How to Write 10,000 Words in a Day, and Why You Should Give It a Shot (at least once)

The most words I’ve ever written on a fiction manuscript in a fourteen hour period is 11,214. I was on a solo writing retreat in a secret location (okay, it was at an AirBnB apartment in St. Louis), laboring over the final push for The Abandoned Heart. My deadline loomed, and I was finding myself way too distracted at home to get the book drafted in time. All told, over the three and a half days of my retreat, I wrote over 26,000 words—certainly more words than I’d ever written before on a first draft in any similar time period.

Part of why I was successful was that I knew I was paying for the time away from home, and I didn’t want to disappoint myself or anyone else. It cost me about $400 for the apartment rental, plus another $125 for gas (St. Louis is two hours away), groceries, and a couple of restaurant meals. My family paid, too, in that they had to pick up the slack at home. The circumstances were definitely extraordinary. But it wasn’t my first time at the Big Daily Word Count Rodeo.

I was lured into my first 10K day a few years back by my thriller writer friend, J.T. Ellison. She was looking for a partner in crime—someone to check in with, someone to be accountable to—and she knows I’m game for all sorts of shenanigans. We’ve climbed the 10K summit many times now, and we even have tee shirts to celebrate our achievement.

If you peruse the Internet, you will find several examples of people talking about tackling the big 10K. But the methods all boil down to a few key elements.

Let’s talk about the whys first.

1. Resistance. If you only have a dozen hours in a day to write 10,000 words, you’re going to have to write fast. Really fast. You won’t have time to worry about what your parent/child/rabbi/auntfanny/spouse/eleventhgradeteacher/coworker will think about your work. You won’t have time to be afraid. You won’t have time to fiddle with word choice and as-you-write edits. The beauty of this goal is that you must put your internal editor on notice: She has to work fast, or get the hell out of the way. Resistance has no claws or hooks in this scenario.

2. Get those words out of your head and down on paper. Your story isn’t doing anything for anyone by sitting there, overcooking in your brain. I’ve never tried to do this below the 30K mark in a story, but there’s no reason why you can’t. It’s a story exploder, in a good way. Even if you’re not quite sure where a story is headed, the story knows. That fabulous subplot that woke you briefly at two in the morning, and you forgot on waking? It’s still in there, and your agile, in-overdrive mind will pop it out just when you need it.

3. Get a big jump in your word count. If you’re going for a 100K manuscript, 10K is ten percent of your total. That’s huge for one day, and the satisfaction you’ll enjoy from that accomplishment will stick with you for the duration.

4. First drafts aren’t final drafts. Perfection is not (ever) required. This is the place to let your storytelling mind play. Write now (and it will sometimes feel like you’re just typing and that’s totally okay), edit later. Don’t imagine that this will be finished work, but do be prepared to be pleasantly surprised at how readable it is.

5. You write just as well quickly as you do when you write more slowly. I’m not kidding when I say you’ll be surprised at the quality of the writing you produce. With breaks, you’ll be writing between 1000 and 1200 words an hour (my fastest is about 1400), which isn’t unusual. The unusual part is doing it hour after hour.

6. Why not? Test yourself. Push yourself. Life is too short to dawdle. This isn’t something you have to do once a week, once a month, or even once a year. There are lots of things we devote entire days to that we despise. Why not set aside a day to do something that you love?

Resistance will come up with a lot of excuses for why you can’t do this: It’s a gimmick; You don’t have time; Nobody can write decently at that pace; Your family won’t give you time/space to do it; The world can’t possibly do without you for a dozen hours; It’s dumb and unprofessional; You will fail.

There have been a few times when I’ve completed all the arrangements for a 10K day (always at home), and someone forgot their homework, lunch, or got sick. Or the furnace broke or the phone rang ten times and it was my mother. I only got in 8K or 6K or 5K on those days. But I had at least 5K more than I did the day before. The important thing was that I committed to the time, to the work, and that I got a good chunk of words written.

Let’s talk about the hows of a 10K day:

