Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fast Writer: Rachel Aaron

Welcome to the Fast Writers blog series, Rachel. So lovely to have you here.

Thank you for inviting me!

·         First, I’d love to hear about your writing day in a quick snapshot. Do you have a special time to write? Or do you grab moments whenever you can? I guess I’d like to know how structured you are.

I like to think I run a very tight ship here at the Rachel Aaron Word Factory! My day is divided into two sections, morning and afternoon. I usually sit down to work around 8:30, 9:00 am and work until 11:00am. Because I have several books out already, I usually use this time to answer email, do promotion, write out interviews, all that sort of stuff. If I don't have any like that lined up (or if I'm trying to make a deadline), I get to write! On days when I write in the morning, I usually try to get about 2000-3000 words before lunch. 

Afternoon is my serious writing time. I take 30 minutes for lunch and then drive to the coffee shop where I do all my real work. I write every weekday afternoon from 12:00 – 5:30 without fail. Seriously, if I miss my afternoon writing time, someone had better be dying and I'm their only hope.  During these 5 and a half hours, I try to get at least 6k words, though I usually end up with 7-8k, or a little over one full chapter.

A chapter a day is always my goal, but on days when I write in the morning and afternoon I usually pile on 9-10k to my manuscript, or about a chapter and a half. I will also sometimes write on weekends if I have the time or I'm REALLY EXCITED about something, but I try not to. My husband does like to see me sometimes... 

·         What sort of writer are you? Planner or pantser?

Militant plotter. I have a system and plan everything, it's the only way I can get the kind of speed I do. I actually have a blog post outlining my whole process from initial book idea to ready-to-write, and as you'll see, it gets pretty detailed. You could call it overkill, but I'm the sort of person who loves knowing exactly where I'm going. The more details I can get in advance, the faster I can write, and the faster I can write, the more time I buy myself to make my books amazing before they're due. Also, writing super fast is amazingly fun!

·         Can you tell us a bit about the technique you use to help you to write quickly, and how you developed it?

I write using a process I call “2k to 10k,” because I went from writing 2k to 10k words per day using it. That sound super impressive, but really it boils down to 3 almost embarrassingly obvious elements: knowledge, time, and enthusiasm. I'm actually going to cheat and just go over each one briefly here, but if you're interested in the details so you can give my process a try in your own writing, please see my blog post “How I went fromwriting 2000 words to 10000 words a day. There are graphs and everything!

The first and biggest change I made that really boosted my word count was knowledge, or knowing what I was going to write before I wrote it. Before I write a scene, I take five minutes and write out what's going to happen in my notebook. Nothing big, just short descriptions of places, rough outlines of conversations, what happens when, that sort of stuff. Really, really simple, short hand notes, but taking the time to plan things out rather than make all my decisions in the actual text where any changes could mean cutting paragraphs made a HUGE difference in my words per hour. 

I've had tons of people write me and leave comments that this one extra step has doubled their word count. So if you're only going to make one change to your writing, this is the biggest bang for your buck. I've found it's also the best for my writing in general since thinking about each scene on a macro level before I write it has taught me a ton about tension, pacing, and using scenes for multiple purposes. This means I'm not only writing faster, I'm writing much, much better. Total win.

The next change I made was time, making sure I was always writing at my most productive hours. Basically I kept track of my writing for a month, writing in different locations and times of day. From my findings, it was clear that my words per hour were best in the afternoon, out of my house, and when I had a writing block that was at least 3 hours long. 

This step is especially good if your writing time is very limited. By taking the time to find out when and where you write best, you can schedule yourself to make sure that your precious writing hours aren't wasted. Again, a very simple change, but one that can have a big impact on your wordcounts.

The final change was enthusiasm. This was probably the most headslappingly obvious one. Basically, I write faster when I'm excited about what I'm writing. I know! Revolutionary! 

But seriously, pumping yourself up about a scene, whether it's a battle or a love scene or whatever, is one of the simplest way to supercharge your writing. And if you have a scene where you can't seem to get excited, maybe it's time to consider changing that scene. I mean, if you as the author can't get excited about a scene, there's no way your reader will. 

This step is probably the one that has helped my writing the most. I've cut and redone several perfectly good scenes because I just wasn't excited about them. Boring scenes have no place in my novels. 

·         Did you always write this way? Or is your method something you picked up along the way?

This was something I stumbled into in phases. If you're interested in the particulars, they up on my blog post, but the cut and dry version is that I was up against the wall on a deadline. I had a very limited amount of time to write each day and if I couldn't figure out how to squeeze more words out of every hour, my writing career was in real jeopardy. So I got serious, got scientific, and ended up completely revolutionizing the way I wrote novels. Now, instead of 2 novels a year, I write 6-7. Not bad, I think. :)

·         How many words do you write per hr/writing session?

1100 wph is what I think of as my happy writing number, though I can hit 2000 wph when I'm really on fire. Anything under 1000 wph means I'm having trouble and should probably look at the scene again to see what was holding me up (usually a lack of tension or a character acting contrary to their nature). My wph also goes up dramatically the further I get into a writing session. Most of the time I'll write about 800 words in the first hour, 1200 in the second, 1500 in the third and every hour after that, which is why I always try to make sure my writing sessions are at least 3 hours long. The beginning is the dross, the real word burning comes later when I'm nice and immersed in my world. 

·         How many hours per day do you write? And how many days per week?

