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Tuesday, January 28

Finish Faster: On Beyond Word Count

By Guest Author Emily Wenstrom, @EmilyWenstrom

Part of the How They Do It Series

Please help me welcome Emily Wenstrom to the blog today to chat with us about becoming more efficient writers. She shares four tips to help make the most of your writing process.

Lit addict, movie geek, writer. Emily is a public relations professional who blogs about creativity in art and work at Creative Juicer and runs the short story zine wordhaus. In her alleged free time, she writes fantasy fiction.

GIVEAWAY: One lucky commenter will win a free copy of the wordhaus short story collection Best of 2013! Leave a comment below to enter sharing your own tip to help writers finish their manuscript faster or another thought. Deadline: Sunday, February 2. Winner announced Monday. (GIVEAWAY CLOSED)

Take it away Emily...

Writing a novel takes a long time--sometimes, a really long time.

Personally, I find this to be a problem. I’m impatient. I like to see results. Ask me to watch paint dry, and I’ll go find a hair dryer to help it along. It’s just my nature.

So as I’ve written my first full-length novel, I’ve kept my eyes open for tips from blogs and other experts about how to get to “The End” faster. But I’ve noticed something: Most advice about completing a novel faster focuses on boosting a daily or weekly word count.

Boosting your word count can help, but there's other aspects to the process where a writer can become more efficient too. Through trial and error as I’ve written my manuscript over the last three years, I’ve learned some great tricks to get to a publishable final draft faster.

Here are four key ways I’ve expedited my process that I will never write without again:

Flesh out your characters and world.

Your characters are the best place to start when planning your novel—after all, they drive the plot. You also need to know the world your story takes place in. Without these important elements, you’re flying blind, feeling your way through your first draft.

I caused myself a great deal of grief and rewriting by not knowing my characters’ backstories or my world’s rules before my first draft. Save yourself: Sort out these key elements the best you can before you start.

Map out your plot.

I know all you pantsers out there are scoffing, but I strongly recommend giving your plot the same consideration as your characters before you start drafting. Consider it a map to ensure you reach your destination. (One of the best things about maps? Even when you make detours, you still know where you’re going.)

I did an outline for my novel once I realized how much my first draft was missing, and it’s the single most important thing I did to improve my manuscript’s progress.

Write for quality from the first draft.

I know. Everyone says to just race through that first draft and leave your inner critic out of is. I stand by this advice, but with a caveat. As you get more comfortable with your story and your writing in general, you start to learn the difference between struggling through something and just not writing your best.

There’s no need to get your inner critic involved, but DO listen to those hunches. In my experience, when I ignore them and just allow myself to half-ass in the name of word count or first draft openness, I simply create a mess for myself to fix later. And fixing can take even longer than starting from scratch.

Edit first, then revise.

For those of you out there who don’t live inside my head, let me clarify: by “edit” I mean review your work with a critical eye and identify problem areas. By “revise” I mean the actual fixing of those problems.

It’s tempting, and may even seem logical, to lump these two steps together. But logic schmogic. The reality is these two actions use different parts of the brain. Editing is critical and detail-oriented. But revisions are much more related to the creative process you use when you write. I’ve found that by separating these actions out, I am able to get into a better flow for each.

Don’t get me wrong, word count goals can be great motivation and help you keep your manuscript moving forward. But don’t fall into the trap of letting that motivation become pressure, or sacrifice quality elements to meet word count. You could be creating a mess you’ll have to clean up later.

By adding a few more writing tricks to your toolbox, you can expedite all aspects of the process from fleshing out the full idea to your editing process, and get to a complete and quality novel faster.