Like any writer, I am always looking for tips for more efficient writing. This is especially true now that I have three small children. The chance that I will get days to do nothing but write in my garret somewhere is nil.
I also firmly believe that writer’s block is a pretentious and ridiculous excuse. If you’re making a living writing, you need to be able to crank out readable copy on demand and on deadline. The old saw that there’s no such thing as plumber’s block comes to mind. This is a business. Even if you’re writing literature. Anthony Trollope famously cranked out thousands of words a morning.
So, apparently, does fantasy novelist Rachel Aaron, who wrote a post last summer about cranking up from an already Trollope-esque 2000 words/day to 10,000 words/day (hat tip to Tricia for sending me the link). This is a lot of words! My non-fiction books tend to be about 70,000 words, so that is some serious volume.
Her secret? Well, first, limited time (the hours her kid is in daycare) — something I believe is an unsung benefit of motherhood. Time is precious and so you focus. But beyond that, she plans out what she intends to write during her sessions, she tracks her progress so she can replicate the conditions for peak productivity, and she makes sure she’s enthusiastic about what she’s writing. After all, if she finds a scene painful to write, it’s probably a lot more painful to read. Why inflict that on your readers?
I certainly don’t crank out 10,000 words a day. But I do have a few of my own crank-it-out techniques.
First, volume begets volume. The more you write, the easier it becomes to write. Ideas pop into your head shovel-ready. You get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. The first time you run 5 miles it hurts. The thirtieth time? Not so much.
Slow, steady progress beats sprints. This is the theme of Jim Collins’ latest book (Great by Choice). His argument is that companies that succeed set reasonable growth targets, and then meet them no matter what. They don’t succumb to the temptation to grow 20% one year only to lose money the next. While this is probably not universally true, the reality is that if you’re trying to write 70,000 words, and you write 1,000 words a day, without fail, Monday to Friday for 14 weeks, you will have your 70,000 words. This isn’t exactly how I write. I aim for more of a chapter a week or some such — often writing it in one day and cleaning it up on later days — but it is still steady on a weekly basis.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Things can be cleaned up later. I find it is always easier to edit something I have rather than cough something up. Once the rough draft is there, I can make it better in shorter spurts of editing. The key is getting it all down.
If you don’t know what you want to write, you probably haven’t done enough research. Keep doing interviews. The perfect phrasing or perspective is out there.