As I mentioned earlier, I try to always write at least 5 hours a day every week day. If I can write in the mornings, I usually get in another 2, 2.5 hours there, for a total of about 7 hours per day. Of course, I'm always thinking about novels and jotting down notes. An author is always working, but that's OK when you have the best job on the planet! 

·         How quickly can/do you finish a book?

I've written a book in 12 days! (Which has now been edited and sold :D) But that was kind of a crazy marathon combination of a test to see just how fast I could write and a book I was freakishly excited about. A more normal time span for me is about a month, usually writing a chapter per day (6-7k) with a few days of backtracking and fixes thrown in. Editing times vary wildly depending on the book, but I usually budget about a month for that as well, meaning I go from idea to novel ready to go to my agent in about 2 months.

·         Do you know what you're going to write each day before you start your writing sessions? For instance, do you draft the scenes/chapters you’re about to write just before you write them, or do you thoroughly outline before you even start the book (if you’re a planner, that is J)?

*Looks up at previous walls of text* Ohhhhh yeah. I plan. :D For every book, I make a story map listing all my scenes and a written out description of the whole book, scene by scene on top of the pre-writing planning I do before each scene. But even this isn't enough to catch every mistake, and often I'll end up going back and redoing large sections of my planning to take into account new ideas I had while writing or problems I hadn't considered. Novels are complicated!

·         How do you prevent your internal editor/critic from interrupting?

Iron hard confidence and the knowledge that I can go back and fix things later. That said, if I know I'm writing something that is crap, I can't go forward. I actually backtrack a lot in my novels to fix problems that prevent me from moving on. Honestly, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I'd much rather take a day and go back to fix a huge plot problem then write a scene I'm 90% sure I'm just going to end up throwing away.

Basically, my aim on a first draft is “good enough.” A scene doesn't have to be perfect, but it has to be good enough to support the scenes that come after it. If it can't hold up, I have to go fix it or replace it.  

·         Do you have any more tips you’d like to share?

Yes! The internet is full of writing advice that begins with “butt in chair” time. I agree that is necessary to being a writer, but it's important to remember that writing isn't something you get better at by putting one word in front of the other until you end up with 100k words. 

If writing is like pulling teeth, if you dread opening up your manuscript, you're doing it wrong. Stop. Remember why you love your story. Remember why you wanted to be a writer in the first place. Never be afraid to take a step back if something isn't working. There's always more than one way to solve a problem. Don't be afraid to do something different. You're the author, you are god in your world. Revel in it, delight in your creation, and you'll finish that book. Guaranteed.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to spend time with us here today. We’d love to hear about your new book, would you tell us a bit about it?

Certainly! I'm the author of The Legend of Eli Monpress series, a light hearted, old fashioned fantasy adventure series about a disastrously charming wizard thief, his taciturn swordsman, and the monster who follows them. Think Lies of Locke Lamora with more tongue in cheek and faster pacing. 

Eli Monpress is talented. He's charming. And he's a thief. But not just any thief. He's the greatest thief of the age - and he's also a wizard. And with the help of his partners - a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch through walls - he's going to put his plan into effect. The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he'll need to steal some big things. But he'll start small for now. He'll just steal something that no one will miss - at least for a while. Like a king.
This omnibus edition contains the first three books of the Eli Monpress series, including The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, and The Spirit Eater.
The first three books are currently out in a very well priced (read: cheap) omnibus, and the highly anticipated fourth book, The Spirit War, comes out in June. If you like charming thieves and are a bit worn down by how dark and gritty Fantasy has gotten lately, you should totally go to my site and read the first few chapters. The Spirit Thief You won't be disappointed!

Author Bio:
Rachel Aaron is the author of The Legend of Eli Monpress series, a fun fantasy adventure published by Orbit Books. She is also the mind behind the popular “2k to 10k” word count boosting method and the author of 9 novels, 5 of which were written in the last 10 months. You can learn more about Rachel's books and her tips for writing at lightning speed on her website,
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  1. Going to a coffee shop to write is a great distractions and plenty of caffeine. But, I'm you go to the same place each day? Do they care that you are taking up space for such a long time?

    I'm going to check out your blog posts too. Thanks.

  2. Wonderful interview. I found your process really interesting. And who wouldn't want to write faster? I would imagine that getting the book down quickly also helps with maintaining your enthusiasm. How much rewriting do you have once you get the first draft down?

  3. @Sue Yes, I always write at the same coffee shop. It's a pretty big place, but I make sure to always tip well and chat with the staff, one because they're awesome and two so they don't get mad at me for taking up a chair! I hope you like my other blog posts too :D

    @Dawn You're totally right about enthusiasm! Writing faster is the best thing ever for my excitement on a book. When you're pulling 8-10k a day, it's more like reading than writing, only you control everything. Absolutely magical!

    As for rewrites, that varies from book to book. I've had books that were practically done after the first big edit and books that took seven edits to get right. I usually budget 1 month for edits, sometimes I'm done in half that time, sometimes I'm not so lucky.

  4. Thank you, Rachel!

    I know you had problems posting and I'm very grateful you persisted and managed to comment in the end.

    I'm sorry if anyone tried to comment and it didn't go through. I'm sure lots of you would have loved to show Rachel your appreciation for her sharing her marvelous method with us.

    Thanks again, Rachel, on behalf of my blog readers who tried to post by didn't succeed. :)

  5. Great questions Sue & Dawn! Thanks for commenting!!!

    Hugs x


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I greatly appreciate it! :) :)