Slow Writer Reformed: It Can Be Done!

Image by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr (cc)Fridays are usually reserved for the links round-up post. But since I only have a short list of links this week, I'm going to save them for next week. Instead, I thought I'd feature one of the links more in depth since it spoke to something I've recently experienced.

As many of you who have been following me for a while know, I call myself a slow writer. I'm one of those people who has trouble turning the inner editor off when drafting, which results in drafting being a painstaking process for me. (I much prefer revising.) However, with my last few books, I've had to deal with the new issue of writing under a deadline. 

Last November I tackled this slow writer issue head on because I had the deadline for FALL INTO YOU (the book coming out this January) coming up quickly. So I wrote a post called Slow Writer Reform School with my plan. I did finish that book, though I think I was a week or two over deadline.

But then this summer, I had some major issues with the concept of my fourth book. The original concept ended up not being a go (mutual decision between me and my editor) so I had to restart it not once but basically two and half times until I nailed the plot and the hero (*snort*). One of those times, I was 20k in. So that led to having TWO months to get from page one to done on a 90k novel. And that wasn't flexible because the e-serial was waiting behind it, so needed to get to work on that immediately afterward.

I was near panic. My last deadline crunch that I was worried about was a four month one, now that was cut in half. *envision me breathing into a paper bag* The thought of not meeting a deadline freaks me out. I'm that obsessive straight-A student at my core, so I just decided that I was going to have to figure out a way to do this. And I did. But how?

Well, I think this article, Changing Your Process by author Ann Aguirre on Writer Unboxed, pinpointed what I'd done without realizing it. I'd trained up. Her advice:

Whatever pace you’re currently writing at, make sure it’s comfortable. Then, over a long period of time, months, not weeks, train up. 

When I set up my "Slow Writer Reform School" for myself a year ago, here were a few of my goals (click link to see the rest of them):

  • I'm holding myself to a 1k a day minimum goal
  • I'm writing in pockets of time I usually wasted doing something unimportant
  • I'm am not tying my ability to write to a certain time of the day
  • And when I want to make a major change in the story, I just make a note and don't rewrite the whole thing right then.

So these points when I looked back at them today kind of made me laugh because I'm thinking--really, my stretch goal was 1k a day? o.0 (That's not to say 1k isn't an excellent goal for a writer, but it gives me perspective of how much can change in a year.)

With this last book, I wrote and revised 97,000 words in 60 working days (which was actually 9 weeks because I don't work on weekends.) So that breaks down to roughly 1600 words a day--but of course revisions were worked into that time frame so it was more like 2k a day for drafting days. That wasn't the stretch goal that was the--DO THIS OR YOU'RE GOING TO BE EFFING LATE goal. Funny how motivating panic can be. :)

And as for not writing only at a certain time of day, that changed too. Besides weekends, which I reserved for family time, I wrote whenever I could. When I couldn't write anymore or was running out of steam, I'd read for a while to refill my brain with words. 

And to my own shock, I did it. I remember looking back at the calendar where I marked page one/word one in amazement. I'd written a freaking novel in two months. I'd done NaNo word count two months back to back. For a fast writer, maybe that wouldn't be so amazing, but for me, it was a really big deal. (Now, a caveat, I have not gotten the book back from my editor yet so it may be a heaping pile of crap that needs major rewrites, but let's hope not.)

The thing I want to make clear about this experience, however, is that it wasn't some magical, transcendent thing. I've heard fast writers and Nano-ers say that once you start this kind of marathon, the words just spill out and the process takes on a life of its own. That was NOT how it was for me. My internal editor was still banging around in my brain. There were days the words flowed more easily than others, and on those days I'd exceed my word count--even having a few 4k days. But most days it was a matter of Scrivener* saying "Your daily goal is xxxx" and me typing no less than that amount. Period. 

It's a commitment to not let the day end without meeting that goal. I didn't have room to get behind. And you know what? I think it formed a new habit. I trained up.

Ann Aguirre mentions in her post that research shows a habit is actually formed at more like 66 days instead of the 21 we've heard. And I'm starting to believe that's true. That's the amount of time I did this marathon. And now that I'm done, it feels "normal" to sit down each down and pound out words. I feel...changed. I told my hubs after I turned in my manuscript that I didn't know what to do with myself for the few days I didn't write afterward. It was like--I remember there were other things I used to do but what were those again? Oh yeah, look, TV shows. Lol.

So now that I'm embarking on this e-serial, which has another tight deadline (though a little better than the last one), I don't feel nearly as panicked. I know I can do this now. I've trained up and created a new normal. Now the key will be keeping myself in check and now letting myself slide back into old habits.

NOTE: If you want to get tips on training up, I totally recommend Candace Havens' Fast Draft Class that Ann mentions in the post. I've taken it twice. And though I have no intention of writing a book in two weeks. The tips themselves are really great for picking up your speed regardless of your goal.

So how about you? Do you feel like you have this daily word count barrier you find impossible to break through? Are you a fast writer or a slow one? Any NaNo-ers discovering new things about their process?

*By the way, that word count feature in Scrivener is the BEST THING EVER. You can put in your ultimate word count goal, the day of your deadline, and what days of the week you write. Then it will give you a daily word count every morning. And it adjusts each day if you write more or less than your goal the day before. I credit that simple feature with much of my success with reaching my goal. I liked seeing exactly how much I needed each day.