In my last post, I talked about my dream of writing a novel and the greatest challenge I faced: finding the time to do it. To calculate how long it would take me, I used the equation
Story = Speed x Time.
I figured that if I wrote 500 words in an hour each day, it would take 160 days. But Time is only one variable in the equation—Speed is the other.
Five hundred words per hour is a lot for this tortoise writer. I deliberate over every word, then second-guess, strike out, and rewrite. (While I’ve been working on this post, I’ve deleted my beginning at least four times!) On some days, words drip one at a time, like a slow leak.
Speed is not about “fast and furious” writing that lacks cohesion, logic, and emotional impact. It’s about flow. A steady stream of words that spring up from a well of abundant ideas.
Finding the Flow
1. Prepare by brainstorming.
This fills the well. I think about plot, characters, and setting details in advance. Since my time is short, I usually hatch ideas while doing other things. (Most of my thoughts for this blog post came while I was driving, fixing sandwiches, and doing laundry.) I like to collect my ideas in a Word document separated by category using the “Headings” feature. The categories I use are Plot, Characters, Setting, Themes, Dialogue, and Humor.
2. Work from an outline.
Ugh! The pantser in me doesn’t want to plan. I want my fingers to dance unshackled across the keyboard as they serve the whims of inspiration.
A Pantser’s definition of outline
[out-lahyn] 1. an unnecessary restraint designed to crush your imagination and suck all life from your story.
Example of outline used in a sentence: “The editor’s eyes gleamed with evil pleasure as he said, “Your story lacks consistency because you did not use an outline.”
Outlining is akin to eating your vegetables before you get dessert. It helps if you have cheese sauce to pour over your broccoli, and the sauce that makes outlining palatable is to think of it as drawing—like an artist would sketch a figure before painting. (That’s not quite a mixed metaphor, is it?) It’s a part of the creative process. And an outline need not be detailed. A broad brush will do. One or two sentences per scene.
I’ll be honest. I usually write out a rough outline for my story, but then I change it as I go. I don’t believe I’ve ever stuck with an outline. Still, the outline helps me write faster because I’m not stalled by indecision, and I avoid tangential rabbit holes that make no sense for the story.
3. Free write.
This is the opposite of outlining–not so helpful for plotting, but very useful for overcoming blocks, laziness, and bumps in your story. Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Write as fast as you can without stopping to edit. Write anything. Write nonsense. Be repetitive. Free writing obeys no rules. It breaks the inner editor’s suffocating grip and liberates you to write whatever comes to mind without worrying about grammar, spelling, or diction. You can do this in a document or try 750words.com. The site provides a free, private, blank page for daily writing. When you reach your word count for the day, it congratulates you. It even tracks your progress for the month.
Something about the blood pulsing through my body jumpstarts my brain. If I’m perplexed about how to continue with plot or dialogue, fifteen minutes of walking usually gives me a solution. And moving to music, especially soundtracks such as this one from Home Fires, revs up my imagination.
5. Take a nap.
This might seem counterproductive, but it saves time in the long run. My output slows to a trickle when I’m tired or drowsy. After a short snooze, I’m twice as productive.
A Word about Dictation
Though I have not successfully used dictation, other writers claim it has accelerated their writing process. Author Joanna Penn talks about it here. My own attempts have been frustrating. I tried to dictate into a Word document using my smartphone, but I have to press the little microphone tab every thirty seconds or so. Mostly I produced gobbledygook.
I may purchase a recording device and some transcription software. If anyone has experience with this, I’d love to hear from you before I make that investment. Also, do you have any tricks for writing faster? Have you done the math? How many words per hour (wph) can you write?