Writing a book series for a traditional publisher often involves starting the next story while you are proofreading and launching the previous book. I found this regimen difficult when I first started writing the Montana Gold books, especially since I was also splitting my time working on Tales of Faeraven, an epic fantasy series contracted to another publisher. It soon became painfully obvious that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Fortunately, both my publishers gave me grace when I needed it most.
I’ve since learned to pace myself better. Running on adrenaline and losing sleep due to stress is no way to live. I persevered but vowed to make changes once I finished writing the contracted books. I’m currently in transition toward that goal. The novels are written, but I’m struggling to keep up with the launches. Even so, I’m happy to report that the pressure is easing. A nice benefit from fulfilling my contracts is that I’ve built a small backlist. Every book you release is another opportunity to earn royalties, and my author income reflects that.
I never thought I would say this, but I’m glad I went through that tough time. Until then, I’d thought of myself as a slow writer who needed years to complete a book. Yes, that was really me turning in full-length historical fiction novels with complex plot lines in roughly six weeks per book. It was nice to discover that I can write books fast without compromising quality. Edits were light for the last two Tales of Faeraven books. As for Montana Gold, Hills of Nevermore* (book one) garnered praise from Library Journal and Romantic Times. Reviews for the series remain largely favorable, and sales have been constant.
So, what key unlocks the ability to write both fast and well? That’s what we’re discussing in this article.
How to Write Fast and Well
There’s no substitute for time spent writing. I’m aware this sounds contradictory. Drafting books quickly, by definition, means writing them in less time. Doesn’t it? Well yes. That’s the goal. Not everything we do when we are ‘writing’ is actual writing. Many writers also research, plot, and prewrite. I’m not suggesting that you skip any of that, but cut corners where it doesn’t matter. We also spend time staring into space, wondering what to write next. There are ways to shorten that process.
Do I have your interest? Let’s continue.
Save Time While Researching Your Novels
Use original records. While researching Montana Gold, I relied upon original historical records contemporary to the historical era—diaries, letters, and other documents. A lot is available online. Researching original records is an excellent way to cut to the chase. You don’t have to sift through other interpretations of the information. That might seem an easier route, but it often isn’t. Which would you rather do – search multiple websites searching for a simple historical detail or pick it up naturally by reading pioneer journals?
Another problem is that the data you find at websites may not be correct. Speaking of accuracy, you should be aware (if you weren’t) that original records aren’t always foolproof. A record is only as honest or accurate as the person who wrote it. You can’t skip double-checking a fact because you found it in an original resource.
Rely upon your own impressions. Because I’d taken a research trip to the locations in my books, I was able to include my own impressions in the story settings. There’s only so much you can glean from watching online videos. When I watch any, it’s only to jog my memory. I’d rather not filter my descriptions through someone else’s camera lens.
Save Time During Plotting
Follow a three-act plotting method to shape your story. I use a classic story development system that has been around since Aristotle’s time. It is the prevalent story structure used today. Sketching each scene in a couple of sentences is worth the scant investment of time. It saves me from agonizing over where to take the story next.
Save Time in the Prewriting stage
Take notes as you write. I prefer to fill in character outlines in advance. However, noting down character details while writing saves time at the outset when the unction and inspiration to create the story is strong. It does make me slow down a bit to figure some of these items out, but not for long. Contrast that pause with the time it takes to dither over such riveting details as a character’s eye color before the story starts. Yep.
Save Time While Writing
Change your thinking. It helped me to fit the rest of my day around my writing schedule, not the other way around. That might seem a fine point, but it’s an important distinction. Whatever tasks you prioritize have more of a chance of getting done. This mindset shift is an excellent way to attain your writing goals.
Dictate your first drafts. I might prefer typing at the computer keyboard, but dictating my novel shaved precious hours from my work schedule. I could record at the rate of 3,000 words per hour. Before you are too impressed by that, I should mention that cleaning up the transcription added hours of work. Plus, I might be able to speak words at that rate, but they needed to make sense, fit the story, and advance the plot. I don’t think I’ve ever attained more than 5,000 words in a day through dictation, and that was a good day. While that might not seem like a lot, bear in mind that I previously wrote between 250 and 1,000 words per hour. Dictation pushed me to work out the story faster. If you are constantly slowing down to consider what to write next, dictation might help you find your writing groove. Also, it can save you from tendon strain from repetitive hand motions. You will still need to type. While it’s possible to edit using voice commands in Dragon, the program I use, that takes longer than typing corrections.
I needed to write to deadline but also to produce manuscripts my publishers would accept. Here are the ways I protected the quality of my writing without sacrificing time.
Put quality first. I didn’t let myself off the hook simply because time was short. Especially late at night with weariness dragging at me, I faced the temptation to cut corners. I would resist this urge, even when it involved yet another pause to fact check, correct an earlier passage, or adjust for a plot twist I hadn’t seen coming. Adhering to a good work ethic pays off in terms of positive reviews — and sales.
Don’t ignore your physical well-being. A writing marathon can be mind-numbing. Taking breaks to walk about kept me alert and gave me time to mull over plot details. I was careful to keep them short so I wouldn’t lose the story flow. When I was tired, dictating in bed propped up by pillows afforded me much-needed rest. Staying hydrated and eating nourishing foods were priorities. I didn’t overconsume caffeine, and I included brain foods like chocolate and avocado to help me focus. If my mind was played out, even when I hadn’t reached my word count goal for the day, I stopped writing. While I did stay up late often, when the clock struck midnight, I called it a night, I’m certain that paying attention to my physical needs contributed to the quality of my writing.
Pay attention to what you write. Despite my push to meet daily word-count goals, I avoided spewing words with abandon. This might counter what you’ve heard about silencing your inner editor. Letting my inner artist run amok through the pages of my manuscripts would have created a self-editing nightmare. I didn’t have time for that. Muddying the waters like that would probably have prevented me from noticing necessary revisions during self-edits. It was better to allow my inner artist and inner editor to remain at peace.
When stuck, ask for advice. During my writing marathon, assistance came in the form of my husband’s suggestions. This isn’t unusual, as he often weighs in on my plots. I don’t always take his advice, but sometimes I do. Either way, it’s nice that he’s willing to act as a sounding board. If you don’t have someone to call upon, consider joining a group to find support. There may be a local writing association with meetings you can attend, or maybe connecting with writers online would suit you better. However you do it, reach out when you need to.
Don’t doubt yourself as a storyteller. Second-guessing yourself wastes time, and it can cripple your story. You are a storyteller on a mission only you can complete. Trust your instincts.
Final Thoughts from Janalyn
Writing fast and well takes extra effort. Make sure you are willing to meet the challenge. There’s no shame in writing slowly, if that’s what you would rather do. However, if you are ready to take on the challenge–whether to write fast during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), build a backlist, or simply break out of the 1,000-word-a-day club–you can do this. It is possible to increase your writing productivity without sacrificing quality.
Over to You
How many words per hour do you normally write? Are you comfortable at that pace?