  1. Commit. Decide you’re going to do it, and take it seriously. Sure, things will crop up and demand your attention, but if you’re committed, you won’t be derailed. Stay off of social media for the day.
  2. Enlist. Enlist your family in the project. Announce your intention to disappear into your writing for the day, and make (enjoyable) plans for them or yourself to be away. If they’re already used to your professional attitude toward your own writing, this won’t be unusual for them. If this is new for you (and them), you might want to take yourself off to a hotel, a friend’s house, or a comfortable library with food facilities nearby. Show them what 10K words look like. They will be impressed that you want to produce so much material. (And if they’re not, too bad for them because they should be.)
  3. Choose your ground. Find somewhere comfortable to work where you won’t be tempted to nap frequently, or get on the Internet. For the random 10K day, I prefer to work at home because I can be as relaxed as I like. Declutter your workspace so you can concentrate on the work and not be distracted by bills, school or work communications, etc. Dress comfortably and make sure your chair is comfortable, too.
  4. Plan your breaks, plan your food. The Pomodoro timer method works well. You can get up and stretch your legs for five minutes after each twenty-five minute work block, and take a longer break every couple of hours. Or you can set up any system that you know works for you. The idea is to be consistent. Don’t work through your breaks. It may sound silly to plan your food, but it’s a critical detail. If you only have a fifteen minute or five minute break, every minute counts. When you emerge from your writing cocoon to find a sandwich in the fridge, or an ounce of nuts, or some fruit and chocolate waiting on the kitchen counter, it will seem magical.
  5. Plan your writing.  Make sure you’re very familiar with the manuscript, have a solid idea about what you want to write, and where the story is going. Your list should be completed the day or night before your 10K day. My chapters are about 2K words long, so that’s a goal of five chapters for an all-day session. Remember to write in scenes, and to keep the story moving forward.
  6. Keep track. Make a note of your growing word count. Every time you stop for a break, write down how many words you’ve written. They will add up quickly! Be sure to time your breaks, just like you do your writing sessions. Save your work frequently.
  7. Bring a friend. Bring along a friend (not necessarily in person) to participate so you can encourage one another. Plus, you get to celebrate together at the end.

I know it’s a lot to digest all at once, but I promise that the rewards are huge. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot.

How many words did you write on your very best word count day? Do you have any stories you want to share?

Goodreads is giving away copies of all three novels in my Bliss House dark suspense trilogy, including The Abandoned Heart, which will be released on October 11th. Enter here for a chance to win.

 

10+
This entry was posted in Writing and tagged , , by Laura Benedict. Bookmark the permalink.

About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar-nominated author of six novels, including the gothic suspense Bliss House trilogy: Bliss House, Charlotte's Story (Booklist starred review), and The Abandoned Heart. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, PANK, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, she grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and claims both as hometowns. Get to know her better and read her blog at www.laurabenedict.com.

25 thoughts on “How to Write 10,000 Words in a Day, and Why You Should Give It a Shot (at least once)

  1. Great ideas. I belong to an online group who has scheduled hour-long writing sprints on Thursdays. I always manage to log a higher word count in that hour than in any other hour of the day. That group effort helps. I don’t know if it’s accountability or competition or what, but it works.

    And you’re right; even if we don’t hit our word count goal, we still have more words than we started with.

    • Accountability and competition are both motivating for many writers, so I’m not surprised you find yourself producing more words during the sprints, Staci. Because we usually work in isolation, it’s easy to get caught in resistance traps. Good for you, surrounding yourself with like-minded folks!

  2. A Facebook group I belong to has “sprints” where those participating write for 30 minutes and post word counts. And, of course, you can do these any time, as many times a day as you like.

    I think my best overall day was about 4500 words, but I’m still content to write a minimum of 1000 a day. I’ve yet to be able to lock my internal editor in the closet. I tried NaNo once, and that “crank out words fast” just didn’t work for me. I’m not sure it saved me any overall production time, given the result was so much of a mess, the edits took much longer than my “edit as you go” system.

    That being said, I’ve never said ‘never’ and I just might give it a shot for the next book.

    • BTW – I tried to tweet this post, but got a message that the service is unavailable:
      AddToAny does not support the service you are trying to add to. This service may have been removed, or the website you came from is pointing to an invalid service.

      It does give the link so you can tweet manually, but you know how lazy we all are …

    • How fascinating that it took you longer to finish when you did NaNo, then revised. I pooped out at 37K when I did NaNo, and kept forgetting to post my progress. Like you, I find it hard to lock the closet door on my internal editor–sometimes I have to tie him up and gag him first.

      If you’re holding steady with 1k a day, that’s terrific. At the end of the year, that’s a lot of words!

  3. I would love to do this someday. I know Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k method, and it works at all levels. When I’m on my game, I do 2k an hour. Right now, though, I’m revising two books, so it’s less about word count and more about “how do I fix this boring scene?”

  4. Years ago, long before I’d heard of Nanowrimo, my husband gave me a challenge while we were on vacation: write ten pages/day (a measly 2500 words, a pittance compared to your marathons, Laurel). The first few days were hard, but I was determined to meet his challenge. I wrote early every morning before he got up.

    Didn’t take too many days in a row before I couldn’t wait to jump out of bed to write. Seeing the pages multiply gave me great satisfaction. Plus the constant flow of words cleared out the blocked pipes of whatever had been stopping me (sewer analogy intentional).

    If I was tempted to skip a day, there was this big hole in time where something important was missing–as if I’d forgotten morning coffee. So I didn’t skip.

    Once I’d completed the day’s ten pages, my husband took me out for lunch (perfect reward!) and we enjoyed our vacation. The external accountability (him asking, “Did you finish your ten pages yet?”), the reinforcement of habit and reward, and the sense of accomplishment all came together to convince me I could do it.

    That discipline during our vacation really helped me form good work habits for writing.

    I plan to try your 10K when I start the next book. Thanks, Laurel.

    • What a lovely story, Debbie. Your husband is a real treasure to have encouraged you in such a fun, practical way. I’m not surprised that the habit stuck.

