up again.
  3. I spend about half my work time on promotion and/or social media. This includes writing & posting blogs, reading other blogs, tweeting, time on Facebook, writing reviews of books I’ve read, etc.

Rachel Aaron’s process for writing faster boiled down to two steps:

  1. Before writing your scene or chapter, jot down what you want to cover. Don’t censor, don’t try to “write” it, just list whatever comes to mind: plot points, snippets of dialog, character traits, and bits of description. Think of as “free writing” that is focused on your story. The idea is that when you finally begin to write, you are not starting cold.
  2. Keep a time log of what you do during your work period. Keep track of the time of day, how much time you spend writing, how many words you write,  promotional activities, etc. This is to determine when you are most productive, because that’s when you should write.

I was midway through a 14K contracted domestic discipline short story when I read the book and started following Rachel’s suggestions.

I’d already noticed that when I thought about my story beforehand (while on my daily walk, in the shower) and then tried to write, the story came easier. So after reading 2K to 10K, I began each writing session with prewriting prep. It was somewhat helpful, and my speed increased a little, but not dramatically.

Then I started tip no. 2 – the time log. Now remember this: I knew I spent a lot of time on social media, and I believed I was being interrupted by drop-in visits, phone calls, the cat, etc.

What I discovered after tracking my time was this: I start out writing slow, but my writing gets faster the longer I write. But just when I really got trucking (after about 45 minutes of writing), I would stop to check email, Twitter or Facebook. I was sabotaging my own writing speed. I was the biggest interruption of all.

Because of the time log, I could see my productivity drop following those “quick checks” of email and social media. Once I realized what I was doing, I forced myself to stick to the task of writing, and I watched my writing speed increase from 500 wph to 750 wph to 1K per hour! I had done it! I had completed the 1K writing sprint!

I had achieved the impossible.

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable foe…

…To reach the unreachable star

About that time, I finished the story I was writing. But my goal with the next book is to reach 1.5K per hour.

A few other things about Rachel Aaron’s book:

The tips on how to write faster comprise only a small portion of the book. Most of the focus is on her plotting method and how she edits her manuscripts. Aaron is a hardcore plotter extraordinaire – but she needs to be. She writes 120K fantasy epistles. Pantsers who want to discover their story and characters as they write it may not be interested in a lot of her advice. But I think every author can find some helpful hints in the book. It can help you write faster.

I’d like to end with a quote from the book:

“At its core, writing is about entertainment. Good entertainment is interesting and engrossing at every stage: creation, execution, and as a finished product. You’re creating something you want others to enjoy, but if you aren’t enjoying yourself while making it…well, you can see the disconnect.”

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17 Responses to Learning to write faster: Confessions of an author and saboteur…

  1. S. J. Maylee says:

    Perfect timing, Cara. After a long stint of writing guest posts, I’m finally getting back to the WIP today. One of the things I’ve done for a long time was simply spending time with my characters. There’s always something to plot, some scene to think through. I have a beat sheet that I add notes to from these times and I check it before I start to write. Very helpful.
    Ugh. I make frequent visits to social media too! That moment when I’m feeling a bit unsure, I go socialize. I need to stop that and stay on task.
    I bought this book awhile ago. I’m going to have spend some time with it. Thanks Cara!

  2. Ah, checking email or FB during writing time? Who doesn’t do this. I once bought a laptop and never put an anti virus on it just so I wouldn’t use the internet. The laptop was strictly for writing. Well, that didn’t last long.

    Let us know how that works for you. Email and FB are so addictive. I applaud anyone who can do this. The book sounds like something everyone needs to read though. I’ll definitely pick up a copy. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It really just takes a little focus and discipline to tell oneself, “No, not now. I will not check email or FB now.” Checking social media becomes a habit. Breaking a habit gets easier the more you work at it.

  3. Susan Keene says:

    I was hoping my ADDH was because I am creative and not just wasting time. After reading this I am going to keep track of how much time I waste on interruptions and try to do better. Thanks.

  4. I also have this book but haven’t read it. As you know I am also frequently promoting, on social media, checking email, etc. And yet I still write pretty fast. My secret is those sprints you alluded to. I know my attention span is limited so I sprint, get a bunch of words down (and don’t edit as I go!) and then give myself permission to go play around for a while. I’m sure I could be even more productive if I didn’t check social media and email so often. I think some of that is a holdover from my days in Corporate America where I was expected to be super-responsive.

  5. Interrupt my writing flow to check Facebook or read a friend’s blog? Me? Oh, wait, that’s exactly what I’m doing RIGHT NOW. Hmm. I think you may have nailed my biggest problem.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Of course, MY blog is the exception to the rule. LOL. To write book, once needs to separate from social media, but to sell a book one requires that connection. It’s all in the timing — and the middle of a writing sprint is not the time.

  6. Heather Cole says:

    SELF-SABOTAGE! ACK! Oh Cara, you’re singing my tune. I have a 7500 word/week goal that must be met. I fall short because of social media, blog posts… all the reasons you list here. And the damn cat is in on it too! 🙂 Thanks for the tips and the book title. I need to train up my word count just like I train to run a half-marathon. With much less sweating, of course.

  7. So glad the book was helpful, Cara. I sure think it’s 99 cents well spent.

    I have been using ticktocktimer.com to make myself write and not check email until the timer goes off. I am shocked by how many times I go to check my email without even thinking about it. You’re right about those little interruptions slowing/stopping momentum and I am probably sabotaging myself as much as the interruptions that I want to blame on others.

  8. I have one called focus booster and it’s not a gong. More like a little ‘ding’. For what it’s worth…

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