So, you’re a writer. And you want to know how to write 7,000 words a week (and still have a life). Well, the answer’s simple. Writers write. They have to write. And they make time to write. The only difference between a real writer and a wannabe is somebody who planted their butt in the chair. Day after day, they stayed at that keyboard, pounding away.
Oh, and they also took time to read as well as write.
Stephen King is of the opinion that writers, in order to be successful, have to do two things: “read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King himself reads anything he can get his hands on, including the Harry Potter series (which he adored) and the Twilight series (which he most definitely did not). And everyone knows what a prolific writer King is. To date, Stephen King has written and published 59 novels and five works of nonfiction, plus more than 200 short stories.
I think it’s safe to surmise that the man knows what he’s doing.
Ray Bradbury famously advised writers to write one story a week. Write fifty-two stories a year for five years, he said. By the end of one year, you’ll have written 52 stories. It’s literally impossible to write 52 bad stories, according to Bradbury. By the end of five years you’ll have 260 stories, and there’s bound to be a gem in there somewhere. Bradbury knew what he was talking about. He had to write three million words in order to write his first good story (“The Lake,” in 1942). There’s also an apocryphal quote attributed to Stephen King which goes “the first million words are just practice.”
I think you’re getting the idea. Writers write. They have to write a lot before they stop sucking at writing. The writers who fail are the ones who give up before they stop sucking. They have to write, they have to write frequently, and they have to write prolifically.
Now it’s time for the 64-dollar question: HOW?
How in the world does anyone find the time to write a short story a week? What strategies do successful writers use to churn out 1,000 words a day, every day of their lives? What black magic does Stephen King manage use to write 59 novels and over 200 short stories? How can anyone, especially adults with jobs and kids and exercise schedules and a million other demands on their time, make time for writing?
The answer’s shockingly simple: make time for it.
There’s a book I want to read. It’s called 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. The whole idea behind the book is that human beings would like more time to do stuff, but persistently believe that we don’t have enough time. In point of fact, they have plenty. They just have to be more judicious about how they spend it.
Instead of flipping on the TV, taking a nap, or going to bed at a reasonable hour, writers—ones who are really serious about honing their craft and writing professionally—will jam writing (and reading) into their day no matter how awkward the fit. And they still manage to spend time with their kids, cook dinner, take their spouse out for a drink, have a beer with buddies, and sleep.
Without further ado, here are some of my tips for how to write 7,000 words a week and still have a life.
1. Just write.
You’ve heard it said by more famous writers (and better bloggers) than me: just write. Shut off that inner editor, man. Even if it feels like you’re writing the biggest heap of dog-crap in the history of human civilization, keep going. Finish the damn story. You can fix it in the editing. Don’t stop to look up the correct phraseology. Avoid checking the thesaurus for ten-dollar words. Refrain from heading to Wikipedia and researching random crap. Get it down. Get it out. Move it from your head onto the page. Consider the first draft to be the toilet, and you’re a bulimic who’s just downed an entire rack of ribs and a plate of cheesy garlic fries and needs to purge. What goes into that toilet is probably going to stink. But it needs to come out.
2. Got time to lean? You’ve got time to write.
There was a sign at every checkstand of the IGA in Lucerne Valley, California, where I used to work. It said “If you’ve got time to lean, CLEAN!” If you’ve got time to fiddle around on your phone or watch tube or take a bath or do anything else remotely leisurely, guess what? You could be writing.
I started writing on my lunch breaks in 2016 when I worked in Roseville, California. Once I’d gotten into the swing of things, I was churning out a consistent 5,000-7,000 words per week, just by making use of that precious midday hour. And then I had time after work to go to the gym or run errands or do whatever I needed to do. With a little practice, you may find that you have more time at your disposal than you think. If you find yourself with some dead time and can’t write, plan. Sketch out the next few scenes. Think up some plot twists. Make use of every precious moment of down-time your brain’s got.
3. Find a writing buddy.
Having trouble walking the straight and narrow? Get an accountability partner. This is the exact same principle as a workout buddy. You need someone to keep you motivated. Find a fellow writer on social media or something, make friends, and then promise each other that you’ll sit down and write at the same time every evening, and produce a certain number of words per week. Challenge each other. Compete with each other. Swap excerpts and critique them. It can be a wonderfully productive partnership and can spur you on to greater heights. The literary world is filled with tales of rewarding friendships between famous writers: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald…the list goes on and on. (Hey, did you know H.G. Wells was A.A. Milne’s math tutor? I think I may have mentioned that in a previous post.)
4. Shut out the outside world.
Write at a specific time of day, if you can. Remember how I said I was writing on my lunch breaks in 2016? That really helped me to keep up a productive writing schedule. What I found was that my brain leaped straight into writing mode the moment I started my lunch break. I’d conditioned my mind to think about writing at that specific time of day. As soon as I’d sat down at my laptop, I was ready to go. My fingers hit the keyboard and the narrative just flowed like hot molasses.
You too can condition your brain to get into writing mode if you write consistently at the same time each day. It may take a while to get into the swing of things, but if you can carve out an hour of your day (say, in the early morning before anyone in your household is awake, or late in the evening after everyone’s gone to bed), you might find your daily word counts rising.
5. Have a goal in mind.
Tell yourself you want to get through a certain number of words per day, or a certain number of words per week. Weekly goals are often more manageable than daily goals…if you’re short one day, you can make it up the next day. I set my sights on 7,000 words a week for most of this year. For the last two months of 2018, I’m trying to do a consistent 650 words a day. If I do that, I’ll have written 166,000 words by the year’s end…three thousand more than I did last year. But you don’t have to write that much. Your daily word count doesn’t have to be ambitious. Hemingway, it’s said, did 500 words a day.
6. Quit while you’re ahead.
I read somewhere that Ernest Hemingway never really used to worry about his daily word counts. He said he would just write until he felt spent, when he felt the story was humming along well, and he knew where it was going to go next. Then he’d piss off and go play tennis or go fishing or whatever. That’s key, right there: know where the story’s going to go next. Don’t quit when you can’t think of what to write next, or you’ll sit down at your keyboard tomorrow and find yourself in the grips of writer’s block.
7. Take breaks.
You can’t write all the time. You’re not a machine. Even Hemingway took time off to go fishing and hunting. Even Stephen King must take his wife Tabby out for dinner every now and again. If there’s a day when you really just aren’t feeling it, don’t write. By all means try: sit down at that keyboard and bang out a few words. But if they just aren’t coming, you’re well within your rights to stop and do something else. (Like plan.)
8. Reward yourself.
Like I said, you’re not a machine. You don’t just work and work and work all the time for no reward. If you hit your weekly goal, celebrate! Go buy yourself a drink. Purchase a gift for yourself that you’ve been eyeing for a while. Score a bottle of good Scotch. Take your family out fishing or hunting or camping. Take a day trip to some quiet, scenic little town. Order a pizza. Get a massage. Take a bath. Binge-watch a television show. You’ve earned it.
There, all done. I hope that wasn’t overwhelming. It may take a little while to get the hang of all this, but once you do, you may find your daily and weekly word counts climbing, and your writing/life balance getting onto an even keel.
Remember, you can do this. Anyone can be a writer if they persist. Just ask Ray Bradbury. You want to be where he was that day in 1942 when he finished “The Lake” and he had chills running up and down his spine and tears running down his cheeks as he realized he’d written the first truly good story of his life after three million words. If he did it, you can too.
Now get off the Internet and get writing.