Knowing What You’re Going to Write Before You Write

How many words do you put on the page in a typical writing session? Finger-blank-paper-25643-l

500?  1,000?

When I wrote my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, my deal with myself was to write 2,000 words a day.  Didn't matter when I wrote them, but if I hadn't written them before bedtime, I had to stay up until they were done.

I was delighted to produce 2,000 words a day, let me tell you.  But how about routinely writing 10,000 words in a writing session?

Apparently, it can be done.

Somebody (I forget who, forgive me) tweeted this article about author Rachel Aaron, who wrote about how she went from an output of 2,000 to 10,000 words.  Every day.  (If you're in the mood to challenge yourself to write this much in even one day, head on over to Milli's Fear of Writing blog and sign up for one of her regular 10K day challenges.)

Rachel says that she attributes her word count success to three things:

Knowledge–Knowing what you're going to write

Time–Tracking and evaluating productivity

Enthusiasm–Excitement about what you're writing

I'm not so keen on the tracking and evaluating part (which is probably why I ought to pay attention to it), and generally for me enthusiasm is a given.  What can hang me up is not knowing what I'm going to write.

Over and over again I've found that following this simple rule leads to writing success:

Have a place to go.

It'll save you from hours spent internet surfing as you try to figure out what's next in your writing.  It will allow  you writing sessions where you write 10K words.  Your house will be lusciously dirty because you won't be spending time cleaning it instead of writing.

But how do you create yourself a place to go?

When you're in the flow, several chapters in, it is usually pretty easy.  You just write the next chapter on the scene list.  (This is one reason I advocate for outlines.  Nothing fancy, just a structure that gives you someplace to go next. Or, if you get excited about a scene that's out of order, go write that.)

But what if you're just starting out?  Or what if you're just a few chapters in and you don't really know your characters yet?  It can be way too easy to end up staring off into space because you don't know where to go.  (I admit, I've found myself in this place a few times recently.)

This is when the value of prepping to write a novel (or any kind of book) becomes evident.  When you know things about your character, place, and the structure of your novel, it will be much easier to get in stellar word count writing sessions.  I've actually taken the time to go back and really get to know my characters recently and it has made an enormous difference in my writing, and my engagement with the work. While this kind of novel prep can seem like busy work, I highly recommend it for the insights it will give you.  And for the fact that it will give you a place to go.

By the way, I'm going to be presenting a class on prepping for the novel this summer, so if you're interested and you're not on my list, sign up with the form to the right.

Do you have any pet ways that you prep for writing sessions that improve your word count?

Photo by OmirOnia.

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10 Responses to Knowing What You’re Going to Write Before You Write

  1. J.D. 06/01/2012 at 04:24 #

    You’re reading my mind, or rather my word count. I’m two chapters in and creeping along like a tortoise. I do appreciate this advice from the hares.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 06/01/2012 at 06:33 #

    Yay, I didn't realize you were working on a new novel, J.D.  Try doing some prep work, it will really help.  I just launched into this novel and sailed along for awhile but then sputtered out when I realized I didn't know some important things.

  3. Fear of Writing 06/01/2012 at 09:23 #

    Thank you for the shout-out for my 10K Day event. Teaching myself how to achieve 10,000 words more readily has offered me so much, I’d better not start writing about it here or my blog comment will become a book! ;~)

    I’ve used my 10K skills for various types of writing but not so far for a novel. But with the amount of writing prep (that’s been feeling more like fun, almost self-indulgent explorations in my journal with a pen) that I’ve been doing for my next book, I don’t think it’ll be a problem to incorporate the “where do I go next?” for 10,00 worth of words into novel-writing. But maybe still only do it twice a month at the 10K events. It does require some recovery time afterwards. (But, come to think of it, the more I do it, the less recovery time I’ve been needing – it used to wipe me out for an entire day afterwards, but now I can spring back with some extra sleep.)

    I’m totally impressed with your routine of writing 2K every day for Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior. That sounds like the perfect number for an everyday practice (not too high, not too low!) and I’m going to think about/journal about adopting the 2K daily mark when I start my book.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 06/01/2012 at 09:28 #

    Reading your comment about what the 10K day has done for you makes me realize I have to try it soon!  And I think you're correct in that the more we write, the more we can write–with less recovery time.  Though, come to think of it after I finished the first draft of Emma Jean I didn't write for awhile.

  5. Fear of Writing 06/01/2012 at 10:03 #

    We would totally love to have you write with us at a 10K event! Part of the magic of the event is the way the camaraderie makes it way more fun than trying to achieve such a number of words alone. I think you’ll enjoy our supportive group.

    I’m not surprised you didn’t write for a while after you finished your first draft of Emma Jean. I think the recovery process after finishing a book is entirely different from our daily needs. It’s a digesting process for the imagination, as well as our bodies. The contractual need to go straight onto the next book must be painful for some writers (even though they’re also lucky to be so in demand).

  6. Charlotte Dixon 06/01/2012 at 10:50 #

    I will figure out when the next 10K day is and see if I can join you!  I'm so glad you've been leaving these information-filled comments so that other readers can learn more about what it takes to write 10K words in a day.

  7. Heather Jenkins 06/01/2012 at 11:38 #

    Excellent post, Charlotte!

    I’m impressed. 10K a DAY?? I write Haiku so I can actually finish something. True story.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the Knowledge, Time, and Enthusiasm mirepoix is what serious writing needs. By serious, I don’t mean meerschaum pipe, a loyal Royal, and Annie Wilkes cheering you on. I mean nose-to-the-paper, pen-burning-across-the-page, end-in-mind serious writing. Now if only I could *cough cough* get the sniffles *cough* so I could take a tiny little break from working 60-hour weeks, THEN…well, nap first. THEN serious writing.

    This is something that would require a gradual ascent for me. I’m not quite sedentary when it comes to writing, but I am nowhere near 10K. Perhaps a “Work your way to 10K a day” plan is in order…like for couch potatoes who want to jog 5K.

    Thanks so much for the information and the gentle nudge. :)

  8. Charlotte Dixon 06/01/2012 at 11:51 #

    Yeah, your 60-hour work week really gets in the way. We could send someone with a cold over to infect you, if you'd like!  I had an entire month-long email conversation with a friend in Haiku once.  It was hysterical, and gave me a fondness for Haiku that I retain to this day.

  9. Patrick Ross 06/01/2012 at 16:19 #

    Hmm. For me, most of my writing comes in the rewriting. When the prose comes out fairly clean the first time, that’s because I’ve already “written” it in my subconscious and I’m merely dictating, but I’m pretty sure my subconscious can’t handle 10K at a time!

    If I push myself too hard to get a high word count on first draft, I’m probably just creating more editing/revision than I would otherwise have. I think we all need to find our balance.

  10. Charlotte Dixon 06/01/2012 at 20:03 #

    Yep, it is definitely all about balance.  And I learn over and over again that what works for one writer–10K words a day–might not work for me.  But I love reading about the techniques others use and adapting them for my own use, or not.  I totally agree-writing is in the rewriting.

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