Saturday, February 18, 2012

Increasing Productivity: More Words Per Hour

I got into a discussion with some other writers about how to produce more words per hour.  It was an interesting topic. Here's how I do it.

These aren't revolutionary methods, and some people might not like them for themselves, but I'm able to produce 700-1000 words/hour, which is about all I have time for each day. My first draft (aiming for 50,000 words) should be done by the end of March, which will feel great, and then I can worry about revising (which I actually enjoy quite a bit).

First - Preparation
I have an outline for my novel which is relatively detailed. It took me several weeks to create. I have each scene laid out for the entire book, one or two sentences per scene. It's actually in a spreadsheet, as recommended by the Snowflake Method. When I sit down to write, I'll check my outline and it might say,

Peter and Alexis go into the house, find the clues, have to run when they hear someone coming.

There are still a lot of details to fill in, which I do while I'm writing it.

  • They race to the house, and Alexis ribs Peter for being so slow and out of breath.
  • She sees a picture of Peter's mom in the house and asks about how she died. We get to see how he reacts to the question and learn a little backstory.
  • He teases her a bit when she gets all nervous about skipping school.
  • He cuts his hand on a piece of glass in the getaway, and we get to see her reaction to that, and his reaction to her display of affection.

Hardcore outliners won't actually begin writing until they've jotted down all of these things, taking their outline a level or two deeper than I do. Still, I'm not generally spending my limited writing time staring at a blinking cursor trying to figure out what happens next.

Along the same lines, I try not to stop in the middle of a scene, but if I have to, I'll make some quick notes for how to finish it so I hardly have to think at all when I sit back down. And when I'm done with that scene, I can pull out my outline and the next scene is waiting for me to write:

Peter and Alexis realize it was just the real estate agent, they're hungry, go to restaurant to clean up Peter's cut hand and discuss what to do about the clues they found.

Second - Just Keep Swimming
After spending 2 weeks on my first 1500 or so words (rewriting, revising, etc.) I got the advice to just plow through. Make the first draft rough, but get it done. "Just keep swimming," as Dory might say. So I have largely resisted the temptation to go back and clean things up. My writing is gramatically correct but I know I'll be able to tighten it up and improve upon it immensely over multiple revisions ahead.

I have a separate word doc for revision notes and ideas broken down by chapter. Things like:

  • make sure the room is called an office - I think I called it a den originally
  • Show Alexis being more ahtletic than Peter - he tries to steal the basketball from her but bounces it off his foot.
  • Make sure it's clear his grandfather was in the wheelchair when it tipped over and that's how he got hurt

So, that's how I do it. If you want to see how a hardcore word machine does it, check out this article by Rachel Aaron, a professional author who modified her process so she can churn out 10,000 words a day.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Why Write?

The initial motivation behind the journalism degree I received in 1994 was the desire to be a writer - but to draw a regular paycheck. Along the way, my interest in sports journalism gave way to news, and my major changed from Newspaper to Broadcast Journalism. I worked at the campus radio station where Bob Costas, Marv Albert and Mike Tirico got their starts, and after graduation I got a job in news radio, working in that industry for almost four years before getting "a real job."

As a radio news anchor I was responsible for writing most of the news stories I read on air. This meant about 15 minutes of content per hour. I wrote four different versions to use in the 6:00 and 7:00 hours, and recycled those for the 8:00 and 9:00 hours. It was a lot of writing, and although print journalists may not consider it "real" writing, I believe I learned a lot in those years which is directly applicable to fiction writing:

  • The concept of showing and not telling is key for good broadcast writers. 
  • Writing for the ear requires a constant consideration of how things will sound, which translates naturally to how dialogue will read on the page. 
  • The requirement of producing thousands of words each day is really no different than what's required of a novelist. 
  • I was able to see how much my writing improved over the four revisions, reinforcing the notion that "writing is re-writing is re-writing." 
  • The ability to write clearly, concisely and conversationally (the three Cs of broadcast writing) is just as important in writing fiction.
  • Doing all of the above while under intense deadline pressure (new deadlines come every 10-15 minutes) encourages more rapid writing.
Most of what I learned about writing for broadcast came from two people: one of my journalism professors, Ron Graeff (his on-air name was Ron Hastings), and my first News Director, Geoff Dunn. Using the techniques they taught me I won countless awards from the New York State and New Hampshire Associations of Broadcasters, and was the News Director of an Edward R. Murrow award-winning newsroom.

I realized recently that, although I quite enjoyed writing, I hadn't done much in a long time. And that's one of the biggest reasons why I'm writing this book.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Writing Progress

I've begun writing a book, a mystery/thriller that I've been working on in my mind for several months. I started outlining it, initially using The Snowflake Method, about six weeks ago. Once I had the scene list down (Step 8) I was so anxious to start actually writing the thing I went ahead and got started. I just finished the first chapter, about 2,200 words.

I had initially intended for the book to be aimed at the Young Adult (YA) market, typically 14-18 years old, but after posting the first 660 words for critique on the Absolute Write forums, the feedback seemed to indicate that the book would be better suited to an Upper Middle Grade (MG) market, 10-14 years old.

My first instinct was to increase the ages of my main characters from 14 to 17 and change some of their dialogue and scenes as appropriate, but ultimately I decided to carry on writing as I had been, and if the voice ends up putting the book in the MG area, then so be it. If and when it's finished, we'll see what, if any, feedback literary agents have to share about its proper position in the market.

The book is set primarily in my hometown of Rochester, NY. The climax takes place in Washington, DC. I've been in contact with our local Congressman's office, and one of the staff assistants has graciously agreed to take me on a tour of some of the locations where action will take place. I haven't gotten anywhere near the end of the book yet, so I'm not booking the trip just yet. Ideally I'll be close to the end of the book by the end of March. I'm thinking a late-April trip might work if I can keep to that schedule.

I intend on posting regular updates on my progress as well as reflections on the writing process. Some will be written, like this one, and others will be video entries. For that, I'll need my iMac back from the Apple Store (where I took it this week for the second time in my six weeks of ownership).

Feel free to look me up over at Absolute Write - my screen name is DoctorK.