What It’s Really Like To Write Ten Thousand Words In A Day

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Disclaimer: I am not writing at this high a quota right now, for a variety of reasons (one of which being, it requires a very settled life to write this way), but I was chugging along at 10k for several weeks last year. And if you read my books, you can’t tell which parts were written at a sluggish 200 words a day and which were initially drafted during a 10k marathon over the course of twelve hours.

Let’s Get Right To It!

Let’s establish first that we’re talking about real, quality prose that may eventually go into a published novel or story, and secondly, that we are not slipping into a sort of enthusiastic NaNoWriMo stream of consciousness (which is a wonderful kind of writing in its own way).

I Wrote My First Novel (Which Is Not Published) Using NaNoWriMo

Writing a good amount of your novel in one day requires planning and preparation. During my 10k run of days last year, I started writing at 5 in the morning, and divided the work into chunks. I went from 5-7 in the dawn, and shot for 2,500 words.

I Set Timers, Sometimes

I’ll be honest, this is really hard to do. You have to know yourself, and your style, and you have to pay really close attention to your mood. If you slip inadvertently into a cynical or self-deprecating stream of thought, your creating mechanism slows, and you soon find yourself staring at the screen and talking yourself half-heartedly into going back to bed for a few minutes.

But Sleeping Isn’t As Interesting As Writing

Life interrupted, then, and all the usual things happened that generally happen in the day (that are not writing). I went for a second chunk of 2,500 words right before lunch, and then started on the last 5,000 at around 2 in the afternoon.

What I Learned:

Here are some things I learned while performing this Herculean (and short-lived) task:

  1. Writing copiously is possible, but requires great mental fortitude.
  2. You have to arrange your working life around your writing time, which is often impossible (my quota always takes a nosedive around big work projects and life events–like moving, or any changes in my job).
  3. You have to believe it’s possible. I know it’s cliche, but you, and your negative beliefs about yourself, really are your own worst enemy.
  4. Cheerleaders help. If you have someone in your life who believes in your writing, and with whom you can share your victories, checking in daily makes a big difference.
  5. You have to eat. This was one thing that surprised me, but I found that writing a lot meant that I had to be really aware of how much and how often I was eating. If I went too long without some kind of sustenance, my brain went on perma-strike, and the work stalled.
  6. You have to take days off, both to arrange the rest of your life for another sprint, and to recover from the pressure of writing.
  7. It’s really, really fun to see so much of your story unfold in the course of the day.

The biggest surprise to me, as I worked through this process (to see if it was possible, which I found it was), was how much I enjoyed seeing the journey of the characters unfold in front of me. Usually when I write, each scene comes together in gradual chunks; character revelations, and even scenes of dialogue, unravel slowly.

Because A Few Hundred Words May Not Take You Far In The Story

Writing ten thousand words a day meant I was chewing through two or three full scenes at a time, and I could see the arcs of my characters, and the panorama of the whole story in a way that was deeply satisfying.

10,000 Words, In The Big Picture Of A Novel, Is Less Than You’d Think

I really thought, when I started working towards ten thousand a day, that I would find myself hit a brick wall of “can’t-create-anymore,” and that I would find myself stuck at five or six thousand words (which I had achieved before).

But There Was Only A Barrier In My Mind

This actually turned out not to be the case. In fact, once I had gotten over the psychological barrier of the first half of my quota, writing became easier. It was almost as if the first five thousand words were a warmup, and the second were a free and enjoyable exercise of my writing muscles.

It Feels Good To Write So Much

I’ll probably try this again in the future, because it was really fun. The project I was working on at the time was very long, and I had been planning it for years, so it was a matter of writing down the story I already knew. This helped, also.


Bad Writing:

Forkengoshe was upset, because the last time Lady Dirvensharken had gone out hawking, she had promised him a brace of rabbits, and here she came, bearing the metal bird on her arm, and carrying not a hint of bunny anywhere on her person.

The horse snuffed, steam coming out of its nose, and Forkengoshe glared at his erstwhile fiancee.

“Where are my rabbits?” he asked.

“I let them go,” Lady Dirvensharken replied.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Because Harriden put the knob onto safe catch and release, and I didn’t have the heart to snap their sweet little necks,” she said.

“Go out again; switch back!”

“I don’t want to. You can go, if you like,” she said, holding out the metal bird.

“I don’t like the talons,” he said, drawing away.

“You won’t have any rabbits, then,” she said. She kicked the hardened sides of the horse, and he strode towards the garage.

“This is not fair. You promised!” Forkengoshe exclaimed. He followed her and watched the haunches of the artificial horse bob up and down.

Good Writing:

Fogerty fumed; the radiant Lady Dirvarken had sworn most solemnly, when she had last gone out hawking, that she would bring him a brace of rabbits next time, and here she came riding on a beautiful artificial May morning, bearing the enormous metal bird on her arm, and carrying not a whiff of rabbit.

The shining chrome gelding puffed, steam wafting out of its sculpted nostrils, and Fogerty glared at his luminous fiancee.

“Where are my rabbits?” he demanded.

“I let them go,” Lady Dirvarken replied, her measured words fluttering like golden bells in the perfect dawn.

“Why?” Fogerty asked. He knew that he sounded petulant, and he did not care.

“Harriden put my hawk into catch and release mode without telling me. He caught the bunnies just fine, but he didn’t harm them, and I didn’t have the heart to snap their sweet little necks,” she said.

“Well, fix your bird and go out again; I want my rabbit stew!”

“I’m all worn out. You can go, if you like,” she said, smiling and holding out her arm, upon which the shining bird sat, silent and imperious.

“I don’t want to go out riding with a great beast on my arm!” Fogerty exclaimed. He felt enormously wronged by the world this morning. He had set his heart on steaming rabbit stew, with fresh carrots and onions, and now there would be nothing but lumpy porridge for lunch.

“Oh well, then,” she replied genially, and tapped at the metal flanks of the horse. He stepped gamely forward, and Fogerty, still furious, stalked after her, watching the silver haunches of the artificial horse bob up and down.

I Hope You Have A Good Morning!

Remember, you can achieve your goals if you are realistic with yourself about your circumstances, your available writing time, and your attitude towards yourself. You can write quite a lot of solid material, if you get out of your own way and let yourself try.

You’re reading a blog about writing by Victor Poole. I bet you can’t tell which parts were written in December of last year. Staying up late is a quiet time to write (but makes it harder to get up at dawn).