One of the best lessons I learned by doing NaNoWriMo was that I can absolutely write faster than I ever thought I could. All it took was one simple thing to quadruple my writing speed. Who knew?
Any Writing is Good Writing
Years ago, when I first started getting up early to write before work, I would be super proud of myself if I got 500 words in before the kids woke up. That took me about an hour. Not terrible. Hey, I was writing. Even 100 words a day adds up. But I now know, I can write faster.
These days, I’m writing about 2,000 words an hour.
I discovered that I could write at that pace during NaNoWriMo. There were days when I just didn’t have much time and I had to write fast, so I decided to try what the NaNoWriMo kids call a “writing sprint.” Basically, you just decide to write a certain number of words in a set period of time, and do it. For all you runners out there – think of it as interval training.
For me, a good goal was 1,000 words in 30 minutes. I would scribble my end time on a post-it note and stick it to my computer screen. Then I would write. About fifteen minutes in I would feel my shoulders slump and I would want to stop, but I would push on until I hit my predetermined end time and you know what? I hit my goal every time. It was awesome. Then I would get up, stretch, make some tea, use the bathroom, and go again. It really does feel like sprinting, and the breaks are important for catching your breath (so to speak).
After writing like that for a couple of weeks, I found the pace much easier to maintain. Those sprints were excellent training. These days, I’m writing about 2,000 words in an hour without really stressing about it. It’s shocking to me, but true. I simply trained myself to write faster.
The trick at first is to not give a damn about quality. Those first few sprints are hard. It’s best to not even look at what you just wrote. You have to completely silence your inner critic. Just tell that little voice in your head to shut up for 30 minutes.
If 1,000 words feels like too much, start with less. Maybe do a test run to see how much you’re currently writing in 30 minutes, then add 100 words to your goal for tomorrow. You have to find a word count goal that is obtainable, but pushes your limits. You should feel a little stressed while you’re doing it. That’s how you get faster. Maybe start with 500 words in half an hour. Then, next week, try 700 words in the same amount of time.
As I got used to the faster pace, I found that my brain anticipated better. The words came easier and with fewer glaring blemishes. It’s all still first draft material, but it’s not as ugly as it used to be. It will require less editing.
Of course, the main benefit of writing four times faster than I used to is that I’m hitting my goals more quickly. A draft of 100,000 words would have taken me 200 days of writing before. Now I can bust that first draft out in 50 days of writing. Less than two months. That, in itself, is encouraging and gets me super excited about writing.
How fast do you write? Maybe it doesn’t matter to you at all. Or maybe you think 2,000 words an hour is child’s play. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
Mark Sibley says
April, just to confirm that this works, I write a good deal early in the morning at a coffee shop (like you know who did), before I head to work. I find that I shovel a lot of words this way because there are no distractions and I know I have a mandatory stopping point (work). So, I just sit down with my coffee and write. Yes, it’s crap. However, that’s what Saturday’s are for. I can usually do about 800-1200 words in that hour before work. Do that for 2 months and boom you’ve got a first draft. Your post just validated that what I’m doing actually works! Thank you!! I’ve got 120k words for my first draft of my debut novel!!! Love your other posts as well. You can find me on the twitter @mnsibley
Dang, Mark. 120 thousand words! That’s awesome. Smart of you to go to a coffee shop. There’s something about getting out of the house that helps minimize distractions. Where are you with it now? Editing, I assume? Keep me posted. I love to hear about people making it work. Cheers!
Willie Handler says
I’m definitely going to try this. I don’t even write 500 words per hour.
I found it really surprising how much faster I could write when I made that the focus. It really helped me turn off my internal editor and get a first draft done. Good luck. Let me know how it goes!
that’s looks like an interesting challenge !
when you do a sprint you already know about what you will write, or do you write only what came in you mind ?
April Davila says
I wrote my first novel with no idea where I was going and I ended up trashing hundreds of pages. I finally figured out the story and am almost done, but from now I plan to have a solid outline. That said, I know some people find their most interesting stuff when they just write, especially when they push themselves to write fast and just get their own brain out of the way. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you. (And when you do, will you share? I’d love to know.)
Stephen Davenport says
I think I’ll give this a try
April Davila says
Let me know how it goes!
Kat Stiles says
This is great stuff, I’ll have to time myself and stop editing as I go. Love to churn out a book every few months, that would be awesome!
Wouldn’t that be exciting? I know editing will still take a while, but busting out those first drafts would certainly take the pressure off. Let me know how it goes!
Jason Quinten Kincade says
Call me a turtle, April. I spend so much time on my first drafts—editing as I go—that 1,000 words in 30 minutes, for me, seems inconceivable. But, nevertheless, your post has inspired me to put on my track shoes and give it a go. What’s to lose? If I finish poorly, no one will know, but if I do well—I can strut! Thanks,
Hi, Jason, writing sprints aren’t for everyone, I’m sure, but I find my first drafts are always crap (as they should be) and so it’s really satisfying to get through them more quickly. Let me know how it goes. I’ll be the first to applaud your strut!