      Let us know how it works if you do it as you begin the book. I fuss so over the first few pages–sometimes spending weeks–that I can’t imagine trying 10k cold.

  5. Alas, I’m afraid I don’t write as well when I write quickly, but I did write more and always made my deadlines when I wrote near that speed of 10,000. I used to write Nancy Drews, and they would give the writers six weeks to complete the first draft once the chapter outline was approved. I always felt I was hurling words at the page in a rush to meet deadline. To me, the ND books in general (incl. mine) suffered due to the assembly line schedule. Then one time I had a rough period, fell behind in producing a book, and had to dash through it to get it finished. I’m embarrassed to revisit that book nowadays. I wish I could do the 10,000 words thing, but I’m afraid my creative engines are stuck on “slow write”. My best personal production period, strictly in terms of writing quality, was when I had no deadline but felt motivated to write on my own. Once I settled into a production routine (a routine that I fell out of a while back, sad to admit), I compromised by forcing myself to simply get to the next page by the end of every writing day. “Just get to the next page” kept me going on schedule, while being able to keep up on the quality end. But that’s just me, clearly. I’m sure many other writers can sling the words super fast and have the writing not suffer for it. In my case, if I rush too much at the front end, I have to spend much more time at the back end rewriting.

    • Oh, Kathryn. The Nancy Drew schedule sounds so painful and damaging for the writer. I cringed for you just reading about it. I can imagine that writing so quickly for your own work would be a kind of torture.

      “Just get to the next page” is always appropriate. We always work to get the reader to turn to the next page, so the idea has a very appealing parallelism.

  6. 10k words in a day. WOW. I think I could do it but #5 on your list is absolutely crucial. I couldn’t come up with 10K for a story I wasn’t already intimately familiar with in my head. And oftentimes that’s the biggest hang up for me because while writing I’ll stop to look up something.

    Probably the most I’ve written in a day is about 4k. Though I have written about 7800 words in pre-writing stuff (interviewing my protag).

    I’ve committed to plotting out another novel in October and doing NanoWriMo in November for the 1st 50k words.

    • The looking up thing can be a real stumbling block. I have to turn off my Internet completely–or at least forbid myself from looking at it. It’s helpful to keep a list of things that need to be looked up after the 10K day is done. That keeps me from falling down rabbit holes.

      Sounds like a busy, productive fall–Enjoy!

  7. I think my best day ever was 4600 words, during NaNoWriMo a few years back; although there were still places within that manuscript where I had to write “I don’t know what to write” a dozen or so time to get myself going again. That’s 6 words, and if you do it ten times, that’s 60 words, and just enough of a kick in the pants I would need to get to get back on track again. So, if we discount those words, my actual useful word count would probably be closer to 4300 for that particular day.

  8. Tom, I love that. “I don’t know what to write.” It’s honest, and a great placeholder. And that’s 4300 brand new words you didn’t have the day before. : )

  9. Writing non-fiction, 10,000 words in a day is long and tiresome, but achievable. I think the best I’ve ever done for fiction was about 5k, though I am now on a mission to best that.

  10. I do like fast writing … and I do love NaNo (actually wrote two novels that were published that way), but I’ve found now I need to do two things or I’ll end up with more frustration than I need (and actually use up more time, ironically).

    First, I have to know what my goal is when I write a scene, meaning objective, obstacles, and outcome … and something surprising.

    Second, I have to re-read what I did the day before and shape it up, and then move on.

    Third, I use Scrivener to keep a running outline and a timeline so I can keep straight what day and month I’m in! I hate starting a book on a summer’s day, only to find a week later I’m writing about Christmas.

  11. Jim, this sounds like a very workable process. Since I’ve started here at TKZ, the concept of writing scene to scene has really come home to me. And layering–going back and shaping up the previous day’s work–tidies up those loose ends. I’ll bet you end up with a very complete first draft.

    Scrivener is more and more useful to me every day. Now when I title a scene, I also put the day # in, too. Ugh, I can’t tell you how many times I had to go back into my earlier books and fix timelines before sending them off for edits.

    Thanks for commenting!

  12. Excellent post, Laura!

    Well, we all know how I feel about fast writing. I love it. And while I do need to have a plan, I also really like having the freedom to let the story take me where it wants to go. Big word count days always take me to new places, and that’s fun. Writing is supposed to be FUN!

    My best ever was 12500… Though I can do 1000 an hour comfortably once the story is established. Amazing how it speeds up the closer you get to the end. 😜

    • J.T.! I was hoping you’d pop by to visit for this one. It’s so true about big word count days transporting us to new places–places we didn’t even know were hiding in the back of our minds. Revelations.

      12500–Wow!

  13. I’ll give it a go. It’s the perfect time, too, because I just submitted my 10K-word story for an upcoming anthology. From the planning stage to handing in the polished story, it took me one week. And I lost a day, waiting for my editor. I agree with you; it’s a fantastic feeling to know you accomplished something so quickly. Thanks for the tips!

  14. Pingback: cure writer's block

Comments are closed.