So, you’ve seen the videos circulating around Authortube, and you wonder if it’s too good to be true. You want to try writing 10,000 words a day.
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I’m here to reassure you that it’s entirely possible, though I’ve never tried writing 10,000 words a day on purpose. It just sort of happens.
The first time I experienced it was in grad school. I had one semester to complete my graduate thesis project, and your girl did it. But that meant that I was writing a novel in two and a half months, and then submitting it to my committee so they could read it, and then defending it.
That was not an ideal situation, but I did it while working two jobs, and I finished on time. It’s also worth noting that I have no recollection of what’s in that novel.
The next time I did it was while I was working as a ghostwriter at a terrible publishing company. On Fridays, we had to submit the work we’d done to our boss, and it never failed that by Fridays, there had been too many meetings and phone calls during the week to actually write. So I’d show up on Friday mornings, a 20-ounce travel mug of coffee in my hand and an energy drink in my purse, and I’d try to write the required 6,000 words I needed on each of the projects I was working on at the time.
That was a really taxing time, and I definitely gained 60 pounds while working there because all I did was sit, chug caffeine, and go eat fried foods at lunch. Also, the environment was incredibly toxic, so I got really good at producing cortisol.
And more recently, I did it while staying at St. Francis of the Woods on my solo writing retreat. It was so nice to get away and just sit down and let my hands fly across the keyboard. And before I knew it, I was over 11,000 words. It was a good writing night.
So, all of this is to say that I have a few tips to help you when it comes to writing 10,000 words a day. Whether you’re backed into a corner with deadlines, or have some time to just enjoy the writing process, these 9 tips are crucial for success when it comes to writing 10,000 words a day.Whether you're backed into a corner with deadlines, or have some time to just enjoy the writing process, these 9 tips are crucial for success when it comes to writing 10,000 words a day. Click To Tweet
Writing 10,000 Words a Day
001: Make an outline.
I’m sorry, pantsers. This one might sting a little.
The thing about writing a significant amount in a day is that you have to know where your story is going. You don’t have to know every last detail or bit of dialog, but generally, you have to know all the major plot points that get you to the end.
The reason you need to know this is so you don’t waste time trying to figure out what to write next.
Most of these tips are ways to help you keep your brain focused and your hands flying across your keyboard. If you don’t have an outline, you really can’t do either of those things.
I’m not saying that you have to give up the joy of writing and surprising yourself with the story that emerges. I am saying that you have to know the general direction of the story, and let it flow.
My outlines aren’t very detailed. It’s usually a set of bullet points that are maybe one or two sentences. But this is enough to keep me going to the next point.
And before you ask, yes. You can be more detailed if you want. That will actually make it easier.
The key here is to have the outline available, and to read it before you start each writing sprint so you know what you need to do as you go.
002: You have to like what you’re writing.
This is something I try to explain to my students every single, stinking semester. If you hate the topic you’ve chosen, it’s like gargling broken glass to write about it.
So if you find that you’re stuck just because you hate the thing you’re writing and you’ve always hated it, it’s time to change. Notice I said “always hated it.” There are times in the writing process where you will hate story ideas you once loved. That’s because writing a novel is like shooting your body out into space and no one can save you. Naturally, there are parts of that you wouldn’t enjoy.
But as long as you remember that initial love and excitement, it’s enough to keep you going.
(This isn’t anything like shooting your body out into space. I think I just imagined someone shooting themselves out of a cannon past Pluto, and somehow their dedication to the mission sustained them and they didn’t burn out from the force of being shot out of the atmosphere. If it works like that, then yeah. This metaphor works.)
So if you’re finding that writing 1,000 words seems impossible, and the idea of writing 10,000 words is just outright insane, it could be that you don’t feel that connection to your story. And that’s okay. Because now, you get to start over with something you do like.
As an instructor, one thing I see again and again is students assuming they can sit down and write a whole paper in a night. Some of them can, and some of them can’t.
The ones who can are the ones who have built up their writing muscles. No, not actual muscles. In fact, I would argue there are a lot of us writers out there who are really soft and supple in places where you’d expect a muscle to be. No, we’re not weak. We’re just really good at sitting at a desk, which is something more active and strong folks can’t do. SO THERE. WE’VE BEAT YOU AT SOMETHING.
The writing muscle is actually just the ability to sit down with your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. It’s what keeps your head in the game and enables you to keep cranking out words.
If you haven’t practiced sitting down and writing for long stretches of time, writing 10,000 words out of the blue isn’t going to happen.
Think of it like this. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training, would you? Then why would you do a writing marathon without training?Think of it like this. You wouldn't run a marathon without training, would you? Then why would you do a writing marathon without training? Click To Tweet
Luckily for you, writing marathon training has way less running than marathon training. And all you have to do is carve some time out to write as often as possible, and then you’ll be able to pull a 10,000 word writing marathon.
004: Write, don’t edit.
I cannot emphasize this enough, and I feel like a broken record.
When you’re writing, you’re writing. When you edit, you edit. You can’t do both at the same time.
I talked about this in my post about how to write fast, but it should be repeated until everyone chants it like those damn sheep in Animal Farm with their “four legs good, two legs bad.”
The part of your brain that generates ideas and lets them flow is different than the part of your brain that’s critical and knows how to change stuff. I think. I don’t know. I’m not a neuroscientist. What I do know is that if you keep going back over what you’ve written, you’re not allowing yourself to get in that creative state of flow. And you’re not making any progress because you don’t have the necessary perspective.
