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.

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