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The Writing Productivity Experiment of Doom (or Great Success, Depending)

All around me, wherever I look, it seems like there’s another writer who is faster, more productive, more focused, and, because of all that, more successful in this full-time author life (job? life?) than I am. Drafts finished in record time, announcements of book deals, two-book deals, three-book deals, novellas on top of book deals, blogs of genius, plus all the promotional energy that goes into this author thing, and I’m left in the dust carving out my little sentences and making sure I don’t repeat the same adjective too many times in a span of 350 pages like anyone will even notice but me. And you know what? There are writers like those other writers—not unicorns; they exist; they work hard and they are fast and all the myths are true. Also true: THEY ARE NOT ME.

So knowing I struggle with this, you may think that joining a writing productivity experiment inspired by Rachel Aaron, a mythical creature who has found a way to write 10,000 words a day, would be exceedingly unhealthy and worthy of an intervention if anyone who cares about me is here reading. (The article is long, but if you want her detailed method, here it is.) But when Holly Black first tweeted the link and I took a peek at the method, I was intrigued. So then Project: Write Faster happened. And then I was involved in it. And then I don’t even know anymore.

I don’t think any of us are trying for 10,000 words. I know I’d simply like more words, and more focused words I’ll end up keeping instead of cutting later, and if that turns out to be an average of 1,000 words a day, I’d be thrilled.


Because I think that’s twice what I normally write.

Since shouting from the rooftops that I’d be taking part in this craziness, of course, I had a revision to finish—FINISHED! Let’s pretend you saw a blog about it; I was feeling too spent and pleased and private to write one—and the experiment got pushed aside for some days. I was supposed to start on Friday, in fact, and I haven’t had the energy to do so yet.

But I do still mean to come up with some personalized, adapted version of this method pinging off what Rachel Aaron found works for her, simply to try it out, to try something. I’m especially curious to see how and when and where I write the best—and I love color-coded charts, and have made them for every single day job I’ve had since grad school. Why not let myself make a chart!

But aside from the pleasures of color-coding, there’s something more behind all of this: I do want to write faster. I want to find my best pace—knowing it won’t match the pace of the superstar commercial writers, because how could it?—and I want to make a true and honest effort to work toward it every day. I am known to despise word counts, and have said so publicly, but if keeping track of my word counts for a short while helps me know what works best for me, then I’ll do so. And then I’ll stop keeping track. Because I don’t believe it’s about the number of words. I believe it’s about how worthy those words are. I want to write words I will keep later.

So I may be attempting to somehow keep track of unscientific things beyond number of words, like: 1) sense of accomplishment; 2) desire to cut later; 3) happiness; and other immeasurable things like that.

It’s all about pushing ourselves in the reality we live in. I’m not wishing I were another writer. I’m wanting to know what works for me and wishing I could be my best writing self.

(And I’d really like a new book contract this year. That’s not crazy talk. That’s being at the end of a two-book deal and looking ahead to what’s next so I can build this career. In order to make this happen, I have to produce pages.)

If you would like to take part in the intervention to talk me out of this, feel free to add a comment.

19 thoughts on “The Writing Productivity Experiment of Doom (or Great Success, Depending)

    • Good question. I usually give myself chapter goals or scene goals. I map out what needs to be done and I put “writing goals” in my iCal for what I hope to get through writing or revising each day, and on which days I hope to finish which scenes. I don’t always make it, but it does give me a nice sense of accomplishment when I do.

      The reason word counts don’t tend to make much sense for me is because I’m a revise-as-I-go writer. It’s just what works best for me, and how I most enjoy writing. I could spend a week writing 3,000 words for a scene that will end up being 300. Part of my writing process is cutting out unnecessary words and carving the scene that is meant to be there. I write long and cut to find the good stuff. If I counted all the words I technically typed, I’d have a lot more than are worthy! And it would feel like a big lie.🙂

      But I’ll see if keeping track somehow makes sense this time.

  1. This is really interesting. I like your idea of putting daily writing goals on your iCal. I did that when I first started blogging, etc., but haven’t for actually writing! In fact, I think I’ll pull up my iCal as soon as submitting this comment.

