The (Not So) Surprising Key to Writing Quickly

Photo credit: 2create on Flickr
So not too long ago, fabulous author Beth Revis mentioned this guest post on Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America about how one writer (Rachel Aaron) increased her daily word count output from 2,000 words a day to 10,000 words a day. No, you didn’t read that incorrectly. If you have time to read the full article, I highly recommend it, (you can also read Beth’s take on it here) but if there’s one bit that really stuck with me, it’s this: it is much easier to write quickly when you know what you’re going to write.

Now I’ve written in the past about the pros and cons of both plotting and pantsing, and for those of you who aren’t too keen on plotting, I don’t think it’s a requirement to intricately plot out your entire novel in order to write quickly. However, as someone who has in the past indeed pantsed an entire novel (and enjoyed the process), I can say from experience that if writing quickly is your goal, it helps to know where you’re going.

The reasoning behind this is pretty obvious—as many of you are aware, I’m sure, the times when we don’t know what to write next tend to be the slowest and most excruciating writing days. They’re the days that we write a sentence, then stare at the screen, then decide we’re hungry and grab a snack, then think maybe I’ll find inspiration on the internet! and spend precious writing time trolling Twitter and tumblr (don’t deny it—you’ve done it). Even when we don’t seek distraction, the times we don’t know what to write next tend to not-so-coincidentally also be the times where you have to fight for every word (at least, it is in my experience).

So by setting down some landmarks and deciding what you’re going to write today ahead of time, you can save yourself the headache of slamming your head into the wall and jump right into the writing bit.

Although I pantsed the last WIP that I drafted up, I decided to actually outline the one I’m currently working on in a checklist format—and I have to say, it has made all the difference. No, I didn’t plan every intricate detail, and yes, I’ve changed things around as I started writing, but having a checklist of plot points that need to happen along the way has saved me huge amounts of time that would otherwise been spent wondering where to go next. With the outline kept close at hand, I have a pretty good idea what I’m going to write every time I sit down, and this has allowed me to really boost my output.

While I’m not writing 10,000 words a day (yet, anyway), this one change (combined with previously discussed speed writing techniques) has allowed me to achieve an average of 900 some-odd words per 30 minute #wordmongering session.

Now, if you’re a pantser you’re probably thinking, but I hate outlining. That sort of ruins the point of pantsing. Which would be true, except I’m not saying you have to outline your entire novel (I did, but you don’t have to). 

What I am saying is that before you sit down to write, it helps tremendously if you go in with a good idea as to what is going to happen. For Rachel, it meant writing down a brief list of things that had to happen in the scene she was going to write. For me, it meant looking at the next point on my outline and thinking about how my character would get there and what would happen during the scene before I actually started writing.

And just like that, writing quickly became easier.

What do you think? Do you have any tips for writing quickly?


SusanKayeQuinn said...

I think you've hit upon the key part. Writing is a very emotional process. Even though I know exactly what's going to happen in this last chapter of the novel I'm writing now, I've still been putting it off for about a day and a half. Now that I'm on the keyboard, it's flying out, but I just wasn't ready to write it before now. This doesn't happen often to me, but it highlights (at least for me) that this writing thing is about as non-linear a process as you can find, even if you've plotted and planned everything out. :)

Ava Jae said...

I agree that writing is definitely an emotional process--it's a large part of the reason writers are so tired after finishing a good writing session. Knowing what happens next is like an extra little boost--it helps to stave off the temptation to cry writer's block. Best of luck with your work and thanks for sharing your thoughts, Susan!

Yesenia Vargas said...

I've read (and saved to Evernote) Rachel's article. Simply genius. One of those things where you're like: "Why didn't I think of that??" LOL

Any kind of list, whether detailed or not, really helps when you're stumped. You can skip ahead to a juicier scene and get inspiration or clues for the one you're stuck on. Scrivener lends itself to this, especially. Great post, Ava!

Ava Jae said...

I know exactly what you mean, Yesenia. Rachel's strategy is simple and entirely brilliant.

And lists are tremendously useful for various reasons, including the one you mentioned. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

J. A. Bennett said...

I write a simple outline before I begin becasue I do need to know where the story is going, but sometimes I still have days where I'm not sure how to get from one plot point to the next. Still it does help to have a good idea of what your characters goals are :)

Ava Jae said...

Agreed--it definitely helps. Your simple outline sounds similar to mine in that it gives me a general idea as to where the story is going, but I'm not always entirely sure how the plot points are going to connect. Having a good idea of your character goals helps to bridge the gap.

EB_Black said...

With my Medusa novel, I planned in detail every scene, and wrote a 70,000 word first draft in a week. It helps tremendously to plan ahead of time, but I've been doing the opposite of most people and starting to experiment with pantsing novels and have come up with some interesting stuff that I thoroughly enjoyed writing.

Ava Jae said...

Wow! That's absolutely incredible. I've experimented with both pantsing and plotting so I certainly understand the merits of both--but finishing a 70k draft in a week is beyond impressive. Nice work. :)

August McLaughlin said...

I love your point on knowing where we're going. Pantsing is exhilarating, until one hits a concrete wall. ;) While I still can't seem to function well with outlines, knowing major plot points (changeable ones) and a solid direction help me a ton.

Thanks for this post! Glad Twitter led me to your blog.

Ava Jae said...

You're welcome, August! So glad you enjoyed the post! ^_^

I've also found that a full outline isn't always necessary--as you said, just having a good idea as to where you're going and what plot points you need to hit can be enormously helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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