Writing more books helps you make more money.
If you publish three novels each year, you’re much more likely to make an income from your writing. But most authors write slowly, producing only one novel every few years.
So how can you write faster and better? How can you produce more books in less time and still improve your craft as you go?
Our friend Chris Fox knows how. He’s a successful author of fiction and nonfiction, and he is an excellent teacher. Many of his 25,000 students have gone on to thrive and succeed as novelists.
We interviewed Chris to learn about his five steps to writing up to 5,000 words per hour.
Why do I need to write fast?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Why is writing fast so important?
Chris Fox: Writing fast is important because if you want to reach a level of expertise where you can turn out a well-crafted novel that people want to read, you’ll have to write multiple drafts. If you’re writing a 100,000-word book, the faster you get those words down, the sooner you’ll have a complete draft. And the more you learn about storytelling, the better you get at writing fiction.
If it takes you three years to write 100,000 words, then your development will be slow. On the other hand, if you can get those 100,000 words out in 30 days, your development will accelerate.
A baker improves their craft by baking for eight hours a day. As they work, they get faster and better at turning out cakes. If you spend 30 minutes per week baking cookies, you’ll improve eventually. But you’ll get to that level of mastery faster by baking for several hours each day.
Thomas: Many people talk about the principle of 10,000 hours of practice as if just typing for 10,000 hours makes you an expert writer. But it’s not merely 10,000 hours of typing. Mastery requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, which means you’re purposefully aiming for improvement. You measure and evaluate your performance to see how you’re progressing.
A swimmer watches slow-motion videos of themselves to evaluate their technique and see what they need to change. Then they get back in the pool and make adjustments. That is deliberate practice, and deliberate practice drastically improves your skill.
For writers, it might be better to say 500,000 words rather than 10,000 hours. When an author hits that 500,000-word mark, they find their groove, and things get better.
How can I write faster?
Thomas: How do you write faster? What’s the key?
Chris: When I began writing, I had a busy day job as a software engineer at a start-up. I worked 68 hours per week, and I wanted to find a way to finish novels in a decent time frame so I could earn a living writing.
I only had one free hour per day, and that was on my bus ride to work. I became obsessed with maximizing that hour.
- How many words can I fit into that hour?
- What can I do to become a better, faster writer in that hour?
- How can I become more efficient?
I’m into technology, and so I spent every day for months trying to engineer a process to help me write faster. I discovered that I could write in what I call writing sprints. I would write at full tilt for 20 minutes segments. I’d start a timer and write for 20 minutes with no interruptions.
I’d turn off the internet and my phone. I’d use the restroom before I began. I made sure there would be no interruptions, and then the only thing I did for that 20 minutes was write.
I did not allow myself to go back and edit. I didn’t allow myself to stop. I knew I’d need to edit after the fact, but I waited until I finished the sprint. I focused all my effort on that initial production and getting those words down. Separating my writing and editing has helped my productivity.
How do I silence my inner editor?
Jim: Writers are always saying, “Kill the editor and just write.” But how did you train your brain to do that?
Chris: I made a deal with my inner critic. I said, “Listen. You can tell me something is wrong, and you can make a note of it, but you can’t harp on it and force me to fix it right now.”
If I write some clunky dialogue, I’ll make a note in the margin that I need to come back later and work on it. But that’s all the time I allow my critical self when I’m writing. Over time, I’ve gotten better at turning off that voice. When I’m done, the inner critic knows that I’ll put on my editor’s hat, and the critic will have his turn to speak.
Jim: How long did it take to get to that point?
Chris: It took several months. I was in the habit of starting with a paragraph and tinkering with the prose for hours. At the end of the day, I would have only added 57 words because I rewrote the same paragraph 19 times.
I designed my process to stop that kind of work where we can’t produce because we are stuck doing the same thing over and over and over.
Thomas: You’re not saying you’re not going to fix it. You’re promising to fix it later. In a sense, you’re getting procrastination to work for you. You’re procrastinating the editing and writing like crazy rather than trying to make everything perfect as you go.
