This post could also be titled How to Do Anything Big, Scary, and Intimidating. You see, I had a great day of writing yesterday, over 5000 words, without really trying too hard, and I think I have figured out the method of novel-writing that works best for me. It’s something I should have realized long ago, because I’ve advocated this method for doing all sorts of big, scary things like dissertations, cleaning out the closet, planning a wedding, starting an exercise program, or anything that’s so large it can’t possibly be done. Are you ready to learn the secret that has turned novel-writing into something fast, easy, and enjoyable? Here it is:
1. Plan for a few minutes, somewhere between 5-15. Think about your next scene and what really needs to happen in it. Do you need to describe a character? Then think about what the bits are that need to be described. Is it a conversation in which the characters make some realization? Plan out the general flow of the dialog and how you’ll reveal the conclusion. Perhaps you just need some action — what is that action going to be? Just plan out the one very next thing you need to write about. If you can’t quite see the next scene, but you see the one after that, then go for the later one and come back to fill in the gap the next time around. You will find a way to bridge the gap. (If you’re one of those folks who plan your novel ahead of time, you might not need very much of this planning time, but you still need some mental preparation to remember what should happen in the scene.)
2. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Then write as quickly as you possibly can for that 15 minutes. If there is someone else there also writing, compete to see who can get the most words down in that time. If you’re alone, try to break your own record for speed. You know what needs to be in the scene from your planning, so now you just have to get it down on paper as quickly as possible.
3. When the timer goes off, finish your thought. If you have a significant portion of the scene left to write, you can do another timed 15 minutes immediately, but I usually need a little more planning time before I’m ready for the next bit.
4. Set the timer for 15 minutes and do something else — anything else. Make and drink some hot chocolate, play a video game, or read a book. As long as you are taking a break from writing and planning. You might find your mind wandering back to your novel during your break. That’s okay; creativity works best when you are relaxed. But don’t try to force it during your break time. That’s what the planning time is for! When the timer goes off, stop your break and repeat these steps until you’ve painlessly written your words for the day.
I went to three in-person writing meets so far, and all of them have featured a variation on this technique. We chat and socialize for a little while, then we get a warning that a sprint is coming up in5-10 minutes while everyone starts to prepare. Then we have a 15 minute sprint where we race to write, and at the end we compare word counts and chat and drink coffee and relax again. It has been super-effective to my productivity; I managed 4000 words in four hours at a coffee shop yesterday, and that time was spent mostly chatting and not writing. My personal 15-minute record to beat: 898 words, which I hardly thought would be possible in just 15 minutes!
I went to bed Friday night hating my novel because it was slow and dragging, but by the end of yesterday, I loved it again because the planning, sprinting, relaxing technique helped me see how to get the plot moving again. This renewed excitement has led me to want to attempt the ultimate test of this technique today. I have always considered a 10,000-word day to be something of myth and legend, something not attainable by us mere mortals but only the highest echelons of writers. Today, I am going for it! Today, I attempt the impossible! 10K or bust!
(Edit: I cannot claim credit for the 15-minutes-at-a-time method of working; that’s something I learned from FlyLady a dozen years ago.)