How to Write Fast without Burning Out
National Novel Writing Month is upon us! Are you ready for a write-a-thon? Whether you’re writing your book in a month for NaNoWriMo, or just want to get more skilled at creating things fast, these ten tips will help you get started.
Break out the calculator. If you’re aiming to write a book in a short amount of time, there’s no way around it: you need to look your challenge straight in the eye. Wishy-washy goals of “write as much as possible” sound good, but the reality is, having a set goal each day or month can help you maintain focus, and keep you from burning out by overdoing it. A 50,000 word book roughly equates to 1600 words written per day, or 12,500 words a week. Is there a way you can structure the math to support your goals? A big part of this process is adapting, so don’t hesitate to change your weekly goals as you begin the process and learn more about your writing habits!
Know thyself. The lesson borne from experience, right here! It would be wonderful if I was the type of person who woke up, dashed off to the keyboard for a couple hours before my day began, and reliably wrote 1500 words each time. But guess what?! That ain’t me. After years of writing and working, I’ve learned that my best writing times come later in the day, after I’ve had a morning routine that sustains me longer term. What time of day are you actually drawn to create? Is it possible to carve out some timeframes that suit you? Remember: you know yourself best. Your method works if you do.
Plan, plan, plan. This advice won’t resonate for the pantsers out there, but I literally can’t imagine writingany of my books on a tight, structured timeline without having an outline. (4 of my 6 novels were drafted in about a month!) There are loads of resources to help you! That being said, don’t fret if you feel inexperienced and aren’t quite sure how to do this part. For context, it took me a year to write my first novel. The subsequent novels that came after took between 4-6 weeks each, but that was simply because I had contracts that necessitated it! You’re allowed to learn as you go — trust yourself to find what you need when you need it!
Don’t stress the timeline. The timeline and chronology of your book, that is. I don’t know many authors who sit down and actually write a book from start to finish, evenwith a detailed outline. Before you begin a writing session, check in. Is there a scene, snippet of dialogue, or moment in your story that you’re eager to write? Run with it! Even if it doesn’t quite seem to fit, these scenes have a way of becoming pivotal, since they come from deep within you with such excitement. If a scene really doesn’t seem to fit, it might be perfect for another book! This has happened to me more times than I can count: I will write a scene I love, and months later I will realize it was the seed for another book. There is no wasted writing, so roll with it!
Don’t feed the monkey. The monkey in this case is your inner editor. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to edit your work as you go. (This is how I work.) But the little voice that’s bugging you, asking “will anyone really like this?!” … “will I ever sell this book?”… “why am I wasting time trying to pretend I can write!?” – it’s all a ruse. It’s just your fear talking, trying to stop you from doing something that it thinks might hurt you. To your primitive brain, any change feels like a threat. You know better! Keep working, and tell your inner editor to shush. There will be a time when you want to question and develop your work further, but this isn’t the time for that!
Treat yo’self! Seriously. It’s no easy task writing a novel, whether it’s over a year or within a month. It’s mentally exhausting, and much more of a mind game than some might realize. I know many folks will suggest you treat yourself every time you hit a writing goal, but I like to take it a step further: treat yourself every time you can. Life is short, right? You don’t need to write a book in a month to prove it – you’re doing that because you want to! You’re already amazing. You’re already working really hard toward a goal. If you want to treat yourself to a new book, a donut, a hot bath… whatever floats your boat… do it!
Move your body. Yep, that’s me again – harping on the importance of physical health and exercise. And I’ll keep saying it! There is ahuge scientific correlation between creativity and physical health and movement. As Ken Robinson said, “your body isn’t just there to take your mind to meetings”. Not only does exercise help arm you against anxiety, depression, and stress, it also helps you stay nimble mentally, so you can adapt and create your work with more ease. This is also a great reminder to not let your writing goals harm you. It’s one thing to pull an all-nighter every now and then because you’re inspired, but it’s another entirely to carve out a pattern that creates pain, all so you can write your story. Find some physical movement you love, and make it non-negotiable.
Leave yourself some breadcrumbs. This is one of those small things that makes a big difference in my writing process. When I’m about to wrap up a writing session, I always ensure I leave myself some information about what I’ll be writing about next. This might mean I actually leave a scene incomplete. Or maybe I leave a few notes to myself on what needs to take place next. (For example, “Nikki needs to pick the lock on her handcuffs next!” This means I’m never picking up a new writing session empty-handed. Think of it like a gift you can give your future self. They’ll thank you for it!
Trust. This is perhaps the quietest, but widest reaching part of my creative process: I make a point to actively trust what’s happening in my creative process. Don’t get me wrong, this did not happen overnight, and I still struggle with it often, usually when my impatience gets the best of me. (Which is pretty much all the time.) But having a sense of “I trust that the world will give me what I need right now to complete this project” helps me find the opportunities in whatever mental space I’m in. It’s not naïve to think positively – it’s good business! For example, if I’m feeling stuck on a scene, I will actively say out loud “I need help with this please!!” and wander to a bookshelf, pulling random titles. Often, I’ll come across something that helps me. If you want to learn more about the neurology and science behind this, download my free creativity minibook!
Keep it all in perspective. It is a huge deal to write a book, no matter how long it takes! But don’t mistake the short timeline for higher stakes. It’s an illusion that’s meant to motivate you, not harm you. Do you know what will happen if you don’t make your deadline? Will the Earth implode? Nah. The sun will come up, and you’ll get another slot of time somewhere in there to keep working. The point of the exercise is to actually write, not beat yourself up for not hitting the arbitrary goal we’ve set. Whether you end up with 500 words, or 50,000, you’re a writer.
Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo? Find me on Twitter and tell me what your book is about!
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