Saturday, June 09, 2012

How do you do it?

That’s what all my friends ask me. “How do you do it? How do you write so many stories? How do you consistently put out huge numbers of pages?”

My answer -- one word. Discipline. Rigid, unbending discipline.

In the rest of my life, I’m a pretty laid back character. If I don’t have to report somewhere early in the day, I sleep late. I don’t do housework. I don’t weed my garden. I don’t repot my orchids, poor things. But when it comes to my writing, I pound out 5,000 words per week. More if I need to.

I don’t do this because I’m a virtuous writer. I do it because I have so many books I want to write, and the only way I can get to them all is write as quickly as I can. On the other hand, spewing out thousands of words that I’ll have to throw out later won’t get me to the goal. What I need to do is put out small(er) amounts of pages but do it consistently.

About now, you may be expecting the First Commandment of Writing: “Thou shalt write every day.” I don’t know who thought that one up, but I’m pretty sure it’s responsible for a lot of writerly guilt and depression. Forget it. You need to set your own schedule and stick to it.

My trick for doing that is simple math. You can do it easily with a calculator. I found out early on that if I wrote 5,000 words per week, I could move along at a satisfying clip. I currently have three-day weekends. Five thousand divided by three equals 1,667. Every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I write 1,667 words. There’s no magic involved, just discipline. And note, I haven’t written every day.

If something comes up and I can’t get my writing done one day, I can make that day’s output up on my lunch hours. Again, get out the calculator. Four into 1,667 equals 417 words per day. I write 417 words on my lunch hours until I’m caught up.

I can apply the same principle to increase my output over 5,000 words per week. To give you the most extreme example, if I want to wrote 10,000 words per week, I can do my regular weekends and add another 5,000 words by doing 417 words early in the morning on weekdays, 417 at lunch hour, and 417 after work. You can move along really fast at that rate, although I only do it for very short stints. After that, I’m exhausted.

When I get to a place where I have to produce that many words, I often resort to Write or Die. Check it out at

I don’t own stock in the company. In fact, it isn’t a company at all. It’s another writer masquerading as evil scientist, Dr. Wicked. Believe me, you will produce words.

You might answer that that’s all fine if you have the words to push out, but what if they won’t come at all? To which I say, write anyway. If you’re at a point where you can’t think up a single situation or a single character or a single story that interests you, you’re beyond any help I can give.

I think, instead, we edit and censor ourselves when we’re feeling down. We want every word to be perfect and are convinced that we’re writing crap. Fine. Give yourself permission to write crap. As the great Nora Roberts once said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.” Get it down now and fix it later. I often discover that what I thought stank when I wrote it often turns out to be not so bad on when I read it later. Sometimes, it’s even good.

Life is too short to spend even a moment in misery. For some reason, probably a break in your DNA somewhere, you decided to become a writer, thereby guaranteeing yourself huge, heaping helpings of misery, all dispensed by well-meaning agents and editors everywhere. Don’t pile more onto yourself. You need to be producing stories. Make yourself do it. You’ll be glad you did. You can use this insane device online for free or download it onto your computer for $10.00. You turn it on, tell it how many words you want to write in what amount of time, and start writing. If you stop writing, there are consequences. The normal punishment for slacking off is a really annoying noise. In the worst case scenario, when your typing stops, Write or Die erases what you’ve already written.

1 comment:

Reina M. Williams said...

Alice, I admire your discipline. I hope I can emulate it as I try to write 25,000 words a week for the next three weeks! This is my day job right now, other than being a homemaker and mom, so I'm going to try. I too have a lot of books I want to write! Not too sure about Write or Die, but it may be worth a try... :)