    I just read her article that you linked to, and at first it kind of scared me because she approached it in such a business-like way (business stuff always scare me) but now I’m thinking of doing it. The “knowledge” one is the one that would be the hardest for me, because I already do that, but automatically start writing the scene instead of a synopsis😀 I’m looking forward to doing the “Time” one. But like you said, word counts don’t necessarily mean meaningful ones, it may feel like NaNo Month!😀

  2. I’ve always been one of those quality is better than quantity people. And I apply this philosophy to food and writing. And I, like you, would be thrilled to up the quantity without sacrificing the quality.
    Very thought provoking post.🙂

  3. Good luck with the experiment! I think the idea of pushing ahead to get words and not going back and cutting will actually help you in the end. If you don’t stop while writing the first draft, there is so much more to work with when you’re done. You’ll be ready to look at the book with a new eye and dive into edits, which I think would help writer’s block a bit. Looking forward to seeing how this works for you! 🙂

  4. “It’s all about pushing ourselves in the reality we live in. I’m not wishing I were another writer. I’m wanting to know what works for me and wishing I could be my best writing self.” THIS.

    I’ve recently started revising as I go, and I’ve found it makes me a much happier writer, which, I think, makes me a more productive writer. It does feel like it takes a lot longer to get to a finished draft, but I think I spend less time in revisions overall that way.

    I’m going to try out Rachel Aaron’s process on my next MS, but I’m not giving up the in-progress revisions. I’m hoping to roll those into the pre-writing part of her process (which means that part of the process will be much longer for me, but hey, if it works, it works). Fingers are crossed that some of her tips will make me more productive.

    Good luck to you on this experiment. I’m looking forward to hearing more about how it works for you.

  5. Thomas Harris – of Silence of the Lambs fame – has published five books since his first in 1975. That’s one book every 7.4 years, not counting the time it took to write his first book. It’s the quality, not the quantity. That’s what I’m hoping, anyway!

  6. I’m not very speedy or productive. Sometimes, I spend a whole day on a sentence. I doubt a reader can tell when I do that; I hope not. I hope that sentence just works. So far, though, this method means I don’t cut much during revision, which is a good since there’s nothing much there to cut.

  7. I’m another slow writer, and I think part of it is that I’m not satisfied with leaving words that are “good enough” or whatever. I can’t find my characters or their moments or their motivations unless the words feel right. I’m a slow reviser, too, spending a lot of time thinking and wondering and rereading. I’m probably not going to ever be the writer who has a book out every year. It’s good I have a day job, I guess…

  8. The best advice I’ve ever gotten is just to do it. Thinking about all the work you have to do, instead of just doing it, usually ends up with us on the couch watching TV for four hours without realizing it. I’ve found that when I just sit and write, with the intention to get some work done, I do and I don’t have to go back and cut out a lot of what I wrote. Of course, this is coming from a grad student still working on my first novel, but I realized the to write 2,000 or 4,000 or 6,000 words a day takes focus and determination, which is something that is hard to create. We have to teach ourselves to work in a different way, that we are not always comfortable with at first.

    But hey, don’t be so hard on yourself. You will find your writing pace. Just because someone can write an extremely long book, extremely fast, doesn’t mean its better than a short book that took more time to create. You just gotta do you, and not worry about the rest of the world.

  9. I’ll have to leave a more extensive comment later. Right now I need to check out that link because this 10k a day sounds insane!

    However, I did want to comment on just how lovely your cover art is! Your stories have piqued my interest🙂


  10. Rachel Aaron’s method is surprisingly simple, and I do like that she offered that little disclaimer. As you said: THEY ARE NOT ME. And I think discovering, celebrating, and refining your own individuality within the process is key. Likewise, facing a challenge issued from someonelse often leads to us challenging ourselves on completely surprising levels, so I won’t talk you out of anything. Go for it. Find your productive bliss🙂

  11. Hi Nova,

    I really do think that different books want to be written in different ways. I know that when I draft quickly, I end up with a kind of propulsion to the narrative, but that’s not what’s best for every book. Sometimes when you write slowly, and revise as you go, I think it can give a quiet, ruminating quality to the text which can work better for certain kinds of books. One thing I will say for fast drafting is that I’ve found I’ve gotten some of my best work from putting on headphones, spacing out, and seeing what happens. Sometimes getting out of your own way can produce some really exciting stuff. Whatever you decide to do, lots of luck to you!

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