Chris: Once I finished writing 40,000 words, I went back to edit, and I found I was making the same mistakes. Maybe I overused a word or repeatedly omitted a comma. If you make consistent mistakes, you see it when you start to edit, and when you start your next writing sprint, you can still write fast, but you’ll stop making that mistake.
The more you write in sprints, the cleaner you’re writing will be. I’ve come to the point where I can turn out an 80,000-word novel in about three weeks, and then I do one pass of editing before I publish it.
You’re self-editing speed will dramatically improve when you make yourself write fast.
Jim: Take us through your five-step process for writing in sprints.
Step 1: Clear the decks.
Chris: I learned about clearing the deck from John Cleese. When you sit down at your computer, you probably have a video game open in one tab, nine Facebook tabs open, and a whole bunch of email notifying you. Eliminate those distractions.
Create an environment where you won’t be interrupted. Turn off your email and phone. Make your coffee and use the restroom. Remove anything that would prevent you from writing or cause you to look away or stop. Eliminate every external excuse that will prevent writing.
Thomas: Macs have a do-not-disturb mode that you can activate. You can suspend every notification that would normally pop up. Scrivener has a similar feature, and many writing apps now have a distraction-free mode.
Step 2: Know what you’re going to write.
Chris: Every morning, I wake up at 5:00 a.m. I go to the gym and spend an hour working out. During that hour, I’m thinking about the scenes I’m going to write that day. I play the movie projector in my head and meticulously plan the scenes in my mind.
When I sit down at my desk, I know what the scene is about. I know the emotional states of the characters. I found that when I mentally plan before I do my writing sprint, the words just flow. Knowing what I am going to write helps me get into a flow state much faster.
Thomas: Giving yourself the freedom to think about what you’ll write without trying to write is so powerful.
Step 3: Start the clock.
Chris: If you are writing against the clock, you have pressure to keep putting words on the page, and you’re less likely to stop and go back to look at what you’ve written. When you keep going, you get into a flow state.
Neuroscientists have tracked brain activity and recorded a brain state that we refer to as “flow state” or “zone.” If you think about the best chapter you ever wrote, it probably happened when you were in flow state. The words just came, and you got to the end of it and couldn’t believe what you just accomplished.
Your goal in starting the clock is to train your brain to get to flow state as fast as possible. Ideally, you’ll get into that flow state in less than 30 seconds. Then you can write in flow state for the rest of your writing sprint. You’ll be doing your best work in the least amount of time because you’ve trained your brain.
Thomas: The concept of flow comes from solid research that was reported in the book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Being in a flow state is what makes a video game or movie so enjoyable. You’ll enjoy writing when you’re in flow while you’re doing it.
Step 4: Record the results.
Chris: You can’t fix something you’re not tracking. I learned that when I was losing weight. I lost 90 pounds by meticulously tracking every calorie that went into my body.
I track my writing time in the same way. Every time I finish a writing sprint, I record my start and stop time, as well as the number of words I wrote.
All sorts of interesting things come to light when you record your results over time. I learned that I write faster in the morning than I do in the evening. I learned that if I sprint longer than 20 minutes, I tend to write fewer words per minute. Short sprints work for me, whereas some of my students will write for a full hour because that works better for them.
I track everything I write because tracking enables you to improve. When you know your results, your brain will automatically try to make things more efficient. If you wrote 1,100 words today, tomorrow your brain will probably push you to write even more.
Thomas: In the business world, they say, “What gets measured gets managed.” Often a manager only needs to measure outcomes in order to improve the performance of their employees. This applies to measuring yourself as well.
Step 5: Learn from the work.
Chris: One reason many writers haven’t published their first novel is because they’re worried about what the world will think. I tell those authors, “You are not your words.” If we all need to crank out two million words, we have to do it by finishing stories.
