How To Write Less Every Day

Nom nom writers.

I can feel the weird look you’re giving the title of this post.*

It’s okay. In your place, I’d look at it like a three-headed chicken crawling out of my Eggs Benedict and demanding that I take it to my leader, too. It’s not what I’m supposed to write about, here on a goddamn writing blog. It’s supposed to be me breathing fire and roaring “MOAR WORDS” like a literary version of Smaug.**

But here’s the thing: just as you can write too little—too little to finish, too little to keep the spark of the story going, too little to force yourself to invest in these godforsaken characters like they’re your own children—you can also write too much. You can exhaust yourself. You can write yourself into a corner that you see no way out of, and give up in frustration.

Both writing too little and writing too much are different symptoms of the same disease, which is lack of confidence. You write too little because you’re unsure; you write too much because you no longer care about being sure (good) but also stop caring about putting in the proper work (bad). Consider it the writer’s version of doing a shit job so that you can prove you’re no good. Setting yourself up for failure.

This is the problem with zero drafts, for some writers: you spill all those words out, never giving a good goddamn about how they fit together, and tell yourself you’ll fix it later. But sometimes you find that you can’t fix it later. Or you think you can’t, anyway, and you give up.

As you lot well know, I’m a big fan of the zero draft. But I always go into it knowing that whatever I produce will need so much work to be readable it’s going to be a completely different book. The zero draft is a way for me to think on the fly. Half of what I think up will be bullshit, and half of the rest will be mediocre. But I’m perfectly well prepared to dig through a ton of shit to find a single diamond. If you’re not, then the WRITE ALL THE WORDS NOW approach may not turn your crank.

So, though I completed the zero draft of the Big-Ass Novel in a mad sprint, I’m rewriting at a much slower pace. 1,000 words a day. That’s it. I’m trying really, really fucking hard not to go over***, because I’m trying to think ahead now, trying to fit everything together, and it’s a bit like solving a Rubick’s Cube in five-dimensional space. I move this, but it changes that, and now I have to fix this, but that makes this other thing slide out of alignment, so I tweak that bit over there…

You get the idea.

A caveat here: the ideas of ‘too little’ and ‘too much’ are so subjective I shouldn’t even be allowed to write them out using only two words, as if those two words could possibly convey the inherent complexity. It’s like the world’s worst short hand. Only you know what is too little or too much for your daily word count; it’s going to be different for everyone. And—here’s another qualifier—you’re probably only going to figure out your limits with time. By fucking up a few dozen times. By not finishing stuff, and by writing other stuff until it looks like a tangled mess of intestines spilled out on your desk.

Isn’t writing fun?

*I’m pretty used to weird looks, so believe me when I say I know how they feel.
**”I am fire! I am death! I am the end of the dangling preposition!”
***Unless I’m on fire that day. Obviously.

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10 thoughts on “How To Write Less Every Day

    • Absolutely I do. I’ve done it a number of times myself. But I recognize that it doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work all the time. Last year I didn’t do it because the project I was working on at the time demanded a slower pace. But the year before I roared through a zero draft of that project I’m editing now with very good results.
      As with most things, NaNo is great for experimenting. Keep doing it if you like it, don’t if you don’t.

      • I feel much the same way. Every writer is different and should do what works best for them. Last year was my first year of NaNo. It went about as well as expected, but it gave me 38,000 words of a novel I had always wanted to write. It was a good jumpstart into my writing.

  1. Nothing against NaNoWriMo – its a good exercise for a writer that needs it – but I see people try to cram down 50,000 words in the month of November, then they release their ‘new’ novella on Amazon in December. Most of it is pure rubbish.

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