I’m not the fastest of writers, but I’m not as slow as I used to be. And I don’t mean the speed of my typing (which for a book, averages about 1.5 – 2 thousand words per uninterrupted hour) I’m talking about the entire process, here.
After high school I started so many ‘projects’ that it’s almost embarrassing to go back and look at all the unfinished WIP’s hanging out in my file cabinet which are now birthing millions of little dust bunnies. But as I work on the eleventh book to be published, I now understand why it is I didn’t finish those stories when I was younger.
I got hung up on the little things.
Seriously. I freaked myself out about the process: the spelling, the grammar, the type of comma I should use, the plot, the outline, the spacing and paragraph settings on the computer or the paper I was writing on, the pen I picked, etc… Basically, the entire project seemed like one red flag after another the more I thought about it. My mess of scattered thoughts and worries destroyed the projects – every time.
All the little things strangled the starving artist inside me. I became a creativity killer.
Fast-forward almost two decades (relax, I’m not that old) to my first ‘completed’ full-length project that I started in 2011 and published just over six months later, I HOPE YOU FIND ME. I didn’t worry about any of the things I mentioned above because I just started typing, in fact, the only thing I changed in the Word document initially was the line spacing (I made it 1.5 because at the time, single spacing made me feel ‘cramped’ and double spacing made me feel like there was no end whatsoever). Now, IHYFM isn’t the best written book, I know this. I mean, it was my first. But I learned so much from that book about how I’d write the rest after it. The process itself is of course different for everyone, but when starting something new, especially a book, the more you try and figure it out before hand, the harder you make it on yourself.
So here are my tips for writing faster
- What do you do before you start writing? If you’re the outlining type, keep it simple and to the point, and save the creative time for the actual writing. If you aren’t using an outline, still take a moment to jot down a few words about the characters, beginning, middle, end and a few climatic moments you’ve already thought of so you have some direction to go. Eventually, the characters take on a life of their own anyway.
- If you are typing in a Word document (or equivalent) take one minute to adjust your paragraph settings and styles. Seriously, only one minute. Anything more than that might drag you over to the OCD side. Like I mentioned before, I prefer to write with 1 or 1.5 spacing, the first line indented or hanging at about .3, no extra spaces before or after paragraphs. All other formatting options can (and probably should) wait till the end.
- Simplify. While writing a first draft, the font you use is NOT important as long as you can read it without distraction. Setting up all your headers ahead of time isn’t important (unless you want your chapter headings to all look the same right out of the gate). Times New Roman or something similar (I’m using Liberation Serif size 12 for my current WIP) are perfectly suitable fonts. Boring? Yep, but if you’re actually writing and not worrying about these things, the font becomes a teeny-tiny issue. Seriously – don’t overthink. Keep it simple in the beginning.
- Use page breaks between your chapters. After you hit the last enter/return of your current chapter, insert a ‘page break’ so you are automatically moved to the next page. It’s a lot easier than hitting the enter/return button 100 times to move to the next page. That gets old REALLY fast while editing through the first draft. Plus, extra spaces are something you’ll have to remove anyway if you create an ebook.
- Ignore the ‘page’ numbers of your document and pay attention only to the word count. Mine is displayed at the bottom of every document (currently using LibreOffice) but in some programs you might have to seek out your word count from the Tools section (or equivalent). The page numbers don’t matter for a few reasons: If you are writing double spaced, single space or something in between, the page number of your document will not be an accurate indicator of the length. Font type, paragraph styles and size of your text impact the length of your document. Telling yourself you want to write one more page might be deceiving if down the road you change any of the above things. Telling yourself you want to write 500 words (or 5,000) is the most reliable way to look at it. You can change everything about your document’s looks with a few clicks, but the word count will still be the same.
- Don’t let grammar or spelling bog you down while you write. There’s a reason why editing your first draft takes time. But if you stress about the little things, then edit later. I see writing and editing as two totally different jobs, which take up different sides of your brain. You’ve got the analytical side for editing and the creative side for writing. Trying to cram both processes together for your first book might make your brain explode. Okay, maybe that’s dramatic, but seriously, you’ll write faster if you concentrate on writing first. If you come across a word, phrase or paragraph you aren’t ‘sure’ of, then highlight it and move on. If you stop the creative flow to constantly edit as you write, you’ll slow yourself down. Think of a snail towing a tractor trailer. Don’t let that be you. Spelling and grammar skills are expected from a writer, but it’s totally okay to have Thesaurus.com up in the background while you write (or a nifty diagram like THIS from Pinterest – check out my Writing Love board for more awesome writing tips). Use whatever tools will make you a better writer, so that editing is not as painful. For me, because there are gaps in my writing sessions (I have kids, my entire life is one big interruption) I’ll go back and read either the previous chapter, or the last few paragraphs I wrote before I start the next to refresh my thoughts, but that’s it. I never stop writing in the middle of a chapter unless it can’t be helped. That’s a personal style, but it sure makes it easier for my brain to flip the right switch when I sit back down at the computer.
- Just write. If you’ve been a writer for a little while, you’ve read this and heard this elsewhere probably 100 times before today, but it’s so totally true. Just write – every day and every hour that’s available. If you have a story to tell, then for the love of chocolate, tell it. You can edit the manuscript and play with the fonts and format the paragraph styles and create your cover page after you’ve finished the story. That’s called editing and formatting and they are entirely different monsters, which leads me to the next suggestion…
- Outsource what you can’t or don’t want to do. If you are self-publishing your book, chances are you need help with editing, formatting, cover design, etc…so outsource for it. There are a ton of writer groups online (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) where it’s easy to seek out the people that can do what you can’t or don’t have time for. Check references always, to make sure your investment in these people will produce a polished final project. And, before you release your work to the general public, have a few trusted people beta read for you (beta readers read the unpublished work first). They’ll be able to spot errors you might have missed, and any plot issues that might need clarifying. Beta readers rock.
So, there you have it, folks. If you follow those tips above, or even just tweak a few, chances are pretty high you’ll speed up the writing process and maybe even avoid a few bouts of writer’s block.
Writing can bleed a person dry, but you know what, it’s totally worth it in the end.
Happy Writing, y’all!
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