I started this post a few weeks ago, but I’ve just been so damned busy I’ve not had chance to finish it. With my most pressing deadlines past, I have a rare breathing space. Additionally, the big WordPress omnibrain tells me it’s three years to the day since I registered to blog. I might not be a prolific blogger, but that’s got to mean something, right? So I figured I’d finish this post off by way of celebration.
Between 18th and 26th July I turned out 28,772 words on my fourth novel for Black Library (it has Eldar in it). In total, the book took me just under 11 weeks to write, including a proper second draft. I’d not finish a NaNoWriMo novel, and I doubt I’ll ever beat someone like Michael Moorcock for productivity (he used to write books in a weekend). But I reckon by most measures, working part-time and on other projects simultaneously, that’s pretty good going.
During that week of high productivity, I had two days where I managed 5800 and 6100. I tweeted about this because, well, I was bragging and I felt very pleased with myself. I’ve had a few conversations with authors recently where the other party has expressed surprise at this number. So, I thought I’d share my writing process in easy to deal with bullet points! Go bullet points.
First up though, here’s some caveats:
- This is how I write. There is no one way to write. While I was a full-time journalist, I interviewed dozens of writers. Wanting to be a writer myself, I always asked them how they wrote. Answer: They all do it differently. (FYI, I am deeply suspicious of anyone who suggests they have discovered the “one true way”. This goes equally for priests, economists, gamblers, and recovering alcoholics. Most of them have found “their” one true way, great for them, maybe not for you. This is my way, it’s probably not your way).
- I did learn something from all those writers, however, and some of the below is adapted from Dan Abnett‘s working practices – he’s stupidly prolific. I only wish I had his cloning machine.
- I don’t always write this much. I write quickest towards the end of a book, although I have a productive period around the second quarter. The rest is a real slog.
- I wrote a lot in that particular week as my son was off school. Although I am writing for fewer days in the holidays – as I have more childcare to do – the days I do have are longer, because he’s in daycare for eight hours. This is very important, as you’ll see.
- While writing, I’m usually doing a bunch of other stuff too.
- Other writers write more. Gav Thorpe, good buddy and fellow BL author, regularly writes 7000 words a day. Unless he’s lying, but he’s an honest chap.
Good? Let’s go.
Guy’s Big Writing tips
1. Learn to touch type
I finally taught myself to touch type using a free, online application in 2007, ten years after I started writing for a living. As I knew where all the keys were, it only took a fortnight to learn (badly – I would make a lousy secretary). But I can type a lot faster than I used to, and using all of my fingers rather than just two means my hands no longer hurt.
2. Turn off the fucking internet
It’s a huge time-suck. The number of times I press refresh on my novel ranking tracker page is terrifying. Writing time should be for writing. Some days I have to have the internet on if I need to look up lots of information, some days I leave it on when I shouldn’t. At least intending to turn it off means it will be turned off some of the time, which is better than having it on all of the time. John French uses this thing called Freedom. I’ve not tried it, but he says it’s a godsend.
3. Don’t sweat the little stuff
If I need to look only one or two things up, often I leave this in the text ??? so I can avoid turning the internet on. I leave minor research until the commencement of my next writing session so as to avoid the traps of the interweb, and to keep my flow on.
4. Avoid rewriting
Don’t rewrite until you have a goodly chunk down, else you’ll end up rewriting the same bit of prose a bazillion times and never finish your book. This is what happened to me in the 90s, when I was trying to write my very first – and never finished – novel. I will rewrite the first 10,000 words a few times, as this section of the book sets the tone. After that, I break halfway through to go over what I have written again, mainly to foreshadow plot developments or intensify character traits that have arisen as I’ve been writing. Having a redrafted first half gives me a solid base to work from for the second half. Only when it’s all done will more rewriting occur. On saying that, sometimes I might start the day going over what I wrote the day before, especially battle scenes, but habitually I avoid doing this.
5. Plan ahead…
Planning books always seemed wrong to me. But I had to plan out my first BL book – Baneblade – in great detail, and actually I found it really helped. Now, I tend to produce a chapter by chapter plan, including within cool/important scenes I might need, sometimes even short stretches of book text. It’s not very detailed, the whole thing might stretch to three sides of A4 in 12-point text, and I don’t stick to it too slavishly.
6. Have a big breakfast
Seriously, sitting there hungry is distracting. Plus, if you have a big brekkie, you can work through lunch with minimal discomfort if the muse has you in her grasp.
7. Stick to good working hours
It’s a job. Work regular hours. Even if your hours are irregular by others’ standards, keep a routine. Mine is usually to start at 9.10, do admin/attend to other work/faff around for an hour, write from 10.30 until 12.00, walk the dog, have lunch, write from 1.30pm until 3.00pm. If I’m busy, I’ll also write from 8.00pm until 9.00pm in the evening. I’d work more, but I have to look after my boy. I’ve found it nearly impossible to work with a five year-old around.
8. Jump around!
I don’t write linearly. I read somewhere that the path to productivity is to make your work avoidance worthwhile. If you find yourself dodging what you should be doing, do something else of equal or nearly equal value. If I get bored or stuck, I move onto a more interesting part of the book. Sometimes I might write all the “interesting” bits first, and then link them up. This has the advantage of helping you ditch those dull bits you think your story needs but find it doesn’t without having to laboriously remove them during redrafting, because no part of a story should be dull, yeah? Scrivener is invaluable for this. It pretty much doubled my output overnight.
9. Set yourself an improbable target
As anti-BoHo, corporate whorish as it sounds, I have to set targets, as my work is a complicated web of interlocking deadlines. If I miss my wordage targets, it impacts on everything else. Overruns happen anyway, but the closer you stick to your ideal number of words, then the less damage gets done to one’s work schedule. I tend to set myself really high targets which I rarely reach, but striving for them means I tend to write more than I would otherwise and finish my project before the deadline. This (in a complicated way) gives my schedule built-in wriggle room should I fall behind on my actual target. Yes, I am aware of this, and yes, my devious brain takes that into account when thinking about sloping off to the pub. It’s all doublethink, but it works for me.
10. And then just a little more
When you hit your target (real, impossible, or whimsically determined that day) write 500 more words.
11. And perhaps, in the evening, a little more still
And another 1000 after the kids are in bed. It is permissible to drink at this stage.
Of course, I’m a mercurial character. A typical Gemini. (I don’t believe in horoscopes, but I’m contradictory in nature enough to refer to them while writing this kind of thing, see?) So sometimes I follow some, all, or none of the above rules. Crash, for example, was barely planned. Consequently, it was harder to write, but the end result was of a different texture to a planned book. Variety is key. Or something. Whatever. There are no rules. Just write, is all.