Of course ultimately it’s the words, but in this month’s blog, like the Olivers of the creative world, we look at the strategies and tactics some of us employ to kick our word counts up a gear and make ourselves more productive. We want more!
Stella Quinn talks writing settings and how sometimes the most unexpected places can provide her with writing motivation:
Airplanes. I flew to Europe a few months ago, down the back in seat 54E, and cranked out about 6000 words. Some of them were rubbish, sure. Some so poorly written I couldn’t even read them later. But words are words!
My motivation to write while airborne comes from a story I read once about a self-help author who dashed off a non-fiction manuscript at 30,000 feet while en route from Singapore to Melbourne which sold 6 million copies. It’s possible I dreamed this statistic, because I have googled it since and found no actual source, but it’s an urban (aerial?) myth I cling to.
Coffee shops work too. There are a few places in my neighbourhood that know me (“skinny flat white, half strength, would you mind turning down the music?”) and I have trained all my friends who frequent the same coffee shop to leave me alone when they see me hunched over in the back corner, pen in hand. The optimum coffee shop experience involves winter sunlight, a sea of uncrowded tables, relaxed baristas sporting longitude tattoos up their arms, and a fat dog snoozing complacently at my feet … but I can work in a takeout peak hour frenzy as well. Coffee shops fuel industriousness, in my opinion.
Write-ins. I’ve not participated in many write-ins (job, kids, life … those pesky priorities keep getting in the way) but when I have, I’ve found them an excellent tool to keep those fingers tippy-tapping on the keyboard. Last Friday I attended one at the Queensland Writers Centre (free to members) where the buzzer was set to the Pomodoro technique, a 25 minute on-off method. About thirty of us sat in harmony, working on our prose or edits, and there was nowhere to hide, no way to procrastinate.
What gets in Stella’s way?
Editing slows me down. Multiple projects on the go slow me down. Busy life moments slow me down. But even when the going is slow, the burn is there, under my breastbone, pushing me to pick up that pen and set it to paper. I will never stop adding to my word count.
My name is Stella Quinn, and #iamwriting
Sometimes, rather than being daunted by the thought of writing an entire manuscript, it is easier to face it in bite-sized chunks. Megan Mayfair has successfully increased her word count by tackling it in week-sized mouthfuls and here is her advice on The wonder of a week!
When it comes to word counts, I have found that breaking my goals into a week has been helpful. I suspect this is a direct result of the wonderful RWA Aspiring email loop. I found the Book-in-a-week (BIAW) challenges supportive and encouraging. I wrote big chunks of manuscripts during those weekly challenges and became more aware of tracking my word counts and measuring my productivity.
What I loved about these BIAW challenges was there was no pressure or judgement if you didn’t reach your total (because, hey, life happens) but there was a lot of cheering from the sidelines to help you reach your goal. It was lovely, and has set me up with some brilliant habits.
For me, each day can look very different thanks to family and work commitments. I’ve found trying to establish a consistent daily routine challenging, especially while my kids are still so young.
Some days there is no chance to write, other days, there is. And sometimes there is joyful, unexpected bonus time (hello, hubby taking all three kids to the park all Sunday afternoon!). Other times an urgent appointment or work commitments or hunting for an aqua (it HAS to be aqua, not blue, not teal, not green) t-shirt for the school play can cause havoc on a day.
But a week generally follows a pattern for me and given I’m an old-school paper planner sort of gal each Sunday I look ahead to the week and can allocate times I plan to write and set a total word count based on the chunks of time I can secure. It makes me feel less guilty if I’ve had a few non-writing days as I can look at the week as a total.
While I don’t think I could ever write a book in a week, given the ongoing quest for aqua t-shirts, the week long timeframe been a nice goal to work towards.
It’s perhaps no surprise to many of us, that often we find the solutions to our writing struggles from our writing friends. Marianne Bayliss has looked to another RWA group, many of whom are prolific writers, to spur on her writing.
What better way to gain insight into getting words on the page than to consult the RWA Facebook group: Word Count Warriors.
The responses from these supportive writers revealed the most common strategy is goal setting. For many it was a daily word goal, including weekends, while others preferred weekly or monthly goals.
Many find tracking their progress motivational, whether in a diary, spreadsheet or program. Marilyn Forsythe says, ‘I set myself a monthly word count target and keep track on a database. If I find myself falling behind my goal, seeing it on the screen gives me that added impetus to reach it.’
Another popular strategy is to know where you’re going for the next session. Even for non-plotters, having an idea of the scene you’re going to write helps to get the words down.
Several writers use timed sprints, either with fellow writers or solo. Lisa Ireland says, ‘I sprint with writing friends and we report our totals to each other. We check in with each other each day, see who is writing and then schedule times… there’s usually someone available to sprint with or at least to cheer you on if you have to go it alone!’ While Debbie Johansson says, ‘I also use a timer, usually 10-15 minutes at a time. I find this really helps to get the words down quick as I struggle with perfectionism.’
