Monday, November 13, 2017

3 Ways to Boost Your Word Count Every Writing Session

boosting your word count
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Most of the writers I’ve met want to be more productive with their writing. They want to write more books, produce more words per writing session, and bring all those novel ideas they have to life.

I’m no different, but since I haven’t found an easy way to clone myself, I’ve had to settle for ways to boost my productivity the old fashioned way—becoming a more efficient writer and maximizing my writing time.

Boosting your word count is like getting in shape. It takes time, work, and the results improve over time.

how to write fasterNo one decides to double their word count and just “does it,” just like you can’t spend one day at the gym and walk out looking like Chris Hemsworth or Scarlett Johansson. To buff your writing, you have to:
  • Change something about your current process to be more effective
  • Put that change into practice and evaluate the results
  • Adjust the practice as needed
  • Build skills using that new practice

The change doesn’t have to be huge t be effective. You also don’t have to do it all at once. A small change that’s easy to incorporate into your routine allows you to see results, which motivates you to make another change, which in turn boosts your productivity, and before you know it—you’ve doubled your word count (or more).

Here are three ways to make the most of your next writing session:

1. Set a timer for five minutes and jot down everything you want to cover in the scene or chapter.

This is all about reminding yourself what you want the scene to cover. Don’t try to expand on it just yet, but make a list or bullet points about what’s important and what you want to write about. The goal is to clarify your thoughts and focus on the general overview of the scene.

For example:
  • Bob meets Jane at the bar
  • Zombie attack
  • Jane suspects the new guy
  • Foreshadow ambush
  • Get in subtext over Jane’s feelings

Write as much or as little as you need for five minutes. When the timer dings, move on to step two.

(Here’s more on how making lists can help you plot your novel)

2. Write a quick summary of what the POV character in the scene wants or is trying to do, who or what is in the way, and why it matters.

Now that you have a general sense of what the scene will be about, summarize it. Write it out as if you were describing the scene to a friend. If any specific lines of dialogue come to you, go ahead and write those down, too. Be as messy as you’d like, because no one but you is going to read this.

The goal is to put your thoughts in order and “outline” the scene you’re about to write. This will help you clarify the plot elements that will drive the scene—goal —> conflict —> stakes. If you don’t have these pieces, that’s a red flag the scene is still missing the critical elements it needs.

(Here’s more on the goal, conflict, and stakes, and why your scene needs all three)

3. Finish this sentence: I want to write this scene because…

Finally, take a moment to understand why this scene needs to be in the book. The goal is to remind yourself why this scene matters to the book and why you want to write it. If you can’t answer this, that’s a red flag that the scene might not be necessary, or it might be full of backstory or infodumps—especially if the only reason you have is because readers “need to know” something.

Scenes you want to write are typically scenes a reader wants to read. That passion and excitement makes it way onto the page and does more than just explain how the story works.

This entire process should take you around fifteen to twenty minutes at first. With practice, you’ll be able to cut that down further if you want to—though you might like the routine of taking twenty minutes to warm up.

(Here’s more on the benefits of talking through your scenes)

being a more productive writerBoosting your word count and increasing your productivity is easier than you’d think. A few small changes in your process can lead to big results.

Is there anything you’d change about your process? Have you made a change that worked well for you?

Looking to improve your craft? Check out one of my books on writing: 

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel. 

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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  1. Timely, ma'am! I just finished drafting my Wednesday blog post, about a time when things conspired to limit my output to a chapter a week. Mine was more of a "never give up" theme, though. I do like your suggestions. I mean, do you want to be a writer, or something else?

    1. There's room for both. There will be times when writing HAS to take a back seat to life. We've all been there. Sticking to a chapter a week despite life getting in the way is pretty good if you ask me.

      Exactly. If you want to write as a career, you need to be able to adapt your work to your life even when it gets hectic and crazy.