High Volume Writing: Pacing Yourself
My peak writing days give me 20-25 thousand words of fiction. I can kick out five thousand or more words in a day without really breaking a sweat. I’ve also found that the parts of my books where I wrote more words per day are cleaner, clearer, require less revision and get less critique from my editors.
And I’d like to share with you some of the techniques I’ve learned to use to generate high volume writing! As always, every writer is different - these are things which work for me, and may or may not work for you. Try them out and see!
I find that an appropriate pace is important to writing well - and fast. Speed isn’t about words per hour, remember. It’s about more hours of butt-in-chair time. Speed is about pushing yourself longer. And we all know the story about the tortoise and the hare.
Sprinting in a marathon is not a good way to ensure you get to the finish line.
And a writing career is all about the marathon, not the sprint.
That said, it’s been well demonstrated that most people work better in bursts, with breaks or “breathers” in between. We don’t do so well after working non-stop on the same thing for eight hours.
I’m sure you’ve been there: the end of an eight, or ten, or even twelve hour shift. You’re burned out. You’ve exhausted not just your energy, but your focus, your ability to concentrate. Your ability to think clearly is impaired.
The same thing can happen in writing. So I advocate burst writing with breaks. For example, before writing this piece, I closed everything on my computer except my writing program, my music player, and a little app called Focus Booster.
There’s a technique out there for getting tasks done called “Pomodoro”. Most of you have probably heard of it already. For those who haven’t, the skinny is: you work for twenty five minutes, then take a break for five. Then you repeat the cycle. Every three or four cycles, you take a longer break. You do this until the task you set is complete.
I use Focus Booster as my PC app for tracking time. It’s a cute little timer - changes color as it counts down, from green to red, and fills a progress bar. So I have a graphical representation of about how much time I have left that sits in my peripheral vision, where I can be aware of it without its invading my central area of concentration.
I also have an app that does much the same thing on my Pebble watch. And there are buckets of similar programs for smartphones and tablets, if you prefer. The point isn’t to single out any one app or tool - a kitchen timer with a bell can work! The point is to set yourself up so that you have no distractions. No interruptions. And then work - focused, hard, intense, completely in-the-groove work - for the time you have set.
I use the classic twenty five minutes. You can pick whatever work period you want, and feel free to experiment a little.
I track two sorts of goals when I work. One is my daily goal. The other is my work session target. I find that both of these are important - without both, I lose half of the game. Let me explain why.
My daily goal will change, day to day. If I am going to be busy doing other things for most of the day, it might be as little as two thousand words. If I am pushing hard on a three day novel, I might be trying for twenty thousand words. More typically, I am shooting for five thousand words or so. That’s my work day; if I set the target at five thousand, I keep working until I hit that target. If it takes three hours, great! If it takes eight, well - that happens sometimes too.
The daily goal is important, because it’s what keeps me coming back to the keyboard after a break period. If I don’t have daily goals, and finish a twenty five minute session, then I might be tempted to think “that’s good enough” and kick off for the day. It’s the daily goals that get me back to the keyboard after each break to work on more words.
Session goals are important, too! I vary wildly in how many words I produce in a session. Sometimes, it’s as few as five hundred words in twenty five minutes. On a roll, I can produce a thousand or more words. My best session to date was 1652 words.
For this session, where I’m writing this essay, I’ve got thirteen minutes left and I’m at eight hundred and eleven words, so I’m rolling well here. (Note: I don’t generally check wordcount DURING the session - just did it now because I wanted to illustrate the point.)
After I’m done with the session, I record the total for the period. That’s important: it lets me track how well I was doing on the writing in that place, on that piece, at that time of day… Valuable information.
If we know how and when and where we work best, we can fine tune our processes to achieve more. If I know that I work better playing music without lyrics than I do listening to songs (that is true, for me), then I can improve my daily performance by writing to music that works better. If I know that I write better in the morning than the evening, then I can help my workflow by setting my schedule around that time.
It’s not always possible to write at the precise times and places that you know work best, of course! But if you know what those times and places are, then you’re armed well for the future.
Another plus: knowing that I will be tracking the word count for the session also keeps me writing while the timer is going! I’m a lot less tempted to stare into space when I know that I am competing against the clock to produce a good number of words.
It’s not the same as a public word war or something, but I find its a great tool to help keep me on task. And not staring out the window!
Good Habits Take Time
Pace yourself. But set goals. Measure success - and use the results of those measurements to inspire future success, and to learn how to improve your performance in the future. The more we learn about how we write best, the better we can become as writers.
Remember though: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Nobody runs a marathon on their first day jogging! Start with goals you can reach, targets you know you can hit. Then build from there, gradually improving and setting stronger goals as you go.
(And for anyone who is curious, this piece was 1330 words, and was produced entirely in one session. Now go write!)
I hope you found this article useful and enjoyable! Try these techniques out - feel free to share them around. If you have thoughts on the above, or want to share your own tips, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Also, I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign - where I will be demonstrating “High Volume Writing”! When the campaign is funded, I’ll be taking a little trip on a train, and writing an entire novel, start to finish, over the course of a three day trip. Best yet - the writing will all be done in public view (for everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter). So you’ll get to see all of these processes and tools in action, as I use them to write a rocking new fantasy novel! Check out the kickstarter here: http://kck.st/1u1KVgs