I’ve been writing here lately about my desire to be less distracted and more focused. This goal is tied to a deeper desire: to write faster and more efficiently. And to derive joy more consistently from the process.
Over the past couple of weekends, I’ve stayed off the Internet on Saturday and Sunday. My goal was to steal back for myself the time I tend to waste on the Web. On both weekends, I was pleased to see that I easily met–and surpassed– my daily word count goals for my writing, and I had lots of time left over for pure pleasure: walks, reading, meeting friends, spending time with my husband.
After a couple of weekends like this, I decided to revisit this advice from author Rachel Aaron about writing faster. I’d posted about her technique before, but I hadn’t made a serious effort to follow it. Now was the time.
Why now? For me, the hardest part of the novel-writing process is what I call the “mushy middle.” I’m maybe 100 or 150 pages into the novel, and it feels like I’m standing knee-deep in a swamp. I have an idea of what the next big scene will be, but I can’t quite see it from here. And I sure as hell can’t see any way to get there.
That’s where I was a week ago. I knew what the next big plot point would be, but I didn’t know how to get there. I was pretending to wait for inspiration, but in reality I was procrastinating, distracting myself, spinning my wheels. Anything BUT solving the problem.
Getting off the Internet for a couple of days reminded me of how it feels to focus. What I liked about Rachel Aaron’s method for writing faster was that it was all about focusing, especially the part where you know what you’re going to write that day before you start writing. It seems obvious, right? But often I would just open a document and hope the scene would get rolling on its own. That I’d write my way into the actual scene. Sometimes it worked; often it didn’t.
So last week, I set two rules for my writing sessions:
1. I’d be offline during my writing time.
2. I’d take 5-10 minutes to sketch out the scene in a paragraph before I started writing.
I won’t say that those two rules wrought magic, but they DID speed up my writing and make it more fun. And they tripled my average daily output.
Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that 1,000 words was a reasonable daily goal for writing fiction. And that’s pretty much what I was doing. Some days I’d barely make 800. Others I’d zip past 1,200 and feel like I’d really accomplished something.
Now, I’m writing for fewer hours but averaging 3,000 words a day. My two “rules” are actually two benefits:
1. Less distraction
2. Sharper focus
In addition, I’ve built up momentum that is propelling me forward through the story. I don’t feel like I’m lost in a swamp. Now, it’s more like I’m in a room, describing what goes on there. Then a door opens, and I go into the next room and describe what happens there. Then another door opens . . .
I’m excited. I’m excited about writing faster and with more focus. More importantly, I’m excited about my story again. This week, I’m going to try to increase my average word count still more. I don’t expect this streak to last forever. I know I’ll hit walls and get stuck sometimes. But I feel like I’ve got a way to get through that now, because I’ve remembered how to focus. I’m not just trying single-tasking; I’m loving it!