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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.