What I Did To Become a More Productive Writer

I’ve still got a ways to go. My book is only 3/4 through the first draft, but I’m farther along in the process than I ever have in the last ten years of trying to get a book done. In another month or so, I should have a first draft done. Here’s what I did to overcome a decade of bad habits.

Word Count is Just A Number

3009985823_3ab1818269A big change came at the end of December when I discovered the Magic Spreadsheet (thanks to Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” podcast). For the uninitiated, the Magic Spreadsheet is a social way of logging your daily word count. It “gamifies” the writing process. Every day, you have to write 250 words to get a point, plus an additional point for every day in a row you are writing. There are more points if you write more that day (2 for 500, 3 for 1000, 4 for 2000, etc). Here’s a breakdown:

  • Day one: 287 words = 2pts (one for your streak, one for the daily total)
  • Day two: 346 words = 3pts (two for your streak, one for the daily total)
  • Day three: 521 words = 5pts (three for your streak, two for the daily total)

As you can see, the streak can really add up. It’s about getting you to write everyday and not just writing a lot of words every once in a while. Personal example, today’s score for me was 55 points: 53 for my streak, 2 for word count (620 words today).

Additionally, there are levels, which are not easy to make. Level 2 is 495 points. Level 3 is 1,890 points. I should break level 3 next week, if I keep my pace. As you level up, your minimum word count goes up as well. 50 words per level. As a level 2 writer, I have to do 300 words per day, not 250. At level 3 that goes up again to 350, and so on. It’s not that bad, I’m averaging over 500 words per day right now, so I shouldn’t feel the pinch of the level requirements too much.

What does this mean as a writer? Well, I’m hitting my manuscript every single day. Sure, I may only put down a scene (or part of a scene), but I am hitting it. It’s always there in my brain. Even on the weekends, I make time to pull out the laptop and spend 30 minutes to write.

Prior to this, I was disheartened when I could only get in over 1000 words a day. Because, that’s what the professionals do, right? Thousands of words a day. So I’d give up, hit the manuscript randomly until the point where I wasn’t looking at it for months at time. After that, I was so disconnected with it, I just shelved it and tried anew.

Stop Looking Back

2073686_5b110b65One of my biggest problems was my need to go back to chapter one (and two and three) and polish them. Edit them to publication readiness.

BEFORE getting more than 10,000 words in.

It was a mess. I was chronically stuck in the beginning of my book and it went no where. With the Magic Spreadsheet method I can’t do that. I have to keep trucking on to get that count up. It’s kept the story moving.

Does that mean the stuff I’ve written is any good? Hell no. It’s a mess. There are conflicts and errors and all sorts of problems. And I’ll get to them.

When I’m done with the first draft. Not before.

That’s when I’ll polish. If I come across a problem, I make a note of it. I have this nice long punch list of things to address once I’ve gotten to the end of the first draft. Things like introducing a character or concept earlier in the book or change someone’s background or ethnicity. I have it written down, but not executed. It shall be done. Just not today.

Not Doing NaNoWriMo

For nowNaNoWriMo Logo. I skipped it last year and my ego is a little better for it. There’s nothing wrong with NaNoWriMo (AKA National Novel Writing Month) and I still want to do it one of these years. Just not until I get better and faster at writing. Here are my three major qualms with NaNo:

  1. Average word count has to be 1,666.
  2. It’s only once-a-year.
  3. You have to start your NaNo book from scratch.

Magic Spreadsheet is only 250 words per day (at the start) and it can be done any time of year. I’m sure one of these days, I’ll slip on my track record, but it’s been good to me so far.

NaNo requires too much departure from my routine to make it a useful part of my life. Plus, if I’m working on something in October, I don’t want to abandon it to start from scratch on November 1st.

When I kept trying to do NaNoWriMo, I’d get 10-15 days into it, fall too far behind on my average word count and I’d give up. It wasn’t anything truly bad, but it did set back my goals and dinged my pride.

Like I said, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with NaNoWriMo. I know loads of folks that have made it through with a good, solid first draft to show for it. It’s just not for me.

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