For the next few weeks I’ll be in my writer’s cave working on Hustle and Float with my co-author Riwa. I’ll be splitting my time between the deserted cafes of Paris, where most people have left for their annual vacation, and Muskoka, Ontario, where Jesse and I have rented a lake-front cottage. It’s the perfect venue to contemplate creativity, productivity, and the importance of being unplugged.
I’m pretty excited to start this phase of the project because by the end of the month, I’ll have a very, very, early draft of the whole book. I always print out the first copy of the draft, no matter how awful it is (and it’s usually pretty heinous) because it marks the transition of something from an idea to a physical reality.
Speed is the name of the game for first drafts and so I’ll be doing a month-long writing sprint: a dedicated period of intense focus where I’ll do nothing but hit my daily wordcount: about 2000-3500 words per day. If that sounds like a lot, consider that when I was working on Decoded, I was averaging about 4000-5000 words per day.
I learned this process, called Fast Draft, in a workshop run by Candace Haven a few years ago. I was averaging close to 8,000-10,000 words per day and it was the most intense writing I’ve ever done. Add to that a couple of years of NANOWRIMO and suddenly 3,000 words per day feels like a vacation!
On that note – there won’t be any new content here on the blog until September when I’ll be sharing chapter excerpts, research notes and more. (The best stuff always goes out to subscribers first!)
Reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon has taught me the importance of peeling back the layers and sharing what goes on behind the scenes of my writing. So, I’ve included a few notes on my own process and some tips if you want to try Fast Drafting yourself.
TL:DR: Hitting high word count consistently isn’t magic – it requires preparation and practice. For me, I try to make sure that I have as much of the prep work done as possible in advance.
1. Outlines are your friends.
I’ve been working on the research outline for Hustle and Float for close to a year now, and I’m finally ready to start putting words on the page. If you have a solid outline this process becomes a joy because you’ve basically created a map for yourself to follow.
Outlines are the touchstones of my process. I cannot (and will not) do anything without an outline whether it’s a 700 word post or a 70,000 word manuscript. I like to plan everything out in advance before I write anything on a page. The outline is probably the most intensive part of the process because it forces you to chart your course and figure out how your ideas will unfold beforehand.
Not every writer uses outlines but I swear by them. I’ve had too many friends in the middle of writing a massive chapter, only to realize they forgot crucial research, have over/under estimated their word count or discover their chapter is missing a logical flow. For me, an outline addresses all of these problems. It helps me to organize my thoughts, forces me to be thorough in my research and makes sure I don’t forget important details. My outlines include detailed research summaries of articles I want to reference, notes and thoughts, even snippets of unfinished sentences that I want to include.
I developed my outline process as a survival mechanism against the crippling anxiety that writers often experience when starting a new project and faced with a blank page. This way, I have a guide to help me move from chapter to chapter, and I can immerse myself in the writing, knowing that I’ve done the work and checked the research beforehand.
2. Realistic Expectations
Fast drafting is a process that addresses the biggest hurdle a writer must overcome: their own doubts. The speed adds an intensity that gets your mind off whether or not you’re using too many adverbs, or if your vocabulary sucks and it forces you to just start writing.
From an expectation perspective, a fast draft will need several revisions, but that’s ok. The goal isn’t to craft perfect prose, but to get everything out on the page in it’s messiest, ugliest form so you can take a look at an early version of the work to spot any weaknesses. The Fast Draft of Decoded made us realize we needed to make some massive structural changes and we were able to do so before we’d invested too much time polishing and editing. And I firmly believe it resulted in a stronger book!
I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you know how it went! Wish me luck!
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