One of the questions I hear most often from fellow writers is how I write so many words in a day (and thus can release 4-6 books a year, in addition to the books that I write, but don’t publish).
It’s a fair question.
I’m what I would I would call a “binge writer.”
It’s taken me a long time to admit that, because I think I’ve viewed binge-writing as “lesser.”
I love the idea of “slow and steady,” putting 500–2,000 words on the page every single day. It sounds responsible and reasonable. It’s advocated by amazing writers like Stephen King. I want to do that. I want to be that person.
But I’ve I’ve come to learn that’s just not how I do my best work.
I’ve often made statements like things like, “I average about 2,000–3,000 a day.” That’s technically true, but that does not mean I’m writing 2,000 words every single day. It means that I have plenty of days where I write zero words, and a couple days where I write 18,000. Yes, 18,000.
2–3,000 words per day is maybe my mathematical average, but it’s not my norm.
I’ve found that my best projects, my happiest creative self comes when I write huge chunks of word at a time, interspersed with days where I write nothing at all.
Almost all of my books get written in about 2–3 weeks, and I’d like to tell you that I sit down and say, “Okay, my average first draft is about 60,000 words, I need to have it done by X date, so that means I need to write 2,200 words every day, “let’s go!”
That’s not quite the reality anymore, and I’ve learned to embrace the chaos.
My actual daily wordcount totals when I sit down to start a book look more like this:
Day One: 3,500
Day Two: 0
Day Three: 7,000
Day Four: 10,000
Day Five: 0
Day Six: 200
Day Seven: 8,000
Day Eight: 0
Day Nine: 0
Day Ten: 11,000
And so on.
Believe it or not, these fits and starts are fairly intentional. It’s not like I skip a couple days and then say, “Oh crap, I’m behind!” and then frantically dash out 11,000 to make up for the non-writing days.
It’s just that a lot of words followed by no words is how my stories come out.
I no longer beat myself up for the zero words days, because it feels like the muse is actively filling up the creative well of the story. And then when the well gets full, I’ve got 10,000 words at the ready, and they more or less spill out of me.
It’s also probably why when I’m finishing a book, I almost always write 18,000 words on the final day. It’s strange, it happens every single book, as though the muse has to tell the last quarter of the story all at once.
I’m not advocating this approach.
It works for me, but if I’ve learned anything over the course of my career, it’s that while others people’s writing routines are interesting and inspirational, there is no such thing as one right way to do things.
But, if you are looking to increase your word count, here are a few practical tips:
Learn to type fast
I’ve talked about that before, and I know it’s annoyingly obvious, but you can only write as fast as your fingers can move. Not to mention, if you’re not comfortable typing, a little part of your brain’s going to be focused on where your fingers are on the keyboard rather than on what comes next on the story. You want to get so comfortable with typing that your fingers are a subconscious extension of your brain. There are a bunch of great free typing resources out there online, or, one of my favorite “typing drill” exercises to improve my speed and accuracy is to open a blank document, pick a song whose lyrics I know by heart, and type out the lyrics as quickly and accurately as I can (I’ll be honest, it’s mostly Disney songs). Also, ladies, I’m not exactly a low-maintenance lady, so I respect whatever you want to do with your manicures. But, it’s so much easier to type quickly with short nails. I trim mine a couple times a week, mostly for typing purposes! (Though, easy for me to say, because I love short manicures, and long nails have never ever been my thing, so you do you!)
If you’re prohibited from typing as fast as you’d like, or love your long nails, or just want an answer differently than “learn to type faster,” dictation software has come a long way, so you can talk your story rather than type it! I myself don’t do my best storytelling orally, so I can’t vouch for it personally, but I’ve heard good things about Dragon.
“Lauren, cut the crap. I’m a fast typer, I don’t have long finger nails, and I still can’t produce 10,000 a day, give me the good stuff!”
Always know your next 3 scenes/chapters
Even if you’re not an extreme outliner who has the entire book planned out before you start, I’d recommend getting into the habit of at least being a daily outliner. Before you start writing, grab a sticky note or open a note on your computer, and write down the 3 scenes that you need to write next.
You’re allowed to change direction as you write if the story takes you elsewhere. But the goal here is to train your muse that you’ll be writing in “3 chapter increments.” Most writers seem to focus on just writing one chapter at time. When that chapter’s done, they usually take a step back to figure out the next chapter. If that’s your way, keep at it! But for me, I find that I lose my flow when I’m pulling out of the story that frequently.
I almost always think in three chapter increments when I sit down to a writing session. So I take a break after every three scenes, then plan the next three scenes. It sounds a little extreme if you’ve never done it before, but as with anything, it gets easier with practice, and once you start thinking in 3-Chapter blocks, the word count accumulates a lot faster!
Don’t look back
This is the single-biggest difference I’ve noticed between myself and writers who write much slower than me (not that slow is bad, but I’m assuming if you’re reading this, it’s because you’re looking to increase your speed). Unless something has really, really gone off the rails, once I’ve started a book, I don’t go back and edit any previous chapters until I’ve reached The End.
I once read that Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes the exact opposite of me: she writes Chapter One. Then goes back and polishes Chapter One. Then she writers Chapter Two. Then she goes back to Chapter One and edits/polishes from the beginning. Repeat to end of the book. Because Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I wanted to be just like her, I tried this approach.
It really works for her, and I would never tell her to change a single thing (or you, if that’s your jam). But it wasn’t at all compatible with my muse. The book took me months to finish, which, objectively I’m fine with, but for me, it also resulted in a story that was so so flat. In taking my time, I lost all the spark, and I had to do a lot of TLC during revisions to try and get it back. I’m not saying not to write like this if it works for you, but for me, this approach also invited procrastination. Tweaking Chapter One was easier than tackling the blank page of Chapter Five, so I spent a lot more time “perfecting” than I did writing. Now, I force myself to go from start to finish, no looking back. Otherwise I have no chance of finding my flow.
I’ve talked about TK a lot, but I can’t write a post about writing speed without mentioning it. TK is publishing speak for “to come,” and is used to denote material that will be added a later date. So for example, as you’re typing along, and there’s something you don’t know, whether it’s a character’s name, the history of particular city, the name of the neighborhood bakery, etc, instead of stopping writing to figure it out then and there, you simply write “TK” and keep going. Later, when you’ve typed The End, you can do a search for TK and make a list of all the things you need to figure out. (TK is used because it’s an unusual combination of letters in the English language, so when you do the search, you’re unlikely to come up with any other uses of “tk” other than your deliberate to come references).
I used to only use TK for “little” things like the names of secondary characters that popped up on the page as I wrote, but I use it much more liberally now to keep myself in the zone. For example, if as I’m writing and realize my heroine needs to have some romantic heartbreak in high school to give her stronger motivation, rather than figuring out the details of her heartbreak then and there, I’ll write TK, and later, I can figure out her backstory.
Annnnnnnnnd a huge caveat
Lastly, I’d like to make it super clear that writing faster is not better. It is for me—as I’ve said, when I take my time and go with the slow-and-steady method, I find it doesn’t produce my best work. But you may be exactly the opposite, and I would never advocate writing faster for faster’s sake.
My best advice for all writers is this:
Finish the book
Protect your joy of writing at all costs
Never let deadline, reader pressure, or comparison with other authors detract from why you want to write in the first place: because you’re a storyteller.