I read this on Brian Keene’s blog a few months ago and it stuck with me. As NaNoWriMo ends tomorrow it seemed like a perfect time to post about it. The post is too long for me to paste the whole thing here – for the full version I recommend reading it on Brian’s website (and buy a book while you’re there!)
Long story short, Brian is a prolific writer, has authored dozens of books, scripted comics, written adaptations for film – and he’s always under pressure to complete his next project. In July, after a spate of bad health and other matters he’d fallen behind so he wrote 80,000 words in a weekend to catch up.
Just as Nano writers are tirelessly churning out the words and trying to ignore their inner editor, Brian did the same. On the prospect of writing so much in so little time he said, “Writing 40,000 words in one day is really only practical for three things — pulp, porn, and first drafts.” And he’s right; that work, like the stories being written around the world right now, will need editing, pruning, rewriting. Some of it may be scrapped entirely – but without writing it in the first place the book would never get started.
How did he manage it? Well, he stuck to three rules:
- No distractions
“All I did for the entire weekend was write and sleep. The only times I wasn’t writing or sleeping were to check Twitter a few times a day, to call Mary once per night, and to attend my youngest son’s karate class. Other than those few things, all I did was write. I didn’t mow the lawn. I didn’t clean the house. I ignored all incoming phone calls. I skipped out on attending events, and I declined invitations to hang out with friends. All I did was write. And when I got tired, I slept. And when I woke up, I wrote some more. Did my wrists hurt? Sure. Did I give myself carpal tunnel? It certainly seems like it. Do I feel bad that I missed out on things? Of course. But did I accomplish what I set out to do? Absolutely.”
- Know what you’re going to write ahead of time
“The 40,000 words in one day constituted a complete novella (Sundancing) and part of a novel (The Lost Level). If you’re curious, Sundancing was 20,000 words long. The other 20,000 applied to The Lost Level. In both of these cases, I knew exactly where the story was going before I started the weekend’s writing.
Writing 20,000 words about my experiences at Sundance, and what going there taught me about myself and our industry, was as easy as telling a friend about it over the phone or over drinks (or both). And adding 20,000 words to The Lost Level, while not as easy as the former, was still a breeze because a) I knew that my characters needed to find a crashed Nazi flying saucer and then fight a giant slug, and b) it was fun as hell to write.”
“Had these been novels I was starting from scratch, or had the subject matter been something I didn’t feel as intimate or close to (Sundancing), or simply frivolous and fun to write (The Lost Level) there’s no way I would have written that many words in a day.”
- Quantity over quality
“These were both first drafts. I can not stress that enough. These are first drafts. The 80,000 words I wrote this weekend are not meant to be turned in to a publisher, nor are they ready for you to read. They are the basic foundations of the books to come.”
I don’t think I even need to expand on those points. All I will do is give you some of his final comments to think upon.
“The important thing to remember is this — writers get too hung up on word counts. It doesn’t matter if you produce 1,000 words per day or 10,000 words per day. What matters is that you produce words. Novels and stories don’t write themselves. Ass in chair, fingers on keyboard, repeat as necessary is the best method I know. If you’ve written 1,000 words today and someone else has written twice that amount, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve written. Be proud of what you’ve produced.”
If you’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo this year, congratulations, and I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself.
What are your best tips for writing? How do you motivate yourself to start? And when’s the right time to stop?
Lifelong geek, and now admin at Worlds Beyond.