You can edit sentence by sentence until you’re blue in the face. But one sentence is a drop in your novel bucket. And honestly, one sentence is fairly meaningless unless you look at it in the context of other sentences that surround it. And I would argue you should edit with that context in mind. So if one sentence is bad, it doesn’t necessarily become great when you read the next sentence. But it does have more meaning, and could potentially change the way you edit that bad sentence.
Maybe this is all true, or maybe I’m full of shit. Either way, let your writing brain write and your editing brain edit, and don’t let the two of them know that they’re sharing an apartment inside your skull like the Odd Couple.
005: Set a timer and sprint!
I love writing sprints. Everyone should do them.
A writing sprint is simply where you set a timer for any amount of time (I recommend 15 or 20 minutes) and write that whole time. You’re also pushing yourself to write a little faster.
I started experimenting with these in grad school when my friend, Sarah, and I met up in the grad lap to work on our projects. She was insane and doing a dual masters, and as I mentioned, I was an idiot who was trying to write a novel in a semester.
Sarah brought coffee and snacks, and we did a fuck-ton of word sprints. Without that, I wouldn’t have finished, so I owe Sarah a debt of gratitude.
Now, I swear by sprinting. Not necessarily for all writing. (I never do for blogs, just because it’s so easy to breeze through. They’re so short in comparison.) But when it comes to fiction writing, or any long project where I want to make incremental progress, sprinting is key.
And my favorite thing about sprinting is that it makes you get faster. If you haven’t read 2k to 10K by Rachel Aaron or 5,000 Words a day by Chris Fox, you need to. Both are super short and easy to read. And the best part? They give you a guide on how you can improve your writing speed with sprints.
So if you’re angling for writing 10,000 words a day on the reg, start sprinting. You don’t always have to, but it’s a great way to improve your writing speed, and it makes hitting 10,000 words a lot easier.
It’s also really cool to see how the number of sprints to get to 10,000 words decreases over time as you get faster.
006: You have to take breaks.
No one just sits down and writes 10,000 words in one sitting. You have to take breaks to go to the bathroom, to stretch, or to get your seventh cup of coffee.
(Just kidding. I stop after the fifth cup.)
This is the beauty of the sprint system. You sprint for a bit, and then you get a break. And when I say break, I mean a real break.
I think the key to keeping up the writing productivity is that you give yourself time away from the screen. If you’re furiously sprinting away, and then for your break you pull up Twitter, well. That’s not really a break, is it?
I recommend taking a step away from your computer. Maybe set a timer and go outside for 20 minutes. Or you can go make a snack. Or clean the kitchen. Or do some laundry.
The key to a good break is to let your brain rest and to stand up for a bit. This gives you time away from the computer, and makes it easier for you to tackle your next sprint.
If you only spend time sitting at your desk, it’s really hard to keep going because you’ve been stuck in the same place all day.
So do three or four sprints, and then get up and move your limbs. It will make it so much easier to keep going.
007: Go all in and enable the the tunnel vision.
One of my greatest pet peeves in life is when I find myself multitasking. Sure, you may think you’re being productive, but you’re really just frazzling yourself. (Can you use “frazzle” that way? I AM GOING TO DO IT REGARDLESS.)
The fastest way for me to feel burnt out and stressed is to try to do too many things at once. And if I have too many tabs open or I’ve got too much noise in the background, or I’m trying to text while I work on something, it just kills me.
You may feel like that’s the way to get stuff done. I feel like that’s the way to make minimal progress on multiple things.
So I go all in on most things. That means if I’m writing, I’m only writing. If I’m texting with someone, I’m only texting. And this is key for writing 10,000 words a day, because you need as much time as you can get to hit that word count.If you've chosen this quixotic AF writing goal, you need to go all in. If you're writing 10,000 words a day, then that's what you're doing that day. Click To Tweet
If you’ve chosen this quixotic AF writing goal, you need to go all in. If you’re writing 10,000 words a day, then that’s what you’re doing that day. Embrace the tunnel vision and only allow yourself to write when it’s time to do those writing sprints.
008: Don’t try this without warming up.
Here’s a fun fact: I never start writing with a sprint. And that’s because I know I need to give myself a bit of time to get back in the swing of things. You wouldn’t go into the gym and try to bench press 200 pounds first thing. You have to warm up.
So I like to take some time and go over the outline while I sip some coffee. Then, I like to write maybe 100 to 600 words. This gets my fingers moving, and gets me back in the headspace of the novel.
This is generally all I need to warm up. It’s nothing special, and it’s something that you can do first thing in the morning. It also just makes it easier to hit that 10,000 word goal because you start off by having chipped away a bit already.
It’s not much, but it’s like that little kick that enables you to really pick up speed.
009: Don’t make this your daily writing goal.
And finally, allow me to caution you. I know it can seem really cool to write 10,000 words in a day. It’s not. It’s how you burn out.
Sure, you may want to do this in order to finish a novel in a week. And maybe that will work one time. But it’s not something that is sustainable, especially if you have a day job.
Depending on how fast you type, you may be able to knock out 10,000 words in a three or four hours. And you may think that you can do that every single day after work.
Here’s why you can’t: Your brain needs rest. So unless your day job just consists of downtime where you get ample rest and don’t ever have to solve any problems or stare at a computer screen, you can’t do this.
Don’t demand so much of your writing that it makes it impossible for you to write. Don’t think you’re a machine that can magically always fill your writing time with magical word sprints that net you 10,000 words.
Sometimes writing is slow. Sometimes, you need to just chill and enjoy a day where you don’t hit 1,000 words.
Have You Tried Writing 10,000 Words in a Day?
Have you ever attempted the daunting task of writing 10,000 words in a day? What are your tips and tricks? Anything I missed? What do you recommend to keep writers on track?