Browsing the archives for the revision tag.
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How to Write 10,000 Words a Day, Part II (Luc Reid)


Yesterday, I posted novelist James Maxey’s response to the question “How do you write 10,000 words in a day?” Here are my own thoughts on the matter, from my experience writing that much and more. This was written before I read James’s take, but not surprisingly, it turns out that our responses have a lot of comment elements.

  1. Don’t expect the result to be publishable unless you have a lot of experience writing. That’s not to say that you won’t produce something that can eventually become publishable, or even that you’ll necessarily miss the mark even if this is your first attempt at long fiction, but if you are going to be miserable if your work isn’t terrific, you may want to think twice before trying to write at this speed.
  2. Be a fast typist. If you can’t type quickly already, you’ll want to do some typing tutorials to improve your speed before attempting 10,000 words in a day. In theory you can write over 1,000 words an hour if you only type 20 words per minute, but in practice you’ll need to do things like make quick fixes and notes, use the bathroom, and especially think. If you know you won’t be able to type at least 40 wpm, set your sites lower than 10,000 words per day. 5,000 words a day is still an amazing accomplishment, for example–and any personal record or completed piece is worth celebrating.
  3. Clear your schedule; remove all distractions. Don’t check e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter; turn off your phone; make sure you’re alone (or at least will be left alone); prepare food ahead if possible; take care of anything pressing that might otherwise interrupt you before you start.
  4. Have all the ingredients you personally need to drive the story forward. If you’re an off-the-cuff writer, that’s fine, but make sure you understand what you’ll need in terms of research, premise, setting, character ideas, plot ideas, or whatever else you use for starting stories. For instance, although I sometimes like to use outlines, if I come up with two interesting characters having an argument, I’m off and running: setting and plot can emerge for me out of those. Other people will need a few key scenes to shoot for, or will need to know the beginning and the ending. Yet others will need a full-blown outline. Know what you need. If you don’t have enough writing experience to know what you need yet, be willing to experiment, be comfortable with the idea that you may run out of steam, and keep a copy of The Writing Engine handy in order to use the troubleshooting section as needed.
  5. Don’t revise yet. If your story gets off track, you can go back as far as you need and restart from there (while still counting the discarded words in your daily count if you like), or you can go back and insert notes as to what future revisions you’ll need, but don’t try to go back and fix things: you’re likely to lose all of your momentum and begin getting bogged down in editing rather than creation.
  6. Have a vision. If you have a vision of what will make writing so much in such a short period of time wonderful for you (for instance, the excitement of having a finished novel draft, however rough, or exploring a story idea that you’ve been wanting to explore for a long time), you’ll have something to sustain you when you almost inevitably hit those moments of “This thing I’m writing is junk!” or “What am I doing this for, anyway?”
  7. Immerse yourself in the story. The more involved you are in the story and the more you care about spending time with the characters and “seeing” what happens to them, the more likely you’ll be able to keep up the pace, and the more likely you’ll be to create something your readers can be excited about, too. Just as importantly, immersion in your story is another way of saying that you’ve achieved flow, which means maximum productivity and high quality (see “Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated“).

Photo by lscan

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Have to Do Something and Don’t Want to? Here Are 4 Steps to Get on Track

Strategies and goals

Recently a friend posted in an online discussion forum that she had revisions to do on a book she was writing, but didn’t feel able to do them. This is an accomplished writer, but she found that she just really doesn’t want to tackle rewriting this particular chapter.

I have some suggestions for her, because of course writing motivation is a subject in which I have a passionate interest and on which I’ve done a lot of research. Here was my response, much of which applies as well to other kinds of tasks as it does to writing.

First, may I suggest my free PDF eBook, “The Writing Engine: A Practical Guide to Writing Motivation“? There’s a motivation troubleshooting section in back that could get you some good answers within minutes

About the specific question, I wouldn’t suggest walking away and waiting for your subconscious to sort the problem out. That definitely works some of the time, but there’s a needless delay involved, your subconscious may very well be preoccupied with other things, and there’s a chance that you’ll let it linger and dread of the work will grow until the project dies for want of just a little industry. Better to face the problem head-on, get used to facing such things in that way, and get the sense of satisfaction that comes from making progress through dedication and effort.

