How To Maximize Your Word Count And Write More Every Day

Man, that blog title is soulless, isn’t it? I tried coming up with something funny — something about word vomit? something-something faster pussycat, write, write? — and it just wasn’t happening. So, despite sounding like some kind of mid-90s infomercial, I figure it’s best to just say what the post is actually about so we’re all on the same page and nobody thinks I’m going to vomit on them or throw inky-pawed cats at their head. Right? Right. So –

A few months back I wrote up a zero-fuckery writing plan of 350 words per day that gets you a novel in a year. It is the slow-and-steady method — it’s you chipping away at your Magnum Opus (which is Latin for “Giant Penguin”) until one day a novel is staring up at you, goo-slick and trembling, a creative effort finally born into your world.

The other day, though, I had a short Twitter discussion (a “twitscussion”) with a few other authors based on a tweet by the smoldering, sardonic lothario, Andrew T. Shaffer — who, point of fact, shares the same middle name as Craig T. Nelson, which is “Tits.” Herr Doktor Shaffer is at Romantic Times, where he was listening to David Morrell speak. Shaffer reported:

The discussion that ensued was about writing fast and how many books an author can cram into a given year. Most folks seem to write one, maybe two. Matt Forbeck writes like, I think 52 books a year? That guy must write on the toilet, in the car, in his sleep.

I think last year I wrote… four books? Plus some script work. And not to mention around 250,000 words here at the blog alone. By the end of May this year, I will have written three novels — one of them a 120,000-word Leviathan of YA cornpunk weirdness.

I generally write about 3,000 brand new shiny so-fresh-and-so-clean words per day.

Some of you may want to escalate your word count and punt that slow-and-steady approach right in the See You Next Tuesday. As such, if you want to write MORE FASTER NOW NOW NOW, well, shit, the best I can do is pretend I’m an expert and offer up some tips.

Hide your children. Let us begin.

Do Your Writing In The Morning

Writing in the morning has more potential than writing in the evening and here’s why: writing at the end of the day means the candle is burning down. The timer is ticking. You’re watching the horizon eat the sun and with it, the remaining hours before sweet, sweet slumber.

Ah, but write in the morning? You have the entire day ahead of you. The day is practically bloated with hours — fuck, a whole 24 of them, last I heard. (Unless you’re on some kind of distant interstellar colony reading this in the future, at which point I hope you’re enjoying your 30-hour-days and are also staying safe from the Slabbering Meteorsquid — they’re such assholes, those guys. I mean, really. Acid blood? HELLO, UNORIGINAL.)

Write at the end of the day, you’re racing the clock.

Write at the fore of the day, you own the clock.

Wake Up An Hour Earlier

Morning writing might mean waking up an hour earlier. Over time, as the septic infection called “adulthood” has seeped into my marrow, I’ve managed to get up earlier and earlier — 8AM to 7AM to 6:30 to 6 and now sometimes 5:30 or even 5 o’clock in the goddamn morning. I didn’t even know the morning had a five o’clock. I was like, WHAT CRASS HOUR IS THIS? DO I SEE A FIVE UPON MY WATCH? IS THIS DINNER TIME? IS THERE AN ECLIPSE? WHERE IS MY APERITIF?

Still, I have a toddler. The toddler is a voracious time-eater. He will wolf down your attention and productivity and time by dint of his cuteness. (And occasionally by dint of his wild, banshee-like howls of teething rage.) Getting up earlier is me trying to beat him to wakefulness.

And I get a lot more done when I get up earlier. By the time the tiny human wakes up, I usually have 1500 words already written and one cup of coffee already in the well of my belly.

Coffee

If I don’t drink coffee in the morning, I don’t write nearly as much. Coffee is the Earth’s blood. IT LUBRICATES THE GEARS. Without it, everything seizes up — a fly stuck in peanut butter. I don’t drink a ton of it — which means that when I really need a high-octane writing day with a lot of word count, I can drink an extra cup (or seven) and actually reap the rewards.

Snatch Time From Life’s Thieving Jaws And Use It To Write

When life gives you no time, MAKE TIME TRAVELING LEMONADE.

That can’t be right. But it’ll have to do.

What I mean is, life is a low place that fills up quickly with whatever comes its way — water, sand, mud, elk scat, the tears of all the world’s children, whatever. Your time will swiftly fall prey to the nibbles and pecks of the Things-To-Do-Bird: you gotta go to work, go to the store, take out the trash, artificially inseminate that baboon HEY I SAID ARTIFICIALLY PUT YOUR PANTS BACK ON. Time fills up fast. Life is greedy and eager to exploit.

If you’re going to write a lot, you’re going to need to feint and duck, stick and move, and reach in to grab fistfuls of time-flesh and use it for your own sinister purposes: in this case, writing. Got a lunch break? Write. Sitting at a long stop light? Take a few quick voice notes on your phone. Lounging around in post-coital baboon afterglow? Put some words to paper, goddamnit.

I used to work a job where I started out as customer service and ended up as a “systems manager,” whatever that means, and during my several years at the company I would constantly be hiding the windows of the work I was supposed to be doing for the company and opening a word processor window and typing out a quick 250 words here and there. A dick move against the company, though they were known for their own dick moves against employees.

Hey, whatever. WRITER GONNA WRITE.

Schedules And Deadlines

God, that’s like the most boring-est version of Dungeons & Dragons ever. “You’ve been attacked by the Gelatinous Cubicle! Your sword is +4 against spreadsheets! Wade into the Temple of Excelemental Evil!” Blech. Still. Still! Having a schedule keeps me sane and helps me meet my writing goals. I toss all the projects I need to write into a spreadsheet. I calculate them by day how much I have to write to get ‘em done. I mark deadlines and potential start dates. I doodle wangs and vajeenies in the margins just to keep it real.

