By Emlyn Chand / Are you stuck staring at a blank word processor? Do you find yourself playing on Facebook or Twitter during your precious writing time? Do you think about writing more than you actually do it?
Then you, my friend, could use a good, swift kick in the pants. Seriously, in the pants—as in pantsing instead of plotting. Knock it the heck off!
Today, I wrote 3,023 words of fiction (so, no, this blog post doesn’t count, which is 1,169 words by the way) in a total of 66 minutes, and they were words I was proud of too. How? Well, several key things converged, allowing me to discover my new writing technique, which I lovingly call “the scaffolding method.”
Thing #1: Reading for the second time Rachel Aaron’s gem of a guide, 2K TO 10K: HOW TO WRITE FASTER, WRITE BETTER, AND WRITE MORE OF WHAT YOU LOVE.
Thing #2: Agreeing to write a novella under contract with Kindle Worlds—and have it edited, proofed, formatted, etc.—with only 4 weeks’ notice.
Thing #3: Being fortunate enough to have married a writer who approaches the craft much differently than I do. He is also at an earlier stage in his career, so I get to watch and learn as he discovers things I now take for granted.
Thing #4: Joining an awesome accountability group where writers drop in and do “sprints” together. You can follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #SprintWithUs.
I somewhat recently decided to take all I’ve learned in the last five years about the publishing industry and to start over with a brand new pen name. While this is one part horrifying, it’s also two parts exhilarating. I get to go forth and build my brand and readership in exactly the way I would have preferred to do it in the first place—and so I am.
A big part of my strategy involves publishing shorter works more frequently, so readers have a constant stream of fresh material with which I can hopefully win them over and create devoted life-long fans. But publishing a lot means writing a lot too, and I am absolutely unwilling to sacrifice quality in the name of speed.
Here’s the process that I’ve discovered works best for me. Behold, the scaffolding method makes its grand debut to the larger #amwriting world…
Step 1: Create a bulleted outline. I usually have one bullet point for each scene or plot point. For a short story, this is generally 7-10 points and for a novella I have closer to 20-25. You don’t want to see the ridiculous depth of my novel outlines, so let’s move on.
Step 2: Start writing in the same document that houses your outline. This way you can see exactly what comes next and how much further you have to go to reach the end of your project. This helps make transitions smoother. Also deleting bullets once you’ve addressed them feels crazy good.
Step 3: Set yourself up based on what’s worked best for you in the past. I’ve found that—shocker—I write most efficiently when I’m drinking coffee, so early morning and then again an hour or so after lunch time. I used to write best at the coffee house—because no wi-fi—but now I find I work better in my home office with a Pomeranian puppy laying at my feet. I also like writing in Microsoft Word, but you may prefer Scrivener. Whatever works, my friend, whatever works.
Step 4: Determine your goal. I find that I start to lose steam once I’ve written 2,000 consecutive words, so I’m most productive if I allow myself to write 2,000, take a break, and then come back to write some more. Today I wrote 2,004 words in the morning (a 39 minute sprint) and another 1,019 (a 27 minute sprint) in the afternoon, and that amount felt just right for me.
Step 5: Sprint! Some people sprint for set amounts of time. I like to sprint for a set number of words. The #SprintWithUs crew will announce whenever they’re starting a sprint and invite others to join them, and I love that added accountability and support. When I’m ready to sprint I make sure to let others know, which provides the added benefit of time-stamping my start.
Step 6: Keep sprinting. This is much easier said than done, but once you commit to a sprint, you need to keep going. Don’t wander off to check Facebook or your text messages if you hit a stopping point, just keep moving forward until you hit your goal, even if it means jumping around.
Step 7: Scaffold it. While working furiously to meet the deadline for my Kindle Worlds novella, I got tired and started to cut corners on my first draft. Instead of going through sequentially and fleshing out each scene as I moved forward, I left the exposition out, choosing instead to focus on movement and dialogue. My main goal was to keep the scene going without getting mired in the details. You know, that infamous case of Forest v Trees.
Step 8: Decorate it. All that extra exposition and detail and other fleshy stuff I had skimped on in my scaffolding phase still needed to be incorporated in order for me to complete my book, so—extending my building metaphor—I returned to do a bit of decorating. The great thing about scaffolding versus decorating is they require different skill sets and different levels of focus, because they are completely different processes. Scaffolding is more related to just telling your freaking story; whereas, decorating is where the art comes into play.
By dividing these tasks and focusing on them each individually, I was able to drastically up my efficiency. Not only that, but that novella I rushed like crazy to finish within a few weeks? It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. Why?
Because my scaffolding method allowed me to focus on both the art and the storytelling separately rather than lumping them together. It gave me more chances to go back through and make sure the whole thing clicked together. Even my editor thought it was one of my best pieces to date. And I’m sure you know how editors can be… *gives knowing look*
So that’s it, that’s my big secret method for writing productively. It’s probably nothing ground-breaking, but hopefully it will give you a fresh perspective and allow you to experiment and ultimately find what works best for you.
Do you have additional tips and tricks to share? Tell us in the comments below.
Happy writing, guys!
Emlyn Chand was born with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Novel Publicity’s mascot is a Sun Conure, thanks to her obsession with birds–and she gets to decide anyway since she is the company’s founder and president. Although her first novel Farsighted won the prestigious Writer’s Digest Self-Published Novel of the Year award in 2012 for the YA category, she now writes most of her fiction under her “real” name, Melissa Storm. Learn more or connect with her (or her Sun Conure, Ducky!) on either of her author websites: www.emlynchand.com or www.melstorm.com. You can also friend her on Facebook, tweet with her @novelpublicity, or send her an email via [email protected].