10,000 words is a lot of words. To put that in perspective, Stephen King recommends authors write between 2,500 and 3,000 words per day. Below is a list of various authors and their minimum daily word counts. As you can see, most published authors keep their daily goals in the 1000-3000 realm.
And while it is good to set a minimum goal for writing, I also know, from my own experience, that doubling or even tripling those word count goals isn’t impossible. I’ve had many 10,000 word days. I’ve had many 5,000 word days. The key, I believe, is consistent motion. Stagnancy is the number one killer of projects. So if the thought of tackling a gargantuan word count is so crippling and fills you with such anxiety that you abandon the project altogether, then by all means lower your goal to something manageable. Brandon Sanderson has said in the past, “A word count at rest stays at rest, a word count in motion stays in motion.” The first step to progress is an achievable goal, so make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. However, if you’re comfortable with your momentum, and would like to start increasing productivity levels, then I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years that might be beneficial.
- Before you start writing, spend 5-10 minutes imagining the scene in detail.
And I really do mean imagine. Close your eyes if you need to, focus on what needs to happen. A good place to start is by asking yourself: What does my main character want? Who opposes them? Do they succeed? Those three questions are the skeleton of all successful scenes. From there, flesh it out in your mind. You can take notes if you need to, but I would highly recommend you focus for a few minutes on arranging it in your mind. Then, outline it. I’ll be writing a post on outlining later. I highly, highly recommend outlining for authors, especially authors who are hoping to increase their productivity. I’ll save most of my thoughts on the age-old architect vs. gardener debate for the coming post, but suffice it to say, as far as word counts go, those who outline have a leg up on those who don’t. Once you’ve imagined the scene, then move to the next step.
2. Do a first draft. Emphasis on the word “first.”
This, more than anything, will help boost your word count. DO NOT edit as you write. Just draft. The words won’t be perfect, the sentences won’t be perfect, the structure won’t be perfect. That’s what editing is for. For now, you’re constructing a skeleton of a story. You’ll flesh it out later. Resign yourself to the notion that what you’re writing isn’t meant to be publishable. Yet. Most authors, myself included, go through 10-15 drafts per book. This is only the first. It’s about momentum, and about getting words to the page. Once you have something to work with, it’s much easier to restructure, edit, cut, rearrange; but first you need a starting point. That’s the point of a first draft. Don’t go back to read what you’ve written until you’re done. Just keep writing. I sometimes do this with my eyes closed, envisioning the scene in my head and recording what I see to the reader. I’m like a court stenographer, taking record of a trial. Afterwards, once I get to my second draft, I’ll tidy up the words, add some special effects, flesh out the characters, but right now I’m just laying the skeleton.
3. Write a lot.
This is pretty much the best writing advice for all areas. Practice. Like with anything, an instrument, a talent, a speech, if you practice, you’ll get better. So practice, practice, practice. And specifically related to this post, if you practice, you’ll get faster. Faster at forming sentences that work, faster at choosing the right words, faster at typing. When I first started writing, almost 17 years ago, I typed at about 50 wpm (words per minute.) Now, from sheer amount of time spent at a keyboard, I’m at 110 wpm. Increasing speed allows you to increase productivity. It helps to maintain work flow without interruption and it allows you to boost your word count almost by default.
This isn’t so much a writing tip, as it is a life tip. I’m waaaaay underqualified to be giving any sort of motivational talk, so I’m just going to say what worked for me. I found, that on the days I hit 10,000 words, I gave myself a reason to. Not some general, intangible concept or hope for the future, but a very real, specific motivation. In the case of the last few times I hit 10,000, I made a bet with my best friend that if I didn’t meet my word count goal, I would buy him a burrito, but if I did, he would buy me one. It sounds silly, I know. But it works. Something about bringing other people who care about you in on your goals, coupled with a competitive streak that runs deep. Give yourself a reason to stretch yourself. This isn’t key for reaching big word counts. It’s key for writing in general. Writing is a solitary profession. You don’t have a boss, you don’t have a schedule (unless you set one) and you’re not required to do it. The only taskmaster you have is yourself. You need to find a way to motivate yourself when you really don’t feel like writing.
Jim Butcher has a quote, “I don’t have a muse, I have a mortgage.” He, along with many other industry writers, doesn’t believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block, in my opinion, is often like a child who wakes up and doesn’t want to go to school. Parents will have to practically drag the kid out of bed and to the bus stop. You are both the kid and the parent. We all have days we don’t want to write. Sometimes we have days where we actually can’t. But you really need to be honest with yourself and distinguish between those days, and the days when you just don’t feel like it. Professional writers write even when they feel all sorts of blegh. So find ways to get motivated; find small, specific things you can do to force yourself to write if you have to. Bring friends alongside. Bet burritos. Whatever works. No one is perfect at this. I’m certainly not. But incrementally, as you practice, and push, you get better. Then practice becomes habit. Habit becomes expectation, and you’re set for practicing something else. If someone as lazy as me can do it, you definitely can too!