Twitter is an amazing place to find your writing community. There are a tone of great hashtags, and different writing discussions all the time. One of the things you’ll see is people being accountable and posting their word count. You’ll see it and think holly shit, why can’t I write 10K+ words in a day. Part of it is your schedule, and part of it is knowing who you are as a writer, and a lot of that comes with time and trial and error.
Therefore, today, I’m going to lift that curtain for you, and let you know what a 10k day looks like for me, and how I get it. And then what an average writing schedule looks like after I get that mystical magical 10K day.
First thing, I’m only going to get one 10 K day per writing project. This is going to happen on the first day I sit down to plot out a novel idea. This day is word vomit day. This day I’m throwing out everything I know about the book, and characters, and writing down whatever scenes I know about as fast as I can, as roughly as I can. Scene descriptions, dialogue back and forth. It’s messy. It’s idea day. I then try to format it into a Scrivener document with things like character sheets, locations, world building, and a point form list of scene ideas. Then I take any partially written scenes, and put them in their own pages and put them roughly in order.
Second thing to know, is that this type of writing is only ever going to happen on a weekend, when I have my schedule completely cleared. I’ll get up at 10 am with a story idea ticking, sit down with my laptop, and only move when absolutely necessary. I’m in the zone, and the zone is all that matters. But I need that mental space to hit the stride.
In this stage of writing, this crazy messy drafting, and word vomiting stage, please note, I’ll be lucky if 2k of what I’ve written makes it into the final product of the novel. At this stage, all of this, is just for me. It’s me trying to figure out the story, and if it’s worth telling. Sometimes stories will sit in time out for months, or even years after this, until I know how to tackle them.
So after a 10K drafting then what happens? Well either I shelf it to marinate a bit longer, or I dive back in and keep working on it.
If I dive back in this is what I’m looking at next:
After this mad drafting phase, I’m going to spend some time cleaning up. This is where the bulk of the writing comes in. I’m the type of writer that likes to clean up as I go. This way my writing feels less unwieldly. A lot of the time to get back into the writing headspace, I’m re-reading, and cleaning up, before I start drafting a new scene. A lot of time I’m massaging for flow and adding descriptions and dialogue tags. I can draft dialogue fast, but will skip everything else in that moment.
If I‘m in a scene, but can’t figure out the mechanics of what I want to do, I’ll write myself some messy notes, like I want this character to do this thing or feel this thing in this scene. I can’t tell you how many times these notes have saved my ass. Sometimes I’ll be weeks between writing sessions and when I get back in there I forget what I was trying to do, and I get to the bottom and there is my note, and I’m like YES, that is exactly what needs to happen, and now I know how to do this.
I also really like having a running point form list of scenes I want to tackle. This helps me figure out what I want to do next time I sit down to right. This is me loosely outlining. I like them in point form, because paragraphs take too much mental energy to navigate.
I also keep character sheets, and world building info sheets. You may think you can hold all that information in your head, but in my case, I’ve been dead wrong about that. Scrivener has some great templates, if you like a template. Personally I like a master list, with names, and how they are connected. Then each person gets a sheet, to which I point form there stats onto. I could organize it a bit more, but I find that it’s a rabbit whole of distraction doing a character sheet all formatted. Not everything on my character sheet fits into boxes, like hair color, or hobbies. Mine is more about who they are as a person.
So after a crazy 10K writing day, even with all of the tools I’ve set up for myself, the average writing day will look like 500 words on a weeknight. That 500 words can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours to get, depending on what I’m doing. If I’m tweaking/editing a scene, then it’s 2 hours. If I’m drafting, maybe that is 15 minutes. If I’m doing a polished first write, then it can be 1 hour.
What is a polished first write? It’s somewhere between drafting, and editing. It’s where I’m really focused on the mechanics of the scene, and being really choosy about how I’m telling that story. Every word counts, every scene descriptions, every location, every character, every emotion, every bit of dialogue. I’m painting in words, trying to evoke a mood.
I can sometimes do a 2K night on a weeknight. That will be a combination of drafting new scenes, and editing old scenes. It will be a long night of writing, with just me and my computer for 3-5 hours.
On a weekend, if I have my schedule cleared, I can do a 5K day when I’m in the writing stage of things, provided I have been living in my novel, have a good list of scenes to complete, and am working on cleaning up as I go. This is 8+ hours to get 5K.
When I was a younger writer, I could regularly do 5-8K days without thinking about it. But I also wasn’t organizing my novels the way I do now. I thought that everything I wrote went into the novel proper. I wanted to show my audience everything. From waking up in the morning, to going to bed. I wanted to show them plotting things out, and then show the exact same thing they just discussed happening. I was so green, I didn’t know about pacing and keeping your audience on the edge of their seat. I was always the person who wanted to see behind the scenes, and so in my writing I did that. It makes for great word count, but boring novels.
Now I write things like in this scene, this is what really is happening, but this is what we are going to show the audience. If you’re planning a heist, you’re not going to map out how the heist is going to go, tell the audience, and then have the heist happen, and show your audience the heist, unless in the showing everything goes wrong. Most likely, you’re going to say you have plotted a heist, fade to black, and then show the heist in process. You want people on the edge of their seat, with as little information as possible, wondering what next.
That type of writing, that knowing what you want to do, vs writing what you are willing to show, that’s an art, and that takes time. Writing is art, and the more you do it, the more you graduate from a little kid scribbling in a colouring book, to outlining and painting your own story, with layers and shading. You realize that the more detailed, the more developed, the more nuanced you make the story, the more time it takes you as the writer to craft the story, and think about it deeply.
As a newbie a good writing day was easily a 5-10K day. But of that, I know now maybe only 500-2K I could keep. As a more seasoned writer a good day is a 2K day, and of that, depending on how long I took to write the scene, 500-1.5K of that I’m going to keep. Sometimes all of it gets cut, because even when the writing is good, and the pacing is good, it could still be taking my story in a direction I don’t have time or space for.
So if you are on twitter and you see people boasting crazy word counts, this is your behind the scenes look at what that actually means for me. The reality is 500 words per day. The reality is knowing you’re going to be overwriting and cutting a lot of it. The reality is the best way to get a novel written is to have a direction. The reality is to show up as often as you can, the more the better.
Stop worrying about how other people write their novels and what their word counts are; it’s only going to drive you green with envy. Write your own novel, and cheer everyone on. It’s a much better community that way.