The thoughts and work of Sam Witt

Five Steps to Writing 10,000 Words a Day

Once upon a time, I made my living writing a lot of words in a very short period of time. On a bad day, I’d crank out 5,000 words. On a good day, I’d hit 10,000 words. I wrote six days a week, without fail. Out of necessity, I learned a few simple tricks that helped me keep reaching those goals, day after day, month after month.

Here are five that made all the difference to me.

Know Your Subject

Study spaceIf you’re doing your research and your writing at the same time, both tasks will be much more difficult. Plan ahead – if you know your next book is a fantasy set in a Mediterranean-style society, start  your research while you’re still writing your dystopian vampire romance. You get a few benefits by doing your research ahead of the writing.

First, you’ll have a big fat stack of ideas waiting for your pen when you get down to the dirty business of slinging that ink.
Second, you can bring an interesting new perspective to whatever you’re working on right now. This new view of your current project can help add a nice spark of life when you need it most and will definitely provide greater depth and verisimilitude to your work.
Third, you can find holes in your research process. If you find yourself stumbling over holes in your notes while writing your current project then plug those holes for your next project, now. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Have a Plan

ST043: Figure 15.14Some writers are blessed with the ability to sit down and fill blank pages with the raw power of their immense creativity. The words flow from their fingertips in torrents of brilliance and they never think twice about what they’re writing or where the story is going. For the rest of us, a little planning can make the writing day much easier to handle.

At the end of your writing day, take a few minutes to look ahead to tomorrow. If, like me, you’re a meticulous outliner, then you know what you’re going to write tomorrow and this exercise helps get your subconscious percolating so it can deliver killer genius the next day. If you’re not an outliner, this is the moment when you should take a few post-its and note your writing goals for the next day.

Pantsers, relax. This is not a sneaky way of getting you to start outlining. Just note down the beats you want to hit or the characters you want to write about during the next day. Again, this gives your subconscious a chance to start mulling over your goals and working out the best ways to reach them.

Leave the Ladder Down

Fire EscapeNever, ever finish a day’s writing at the end of a chapter or section. Some writers, Hemingway among them, didn’t even finish the last sentence for the day. Giving yourself this subconscious hook to pick up on will get you back in the flow faster than staring at a blank page.

In addition to the benefit of having a jumping off point at the start of the next day, leaving that hook for yourself is telling your subconscious critic that you do, in fact, have some idea what you’re doing and you have confidence that your writing mojo has plenty of ideas to keep you rolling.

This kind of subconscious manipulation can help you survive the inevitable troughs in your writing career. Take advantage of them when things are good to get your defenses in order for when times are bad.

Keep a Notebook Handy

My Messy Moleskine If you want to write, you need to have a steady flow of ideas. Make sure you always have a notebook, physical or digital, close enough so you can take notes without effort. Any time you have an idea, put it in your notebook.

I use a combination of a Moleskine notebook and Evernote. While I’m out and about, any ideas I get go straight into the Moleskine. When I get home, all those ideas go into Evernote where they are bagged and tagged for later consumption.

Writing burns up idea calories and you need to satisfy your creativity’s voracious appetite if you want to be able to sustain high-speed, high-quality output.

Get Your Head Straight

Train your brain to know when it’s time to write and when it’s time to quit. The untrained brain is all, “Oh, video games, Breaking Bad, shiiiiiiiiny” and that is not going to cut it if you want to reach your writing goals. Create a writing routine for yourself, a way to signal to your brain that playtime is over and it needs to get serious. For example, I always start my writing routine by firing up Scrivener and listening to the playlist for my current project. That is all it takes to switch my brain’s gears into writing mode.

Just as important is telling your brain when to quit. I have a daily word count that I have to hit before I stop writing. When I hit it, I quit writing. Other writers sit down for a set time. Set a daily goal for yourself, and do not quit writing until you hit it.

Bonus Tip: WRITE

If you follow the tips above, you’ll have the tools you need to be a productive, creative writer. But none of that does you any good if you forget the most important thing about being a writer. You. Must. Write. It may not be possible to write every day, but you have to make a concerted effort to put your ass in the seat and grind out the words.  Otherwise, you’re just talking about writing, and any blowhard can do that, right?

While following all of these little tips and tricks may not guarantee you’ll hit ten thousand words every day, they will definitely get you moving in the right direction.

Have any tips of your own? Leave ’em in the comments.

About Sam

I am the author of the popular Pitchfork County series of horror novels. I also write a newsletter with great reading suggestions and free fiction.

  • You had me pegged at: “Oh, video games, Breaking Bad, shiiiiiiiiny”. I tend to prevaricate when my brain has hit a stumbling block. Well okay, I’m also a computer game addict.

    Some really great advice here – now to put it into practice.

  • Nice. Good positive, doable suggestions. Thanks!

    I find I’m a mostly outliner type with periods of stream of consciousness occurs. I keep a doc open that has my current and future book outlines always available so I can reference ‘this’ story line and make notes on the other to-be-written works.

    This works especially well for a series of SciFi books I’m working on, ‘Arlo and Jake’. The first book is pub’d and I’m in edit for book 2. I’ve managed to outline 6 other stories in the series by sketching down ideas in this doc.

    Mostly the outline is good for me because I can’t always remember what I’ve done in the books and where I want to go next! 😉

    I also find reading a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, books, websites on a daily basis keeps the ideas coming.

    Thanks again for the post, I’ll be back to keep up with your thoughts.


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