This helps me hit my targets and keep me on track.

Plan, Prep, Plot, Scheme

I outline not because I like it but because I must. I am a pantser by heart, a plotter by necessity. I have to know at least a little bit where my story is going — and here’s the mileage that it gets you: when you come to the page clueless in the morning, you spend some of your time just dicking around. Thinking. Starting. Stopping. More thinking. Drinking vodka (aka “Daddy’s Magic Muse Water”). Napping. A lot of “not actually writing, yet” activities.

Ah, but if you start the day with a mission statement already in play thanks to an outline, you can jump in, eschew any planning the day might require, and just start writing. The goal is to give as much of your time to actually telling the story as you can.

Politely Ask For The Time You Need

You will not get the time you need to write unless you ask for it.

It’s that simple.

Nobody’s psychic. You want to write, you need to tell your wife, husband, children, pets, live-in love-slave, robot butler — “Hey, I really need an hour today to do this because it’s important to me.” Part of it’s because everyone assumes it’s a hobby. They assume you’ll fill your copious free time (HA HA HA FREE TIME GOOD ONE, ME *self-five*) with writing as you would if you were building model airplanes or doing Nude Sunbathing Full-Contact Sudoku.

If it’s important to you, you need to gesticulate wildly and ask for the time.

And if they don’t give it to you, well, then that becomes a whole different conversation.

Write With Your Internal Editor Gagged And Shoved In A Box

Editing as you go is a perfectly viable way to write.

It is not a perfectly viable way to write quickly and to maximize your word count.

Editing as you go is recursive — write a thing, go back over that same thing once, twice, as many times as your obsessive nature demands. You’re treading the same ground. Walking in the same footprints. Like I say: totally viable in terms of process if that’s what works. But it doesn’t move you forward very quickly and that’s the goal, here, at least in terms of this post –

To write a lot, and to do it with some speed.

Which means you need to shut your internal editor up. Elbow him in the throat and shove him in a duffel bag. Remind him his time will come. The editor always gets the last laugh.

Silence Self-Doubt With Hollowpoint Bullets Packed With Your Indifference

Worse than your internal editor is that spiritual goblin that nests over your creative and intellectual impulse centers, using his greasy ovipositor to plant quivering eggs of sulfurous self-doubt all over your well-being. You sit there and write and hate everything about what you’re doing and want to punch your characters, your paragraphs, your whole story, yourself.

Self-doubt is a sticky mud, indeed.

It will slow you down.

And, tut-tut-tut, we cannot have that. No we cannot.

You need to shut that shit up. Stopper your self-doubt up. Brick the demon into a dark grotto, Cask of Amontillado-style. And you say, well, great, but how do I do that? And here I don’t have any great advice. The secret, actually, isn’t in the silencing of your self-doubt.

The secret is in ignoring it.

We’re not particularly smart about our own authorial worth while in the midst of writing something. We love what sucks and hate what works and at least for me, during writing a project my headspace starts to look like the back of my television: a thousand wires braided together, no idea which one is to the cable box and the Xbox and that’s the optical audio and the HEY IS THAT LICORICE ew black licorice ptoo ptoo ptoo. Point is, you start to lose the sense of what feeling is moored to what part of your story. It’s all just a tangle of wires.

Your self-doubt just ain’t that goddamn effective. Or accurate.

It’s like the weatherman. It’s rarely right and yet we listen anyway.

Plus, even when it is right, trying to address it in the middle of the draft is a waste of time. You have time to examine your work and see what holds water and what doesn’t, and that time is called “after you finished the first draft of that thing that you’re writing.”

So, ignore it. It’s going to be there. Pretend you don’t hear it. Tune it out. It is rarely meaningful or efficient. It’s damn sure not helpful. So: pay that fucking asshole no mind at all.

That’s maybe the biggest secret to writing a lot of words really, really fast: you need to blacken your self-doubt sensors with a boot and — say it with me –

JUST. KEEP. WRITING.

Hopefully, these tips will get you writing a little more per day — even carving out an additional 500 words in a day is a good start. Again, that’s not to say this is for everyone: but sometimes deadlines or aspirations demand you hit the accelerator. And these tips may help you do it.

85 comments

  • I do enjoy your writing advice, Mr. Wendig. This post is especially welcome right now, with what little free time I have and how easily I get distracted (like by reading things on the internet, oh damn doing that now).

  • Epic. I’m already 4,178 words into it and I find this. If I were inclined to have another child, which I’m not since I would rather be out riding my Harley at this age, I would name it after my father. But, I will keep you in my prayers and will mention you in the credits once I publish. You Rock, thanks for the inspiration. <3<3<3+

  • Excellent advice, hilarious voice that you have, and the tip on self-doubt really spoke to my weak mind!

    So, though you didn’t specifically discuss this, I got the impression that you split your time between a few projects on a daily basis. That would mean you get those few projects moving forward a little each day and have completed manuscripts for them at roughly the same time, thus publishing several books at once. Is that assessment accurate?

  • Already waking up at four a.m. every day for a menial job… there’s not much more time to carve away in the early hours. It’s evening writing for me… after I’ve had my day’s experiences and winded down for the night.

  • Fabulous post sir, simply fabulous. Still not convinced about the getting-up-early bit, although that’s mainly because my mind doesn’t come alive until there’s daylight, much like a butterfly’s wings being powered by sunshine.

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