Seventeen days ago I quit medicine. I was a pathologist. I didn’t quit to become a writer, there were other reasons. But I’ve always loved writing, so I’m going to do it full-time now.
That means I have to start thinking differently.
If I’m going to make it as an indie writer I’ll have to write a ton of books. Realizing this is an important step ahead for me. I have to change my writing habits to have a snowball’s chance.
An indie writer must be prolific because each book is unlikely, statistically speaking, to bring big sales. An indie book is, however, likely to bring in a steady stream of sales for a long time.
So if you’ve got fifty novels each bringing in a modest steady income, you’ve got a nice business. If you’ve got only one or two, not so much.
That means you either have to write very fast or very long. Both seem to be viable.
One prolific indie writer says he doesn’t write fast, he just writes for prolonged hours each day. I already do that and it doesn’t work for me because I edit obsessively and take too many breaks.
Another prolific indie writer says she writes only five hours a day, five days a week, but at the blistering rate of 10,000 words per day. She explains how she does it in a blog which I’ll link to at the bottom. It’s an amazing article.
The main thing she does is a brief dream walk through the scenes she’s about to write.
I’ve tried it. I take a tablet of paper and force myself to see the scene in my head as I create it for the first time. I take sketchy notes by hand on a pad and then start writing, referring to the notes occasionally.
Notice that we’re not talking about the familiar (arguably optional) detailed outline done days or months in advance of the writing.
This remarkably efficient author is talking about spending at least five minutes at the beginning of each writing session to create (visualize) the next little part of your story in your head (some dialogue is included) while you jot down notes by hand on paper.
To me, doing the preview in the same sitting as the writing session seems to be the key. And it really works. It’s fast, tiring and fun!
Obviously you have to note the time you begin and end each portion of a session if you take breaks like I do. For me, that’s tough to remember. I take a lot of breaks because I have Halo, my dog, here demanding attention at random intervals.
My fastest writing so far has been 3,562 words in 5 hours and 55 minutes. It took me basically all day to do that, though, with all my breaks. I didn’t realize I take this many breaks until I started timing myself!
Like everybody who’s a little old school, I was concerned that the quality of my writing might suffer if I pushed my speed. So far it seems OK. In fact, my storytelling (as opposed to wordsmithing) has improved, probably because I now weigh the options at every little turn, listing several and picking the best. Before adopting this preview approach, I always went with whatever popped into my wee little head – on minor twists, anyway. (Update 5/15/15: The fast approach, in retrospect, led me away from the detailed emotional connection with Johanna – my protagonist – and all the minute important things that bring her alive for me as the writer. As a result, I left this version of the story and began searching to connect with Johanna in the first-person story that’s posted here. I talked about this in detail at the end of chapter 9 of Hapa Girl DNA, here. All in all, I think the technique of a dream walk prior to writing is potentially quite helpful to plotting, but writing at a breakneck pace tends to disconnect me from the viewpoint character, so I need a balance. I need to minimize editing during first drafts to move ahead faster, but I must go slowly enough to see and feel the little details of past present and future character emotion. William Greenleaf is the brilliant author and book doctor who helped me come to this realization. I highly recommend him! You don’t have to wait until your first draft is finished to ask for his help.)
Here’s the prolific author’s article. Rachel Aaron writes 10,000 words in an average five-hour session, and does it five days a week: http://www.sfwa.org/2011/12/guest-post-how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-a-day-to-10000-words-a-day/
Wow. I’ll have what she’s having.
By the way, I’m back to using my real name on my blogs again. The identity theft scare that made me use a pen name (Talmage Eastland) seems to have blown over without materializing. Maybe it was a false alarm.
Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD
If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” my in-progress novel may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.
It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas and partly because it’s fun to try new things.
But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.
So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word pdf will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)
Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.