I share the thought that it’s possible you sense something wrong with the story, in that I have been derailed in my own writing sometimes when that was the case. However, it’s also possible that you’re facing fears of what will happen to the story when it’s finished and is finally ready for you to try to sell it or get representation. A lot of us seem to get thoughts like “Is it any good? What if it’s really junk and I’ve spent all that time on it? Can I even do any better? Maybe I’m just a lousy writer. Maybe my success so far is a fluke.”

Alternatively, you might just be associating some bad feelings with the task, e.g., “Man, this is going to be a pain,” or “I don’t even know if I can fix this,” or “I hate revising!” or “Why didn’t I write it well the first time?”

Regardless of the reason, here’s what I would recommend.

1. Sit down now or at your nearest opportunity and commit to making some kind of progress on the work. You don’t have to finish it. You don’t even have to start on it. Instead …

2. Write about your situation. You can write about what you want to change, what you’re feeling about the work, both, or something else related.

3. If you’re not already carried into the work by step 2, next brainstorm as many ways as possible to change it, include ridiculous and stupid ideas, ideas that might require more work elsewhere in the book, cutting things, adding new elements, etc. (See “Writing Differently: Picking Up the Scary Tools“)

Step 2 or 3 is very likely to get you into a mood to want to work on the revision. From out here, the revision looks like nothing more than a pain in the ass. From up close, working on ideas that excite you, it may well start looking like an exciting opportunity. Alternatively, you may discover to your dismay that you think the whole project is horribly flawed, in which case it might be time for feedback, or else to just finish it, send it out, and perhaps discover that you were wrong and it’s terrific.

If Steps 1-3 don’t get you there, then I would recommend

4. Sit down, make a list of the things you need to do, figure out what the first one is, and just start doing it. Don’t worry about if you don’t feel like it, aren’t sure you can do a good job, have other things you need to do, etc. Focus on the task, ask yourself whether it’s physically possible to accomplish it, and if so, do it. Then do the next one. This isn’t forcing yourself: it’s resignation.

Picture by kxp130


When a Failed Story Becomes a Great Story


There are stories that are just not well-conceived, stories that, unless they are completely altered, will never be successful. A story like this might have characters that don’t appeal, events that don’t satisfy, ideas that don’t engage, or they may just never connect emotionally with the reader.

Other stories are rough in early drafts, but with a limited number of changes become very effective. How do you tell the difference? Unfortunately, it’s not easy, and for the most part it’s a problem that’s similar to judging your work in the first place, with similar solutions (see “Your Opinion and Twenty-Five Cents: Judging Your Own Writing“).

Sometimes, though, it can be very hard to have faith that revision can make a big difference. As an example to demonstrate how it can, consider this account from Writers of the Future and Nebula winner Eric James Stone, originally mentioned on the Codex writing group and quoted with permission.

To understand the context, note that we regularly run writing contests on Codex in order to push ourselves, generate new work, and learn from the competition. Weekend Warrior is a yearly event there in which each participant writes a story of 750 words or less from prompts over a 60-hour period.

For 2009 Weekend Warrior, Round 2, I wrote a story I thought it was powerful and might do well in the contest, but I was wrong: 5.35 average [on a scale of 1-10 — Luc], 8th out of 17, closer to the bottom score of the round (4.06) than the top (7.47). It was my lowest point total of the five weeks, so it didn’t even count in my overall score for the contest. That was my biggest flop ever in WW. (I’ve had lower-scoring stories, but I didn’t think they were going to do well in the contest.)

I put it aside for over a year, then deleted three sentences, added ten, and edited seven. That lengthened the story by about 25% and allowed the powerful story that was in my head to come out more clearly. I sent it out and it sold to the first place I sent it [a major pro market — Luc], where it became one of the most-liked stories of all time (at least on their Facebook page): “Buy You a Mockingbird.”

Now, I’m not saying the contest score was wrong — I had not successfully conveyed what I wanted to convey, and I needed to edit the story later in order to make it work. What I’m saying is that sometimes a flop can be turned into a hit.

If you’re interested in Stone’s work, you may want to check out his story collection Rejiggering the Thingamajig.

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