When you’re finished, study the words you’ve written and read them critically. Spend as much time as you need to figure out what you can improve. Reading your finished work is like the recovery part of a workout. It’s where you grow and repair.
For many writers, it’s easier to study, revise, and learn if they have a writing coach or developmental editor who can shine a spotlight on the flaws to show where the writing can be improved.
Jim: What are some of the roadblocks writers hit when they try your method?
Chris: About 5% of my 25,000 students are unable to turn off their inner critic. They can’t allow typos to slide when they’re writing fast. For those people, I tell them to remove the sprint part. Just write without worrying about how fast you’re going.
Other people shoot for a word count that’s too aggressive or a time block that’s too long. It’s a matter of finding what works best for you. When you start using this method, set your timer for just five minutes, or make your word count goal 1,000 instead of 5,000.
Thomas: You could turn off spellcheck for five minutes, so you don’t see those red squiggly lines.
What tools make writing go faster?
What tools do you use to make writing faster and easier?
Chris: My writing environment has changed over time. I used to be a huge proponent of dictation because my time was limited.
When I walked to the bus stop, and while I waited for the bus, I spoke my story into my headphones and recorded it on my phone. When I sat down on the bus, I’d dump the audio file into the Dragon app, and I could pour those words right into my existing manuscript.
If you are starved for time, dictation is a great tool. It’s a skill, and you have to learn how to speak into your dictation app, but it could dramatically accelerate your writing.
I can claim to write 5,000 words per hour because I used dictation. Theoretically, I can type 5,000 words per hour, but realistically I’ve only hit that goal by using dictation. An average human will speak 150 words per minute, whereas a person can type closer to 50 words per minute.
Thomas: Is it better for writers to practice this method on a piece they’re not emotionally invested in?
Chris: I don’t think it matters. Some people use this method for their thesis or for college homework. Anything you’re writing is going to get you into the right habits.
If you can start with something you’re not emotionally invested in, just for practice, I think it’s a great idea because you’ll have less ego associated with it.
Resources for writing your first 5,000 words.
Thomas: If I want to put this into practice today and write 5,000, what tips do you have for me?
Chris: First, go to ChrisFoxWrites.com and download my How to Write 5,000 Words Per Hour ebook. It will take you about an hour to read.
If you don’t want to read it, get a stopwatch and a pad of paper or a spreadsheet, and set your timer for five minutes. Force yourself to write full tilt and see what happens.
When you’re done, count your words. Most people are disappointed with their first writing sprint because the word count is low, but just try it and see what happens. Then make a deal with yourself that every day for the next week, at the same time every day, you’ll do a five-minute writing sprint.
Keep practicing and see how it goes. At the end of that week, make a decision. If the process is working for you, invest a little bit of time reading the book and get set up to track your writing on the spreadsheet or paper. You’ll be inspired by your progress.
Thomas: Authors who use the Word Press plugin MyBookProgress, can use the dashboard to enter your daily word count. It will generate charts and graphs and email you encouragement as you go. It even shares your progress with your readers and helps you build your list.
How can readers get your book How to Write 5,000 Words an Hour (Affiliate Link)?
Chris: It’s free when you sign up to receive my email newsletter. But if you don’t want to sign up for my newsletter, you can also buy it on Amazon. Even though it’s been available for free since I released it, I’ve still sold 25,000 copies of that book.
This course will make the hardest part of your career a lot easier.
For many of us, writing, editing, cover design, and publishing our books isn’t nearly as intimidating as launching our books.
That’s why the Book Launch Blueprint course is back. We only release this course once a year because it’s interactive. You get a comprehensive course on every element of launching your book, and you get to join an exclusive, private Facebook group where you can talk to Jim & Thomas.
- The professor of book marketing, Thomas Umstattd, Jr.
- Christy Hall of Famer and bestselling author, James L. Rubart
Together we’ve launched over 50 books, and we’re going to teach you the exact same methods we use.
This is your opportunity to pick our brains on every aspect of the course.
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