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Burn through the Words is a series of posts suggesting strategies you can use to hit your writing goals. Feel free to use, abuse, or disregard entirely; writing is a strange and personal beast and all advice herein should be taken on the rocks with a nice rim of salt.

Stephen King taught me this one. Not personally. Lord, I wish. It’s in his book On Writing, and it’s something every writer should practice.

You. Are ready. To write. You’ve got your lucky Pickard/Spock mug full of steaming hot caffeine, your bedroom/office/basement door locked, and your document open, cursor blinking away. You sit down in the chair, pound out a paragraph, and then — you hit a snag. Maybe it’s some scientific theorem you aren’t clear on but wanted to use. Maybe you don’t know the name of a city, even though it’s your imaginary city on your imaginary world, because you straight just haven’t made it up yet. Maybe you want to mention the smell of a specific, real world plant. Whatever. Whatever you do, don’t go off on a Wikipedia wormhole.

JUST CAPS IT.

Write, “the air was redolent of PLANT SMELL” and move on. Later, after you’ve hit your goals for the day and are mindlessly half-watching Sherlock for the umpteenth time while simultaneously browsing the internet, that is the time to spend 45 minutes figuring out if it was tulips or tuberose wafting through the air. Not while you are in the hot seat. Never while you are in the hot seat. And, because you put that PLANT SMELL or THEOREM or CITY in CAPS, it will be darn easy to find again, and plug in what you meant all along.

JUST. CAPS. IT. And hit those daily word counts!

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Burn through the Words is a series of posts suggesting strategies you can use to hit your writing goals. Feel free to use, abuse, or disregard entirely; writing is a strange and personal beast and all advice herein should be taken on the rocks with a nice rim of salt.

I mentioned in my last post that I have to write 714 words a day to hit my goal of 30,000 words for Clarion. But do I write 714 words a day?

No. I do not.

714 words is my rock-bottom limit.  I usually write a little over 1,000 words a day. Why do I do more than what I need to?

Because you never know what life is going to throw at you. There have already been two days since the write-a-thon began that I couldn’t make it to the keyboard. I’m sure there will be more. So I write ahead, so I don’t have the guilt and pressure of trying to play catch-up later.

Sure, I can get way behind and beg my family to give me a Saturday off so I can lock myself in the office and indulge in a marathon, but having done one Nanowrimo, I’m not all that eager to do another. For one thing, I don’t have a lot of fun that way, for another thing, most of what I write during those grim dashes is not very useful; often it’s just words for wordcount’s sake.

Do you want to write six stories, or six good stories you might sell somewhere? Set the bite-sized goals you’ve created as the bottom end of your expectations. Plan ahead, and when the race is over and the dust clears, you’ll have some writing to be proud of, rather than … some writing. Which, don’t get me wrong, is miles better than nothing at all, but why not try to do it right the first time, rather than making more work for yourself later?

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Burn through the Words is a series of posts suggesting strategies you can use to hit your writing goals. Feel free to use, abuse, or disregard entirely; writing is a strange and personal beast and all advice herein should be taken on the rocks with a nice rim of salt.

This tip is fairly common-sensical, I think, but it bears repeating, just in case you’ve fallen prey to a terrible case of procrastination.

You’ve set your big goal, and now it looms over you like K2. If you want to summit that goal and raise as much money as possible for Clarion, you’ve got to break your mountain into a series of small, manageable molehills.

This is pretty easy with word count — for example, I’ve got a goal of 30,000 words. This breaks down to 714 words a day. I know that whatever else I do today, I’ve got to write at least 714 words. It’s a heck of a lot easier to wrap my brain around than writing 30,000 words, and then the end result is the same. 

If you’ve chosen a certain amount of short stories, then for goodness sake, don’t wait until week five for inspiration to strike.

Saturday is your deadline: if you haven’t got your week’s story done, get it done, and use the pressure of the deadline to squeeze those words out. If you’re in a group, have them hold you accountable, and deliver those stories to them by uploading them to the forum every Saturday night. If you’re not in a group, deliver those stories to a supportive friend or family member instead. They don’t have to critique them, they just need to receive them.

Break it down and you’ll see success.

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Burn through the Words is a series of posts suggesting strategies you can use to hit your writing goals. Feel free to use, abuse, or disregard entirely; writing is a strange and personal beast and all advice herein should be taken on the rocks with a nice rim of salt.

Where ARE we going?

Lots of writers advocate the outline, and it seems like just as many freeze up at the very notion. I have to let the story tell me where it wants to go, says the non-plotter. And I dig that, non-plotter, I honestly do. But.

Let me tell you, non-outliners and general rebels a very exciting secret I discovered, one that transformed me from anti-outline to pro-outline.

An outline is something you write. It is creative. It is something you imagine, something you dream up. And it is just as organic and alive as everything else you write. You can change it. You don’t have to follow it. It is not a detainment center for your characters to be trapped in; it’s a road map for them to follow, or not follow, whatever they want, because really, we all know who’s in charge, don’t we? It’s not us. It’s our characters. And if you tell one to zig and he wants to zag, for God’s sake let him zag. Trust him. You can always change your outline.

The other thing about writing an outline for your novel (or story) is that it forces you to think about where you’ve been and where you’re going. It forces you to fill in that vast, murky middle with something. It might not be that brilliant of a something, but it’s a lot better than getting 25,000 words in, and then just having no clue what happens next. I have been there, oh boy have I been there, and honestly nothing kills a good writing streak like not knowing what happens next.

So outline! Try it! Write down a sentence or two for each major scene in your story. Make sure your tension is rising towards a terrible disaster, bust out that climax, and wrap that puppy up. Yep, you’ve got holes, I know you do. Look at the holes, and spend a few days mulling over what to plug into them. Don’t wait until you’re stuck in a hole to figure that out. It can be really hard to see a solution once you’re down in the muck.

And in the end, if you don’t like your outline, you can always scrap it and try something else. It’s a much more flexible document than it seems, and it just might be the key to your success.

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