2,000 to 10,000 and 5,000 Words Per Hour – Reviews and Comparison
I think it’s safe to say that most writers wish they could write more. We block out time to write before work, during our lunch hours, and before bed. But life often gets in the way: we have jobs, school, family to look after, friends to meet up with, gym sessions, or errands to run. And that’s not even counting the distractions we turn to instead of writing: social media, cleaning, TV, gaming, and more. On the one hand, I could blame my minimal productivity on the fact that my wife and I had our first child a few months ago. On the other hand, I have also tweeted nearly 19,000 times.
So if I—and other writers—want to write more, there are two options: finding more time to write or writing more words every time we sit down to write. I suspect I am not the only one who is interested in that latter option. With that in mind, I read a couple of books offering advice on how to write more with the limited time I have.
2,000 to 10,000: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron
First off, if you haven’t read Aaron’s Eli Monpress books (a fun fantasy series about a wizard thief that is a nice change-up from all the grimdark fantasy) or her Paradox series written under her pseudonym Rachel Bach (a sci-fi series about a mercenary in power armor that also contains a dash of romance), add them to your to-be-read pile.
Aaron’s system is built on a triangle of knowledge, time, and enthusiasm. As she employed each leg of the triangle, her words per hour (WPH) increased. When all three were clicking, she was able to write 10,000+ words a day. In fact, using this system, she outlined and wrote Fortune’s Pawn in fifteen days (and that includes taking three days in the middle to switch the first three chapters from third person POV to first person).
Before she created her 2k to 10k system, Aaron was a pantser. She would sit down and write with only a very general plot outline to guide her (a four-word note would suffice for a whole scene). This worked well enough until it didn’t. After days of false starts and do-overs, she took five minutes and three pages of notebook paper to write out what she wanted to happen in this knot of a scene. It was just a rough sketch of back and forth exchanges, blocking out fight scenes, and fast descriptions. But when she went back to her computer, the words finally came. And they came fast. She was no longer trashing hundreds or thousands of words. Five minutes of sketching did what days of pantsing couldn’t.
From that day on, she takes at least five minutes to sketch out what she wants to write that day. In her experience, nothing has increased her productivity more. This one tip doubled her daily output from 2k to 5k. If you try only one thing from Aaron’s book, she says this is it.
Next, Aaron started keeping records of her daily output. Start and finish times, how many words she wrote, and where she wrote them. She did this for two months and then looked at what she had recorded. The patterns were obvious. Aaron was able to know—not guess, not know—where, when, and how long she could write to maximize her words per day (WPD). She didn’t need more time to write, she just needed to write under her ideal conditions. Your mileage might vary, but go where your data takes you.
At this point, in three months, Aaron had jumped from 2k to 7k WPD. But she noticed that on some days, she wrote more than 10k. She realized those were the days she was writing the scenes she had been dying to write ever since she first outlined the book. Conversely, on the days when she was writing boring scenes, her output dropped to 5k. So she asked herself a question during her morning five-minute routine: was she excited about the scene, and how could she make it cooler?
Aaron realized if she was bored writing it, her readers would be bored reading it. Therefore, she doesn’t write a scene until she is excited about it. Like Elmore Leonard, Aaron cuts all the boring parts readers would skip, no matter how useful. If she felt bored or stalled due to writer’s block, she didn’t beat herself up about it; she asked herself why she felt that way. And once she realized there was a problem, she could focus on fixing it. Then she was back writing. This leg of the triangle was a win-win: scenes were improved, and her word count increased because she couldn’t wait to write.
Part two of 2k to 10k contains Aaron’s advice on plotting, characters, story structure, and editing. There is a lot of useful information in there, but it’s bonus material beyond the scope of this review.
5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox
I read 2k to 10k a while back, and I have re-read it when my productivity drops. Amazon has recommended Fox’s book to me, but I never pulled the trigger until several people started mentioning it over a short period of time. When I keep hearing about the same book or movie, I have to check it out. It’s a rule. So I bought it off of Amazon, but if you want to read the book for free, you can get a copy when you sign up for Fox’s mailing list.
How To Write
The foundation of Fox’s system is the writing sprint. This is a set amount of time where you do nothing but write. You don’t stop to edit or even fix spelling or grammar mistakes. If you think of something that would improve older material, write a quick note, and keep moving forward. The point of the sprint is to set aside defined times to write, to give you a sense of completion, and to start generating data, because if you can track something, you can improve upon it.