Also, establishing a routine was successful for many. As Jessica Wakefield succinctly states, ‘Routine…just sitting down every week day and writing.’
Tea Cooper adds, ‘Disconnect the internet and write in the study not with computer on my lap or at kitchen bench!’
While using many of the above strategies, the prolific Clare Connelly also adds, ‘(I) reward myself only when I hit a certain target (eg 2000 words or 40 minutes) with tea, coffee, chocolate, uber eats, beach walk. I have a playlist (Clarewriteslove on Apple Music!) that I listen to and it has an almost Pavlovian impact on me – when I hear the first song, I am in my writing vibe. I track when are the most effective times of day for me to write.’
Debbie Johansson finishes with, ‘I’ve recently found that being a part of a group like this [Word Count Warriors] is also a great way to be accountable to getting the words down as well as good inspiration and motivation.’
Thank you to the members of Word Count Warriors for your responses.
If you’d love a cheer squad for your writing (and is there anyone who doesn’t?) the Word Count Warriors Facebook page is a supportive, encouraging group of and for RWA members.
For some, the sheer Herculean levels of productivity of wordsome warriors might seem a little intimidating, but don’t be put off or downhearted. The reality is that what might work brilliantly for some, will not suit others. Each of us learns this by trial and error. Jayne Kingsley has been investigating the benefits of word ‘sprints’ to see if that can improve her word count.
Time to get Sprinting
Earlier this year I started looking around at various ways to increase my word count. I had a manuscript I really wanted to get finished, but alas I was struggling to find time to get the words down. I’d always found I wanted a few hours of time together before I’d sit and write. And well, I wanted them during the day, as my brain was usually shot in the evening after
the bedtime wars were done.
I stumbled across the idea of doing writing sprints, after reading some twitter posts by Maisey Yates. Now I’m sure this isn’t a new concept to most writers, but I’d never tried it and initially thought – no not for me. What on earth could I write in a short-allocated time slot? However, teaming up with two other writers who also wanted to get their manuscripts moving along, we decided to do timed sprints each day.
The times varied – sometimes first thing – a half hour sprint of writing. Or around lunchtime – which meant I could pop some Paw Patrol on for my older daughter and my younger would be having her nap. I tracked the words I wrote each day and found that I could normally achieve 500-700 words in a half hour period. The bonus being – because I was writing every day, I was staying in the story and not wasting time trying to work out what on earth I’d last been writing about.
I had a predicted 20k to go for my manuscript to be finished, and I managed that within a month. Not groundbreaking – but it certainly put a big smile on my face! And was timely, as a week after I’d finished the first draft, I received a request to send in the full manuscript. But I’m still waiting to hear on that 😉
Timed Sprints – my suggestions
- Start with a small allocated amount of time
- Lock it in with friends so you have accountability (to others and yourself)
- Track the word counts
- Try different times of day to see if any times suit you better
- Aim to do this every day – it helps keep the story front and centre
- If you get stuck, just write any scene for your characters – I started doing this and
found whilst it didn’t fit chronologically where I’d been at in the manuscript – it fit in
nicely later in the story.
And here’s a final thought on word counts from Lou Greene
The one thing I’ve learnt (and it has taken me several years to realise this nugget of truth), is that if I want to be a writer, I have to learn to be a bit selfish. I think for many people – and dare I say it, I’ve seen this to be the case especially with women and mothers – it is too easy to put yourself bottom of the priority list. First it’s the kids, then it’s your husband or partner, then it’s the dog or the cat, even the housework … but there comes a point when, if you really want to be a writer you might need to take stock, and even more importantly take time out for you and your writing. Make it your priority.
One way I have succeeded in prioritising my writing is to announce to the world (well my family). For instance, at the moment I am in the midst of NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I have successfully completed Nanowrimo previously (although I subsequently lost all bar 8,000 words of that manuscript, but that’s a whole other story … ), I have also attempted it (last year) and baled out after less than a week. It’s true, sometimes life gets in the way. But this year, with a few writing buddies, I’m going to give it another go in order to boost my writing and at least get beyond the current Groundhog self-editing of the first few pages situation.
Apart from the added incentive of declaring my intentions publicly, some of the other reasons Nanowrimo is such a gift is its ‘writing accessories’, and by that I mean the forums, the pep talks, the blogs and interviews, the free writing classes. Having said that, when it comes to committing to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to set yourself a limitation on these additional writerly treats, perhaps after you’ve completed your word goal for the day. NANOWRIMO is not easy but it is certainly doable (and even when I’ve failed at least I’ve increased my standard word count). If you write 1666.6 words a day, or if you really need to take the weekends off, 2,272.7 words Monday to Friday, then within 30 days you’ll have 50,000 words to your manuscript, no mean achievement.
No-one is going to condemn you if you fall off the wagon, but it is definitely worth hitching a lift courtesy of Nanowrimo.
So there are our gems on how to get more words on the page. We’d love you to share any other tips or tricks you have found work for you.
May your mind be bountiful, your words plentiful and your pages … not blank!