I had a very spotty output schedule until I discovered this magic fifteen minute cycle. I have no idea if this would work for anyone else (and in truth, I don't know if it actually works for me, since I've never sold a book!), but since I regularly get drooling green jealousy from some friends when I post my higher wordcounts, I figured it wouldn't hurt to describe what I do and why I think it works.
I do a (semi-)weekly writing exercise with some friends called "Story Ninjas" in which we all start with common prompts and write for fifteen minutes, then read the results aloud. This is our third year, and I've written 68,786 words this way. I write between 300-500 words in fifteen minutes. From the beginning, I noticed how focused my writing was when I knew how long I had. I time Story Ninjas with a playlist--fifteen minutes and change--that has a quote from the Venture Brothers between the fifteen minute segments to let me know when my time is up.
Once on a whim, I used that playlist while I was noveling. After all, usually 1K an hour was pretty fast for me, but if I wrote 500 words every fifteen minutes, that was twice as much.
And it worked.
Why it works
Even when my output was only 300 words per fifteen minutes, I still had 200+ words more output per hour. Somehow, splitting up the same amount of time into four smaller pieces made me 17% more productive. Weird, right?
Well, it took me a long time to discover this, but when I'm writing, the thing that slows me down is thinking about what comes next while I'm writing what happens now. I find myself gazing off and then backspacing, and then writing again, and then backspacing. Even though I have a general idea of the book's skeleton for everything I write, it doesn't mean I don't worry that I'm going about it the wrong way.
If after fifteen minutes I let myself plug a summary of what I've written into my outline while I drink hot cocoa, I get to see where I am in the book and reassure myself. And then it's much easier to turn off the two voices that screw me up: my internal editor, who is afraid this is all crap, and the second-guessing writer, who is afraid it might be brilliant but useless because it derails the story somehow. I can't shut them up for long, but fifteen minutes is a battle I can win.
Yes, sometimes without the extra thinking, the path I take is wrong, and later I do some snipping and rearranging. But usually my trust in myself is well-placed. If I just give myself a chance to tell me a story I want to hear, it is surprisingly just what I asked for.
Focusing on all this math is a mistake
While I'm well-aware that a lot of novice writers spend too much time focusing on things that don't really matter, like how fast they can write, or how much, or whatever, I think as long as you're reasonable, it's helpful to examine what you can and can't do, and how you might alter it.
For one thing, I'm not only more productive writing in these fifteen minute cycles, I'm happier. Additionally, I am way too curious to move through this process without recording it for scientific posterity! ;) I like to look back later and see how I've changed.
I have two spreadsheets for Immortal Showdown: daily stats and hourly stats. The former is what I record before I go to bed; the latter is where I write what I yielded in each fifteen minute cycle. Looking at these makes me feel accomplished in a way that skimming over the entire project doesn't. The sheer size of my novel makes me stressed out; rendering it into stacks of tiny numbers makes me feel accomplished, and like there's a history of success that I'm simply continuing.
- It doesn't work as well for me with short stories. I don't know why.
- It works perfectly on the bus ride to work, which I discovered on Friday! :D
- I have only tried it on projects which are mostly-plotted, at least in my head.
- I'm not suggesting this will work for you (though I don't suppose it hurts to try), only that you should examine your circumstances when you write your best, and try to arrange them on a regular basis.