Fox suggests starting with five-minute sprints and then build up to twenty-minutes, thirty-minutes, an hour. Use an egg timer, an alarm on your phone, or the timer in Fox’s 5KWPH app. Yes, Fox plugging his own app set my alarm bells ringing, but more on this later.
Like Aaron, Fox suggests taking a moment to jot down a quick paragraph about what you want to write before the sprint begins. Know your setting, your characters, their wants, the obstacles they will face, the action that will take place, the emotions the scene will provoke, and the resolution of the scene. Fox also suggests knowing how this scene will fit into the larger story.
Where To Write
Fox suggests building a “tortoise enclosure.” This enclosure is a place you define physically and temporally as your protected writing space. This could be an office in your home or your desk during your lunch hour, although Fox encourages you to wake up as early as possible (often earlier than you think you can) and write first thing in the morning.
To help protect this time and space, Fox suggests “clearing the decks” before you write. This means keeping a list of all the distractions that prevent you from writing and quickly taking care of them before a writing sprint so you don’t feel that itch during writing time. Fox gives you permission to check your email, Facebook, and Twitter one last time before shutting them down and sprinting.
Like Aaron, Fox wants you to track your data. You can use a notebook, a spreadsheet (Fox offers a download here for free) or his app. Fox’s app is free (although there is a $2.99 premium version that offers additional features). Use the technology that you like most. The point is to record data and use that data to establish a baseline.
Fox is big on goal setting and maintaining the proper mindset. Fox wants his readers to try to double their initial words per hour within a week of sprints. It’s meant to be hard. The point is to keep pushing yourself and your WPH. Do a sprint a day, and your words per hour will go up. And as you get used to five-minute sprints, then you can work on ten-minutes, and so on. Fox wants you to have a system and work it, building a habit.
He wants you to stay positive, get active, aim higher than you think positive, and visualizing success. While it can sound hokey, these are great tips for keeping up momentum and fighting off bouts of self-abuse writers tend to fall into when not writing.
As your WPH and WPD increase, at a certain point, you will hit a limit. There is only so fast you can type. But there is a cheat: dictation software. Most people speak faster than they write, and some platforms let you import audio files. So Fox suggests recording voice memos throughout the day to get a few extra hundred words and a boost to your WPH and WPD.
Both authors more or less say the same thing: plan ahead, measure results, find what works for you, and work to increase your productivity. The bottom line is about creating a method to enter the flow state and write more efficiently.
But there are a few differences. Aaron’s book talks about writing for hours because she was writing full time. Fox’s system talks in terms of minutes because his system was created when was working full time. Aaron’s descriptions of writing for hours can be intimidating. But her tips would work in minute-long stretches too. She also writes in terms of “this works for me,” whereas Fox writes in terms of “this is the way.” I like a YMMV approach. Let me cherry pick what works and doesn’t work.
Speaking of cherry picking, here are some tweaks and concerns I had while reading these books. Rather than using an Excel spreadsheet, a Google Docs spreadsheet might be better because you can access it from more places. And although Fox recommends Dragon dictation software, this software is expensive, and it has a steep learning curve. A writer would have to dictate something like, “The wizard grabbed his staff comma and he began chanting the protection charm period.” This requires you to be very conscious of sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. I wonder if this might ruin the flow of dictation. And time spent learning the software is time I could be spending writing.
I should also point out that unlike Aaron, Fox doesn’t seem as concerned about where you write. He records only time spent writing and your sprint word count. There is an assumption that you know where your best “tortoise enclosure” is. Under his system, there’s no way to tell whether you might be more productive at home, at the coffee shop, or at your secret spot you hide away at during your lunch hour.
Lastly, if you’re a pantser, these books might not work for you. Both Aaron and Fox have given up their pantsing ways for plotting. But their outlining methods are fairly minimal—think quick sketches of a story, not binders of worldbuilding histories and volumes of character backstory. I think pantsers might still want to give these methods a try. I think both Aaron and Fox know how pantsers write, and they have developed a system that minimizes the pain. But your mileage may vary.
All in all, a total of seven bucks (or less than six pounds) to increase your word count seems like a good deal to me, even if I don’t hit 10k a day or 5k per hour. My time is limited, so finding new ways to boost my word count is a valuable thing. But if you’re unconvinced, a quick Google search will point you to the authors’ websites where they first began describing their systems. If you think it might work for you, check out the book. And then revisit them when necessary. We can all use a boost now and then.