Tag Archives: Writing

Burst Writing

This is not a new term, but the concept is new to me this year.  In a nutshell, it means writing as much as possible in a concentrated burst, like a sprinter in the 100-yard dash.  You can cover a lot of ground this way really fast.  It’s a lot like the November NaNo challenge, only even more intense.

It’s extremely productive, so why don’t I do it all the time?  Two reasons:

First, it requires setting aside a block of time in which to burst-write.  This is challenging in our hectic lives and limited vacation time.

Second, we need to be prepared.  You can’t sit down at your computer at the beginning of a burst sprint and ask yourself, “Now what should I write about?”  It would be like trying to sprint through a bamboo forest.  You won’t get very far.

A successful burst sprint is the culmination of a great deal of prep work.  Just like an Olympic sprint, which may only take a few seconds, can only be successful after months of preparation by the sprinters.

I have historically written more like a long-distance runner: slow and steady.  Depending on my work schedule, I might get to write once a week for a couple of hours, or not at all.  I’ve pushed myself to write daily, and for a few months this year I managed to do it.

I tried burst-writing this year for the first time.  I set aside a week in March and physically removed myself from all of the normal day-to-day distractions and just write.  For the first time, I’d developed a detailed outline of the story I wanted to write.  I had already written the first few chapters, soI felt like I had the character voices down pretty well, and I had a plan in place.

In one week, I wrote 52,000 words.  See my full blog post about the event here

Major success.  I completed about half of my novel.  I am currently working on the second draft of that same novel.  The burst was the culmination of several months of worldbuilding, brainstorming, planning, and outlining.

Lessons learned from the writing burst:

  1. Plan well.  I did have a pretty good outline, but I hadn’t addressed a few key concepts in the book, and I’ve had to go back in the second draft and revise.
  2. Don’t need an entire week.  Out of that week, I was most productive over a four-day period, averaging over 10,000 words per day.  It was hard to set aside an entire week, but it would be a lot easier to take a weekend and hide away somewhere for two or three days.  I could reasonably expect to complete at least 25,000 words in that timeframe.  That’s pretty good.  Outside of a burst-sprint, it can take weeks or even months to write that much, depending on my schedule.
  3. Don’t edit while writing.  To crank out that many words, you have to trust the plan and let your fingers fly.  Just write and keep pushing through the story.  This is where a weak outline will kill you because if you hit a snag or don’t know what happens next, you’ll totally lose your momentum.

One of the greatest benefits of burst-writing is seeing solid progress in a short period of time.  It’s exciting.  Sometimes the slow, plodding pace I’m forced into can be a little discouraging.  I start wondering if I’m ever going to finish.  Burst sprints help re-vitalize my enthusiasm and keeps me focused on the project.

I am gearing up for another burst-writing session, probably 3 or 4 days in length.  I was hoping to do it in November as part of the NaNo challenge, but the timing didn’t work out.  I’m still editing this story, and my outline of the next novel is only about 70% complete.  I’m hoping for a small burst sprint in December, with a longer one in January.

Until then, I look for one day a week where I can mini-burst:  at least 3 hours of dedicated, focused time.  Sometimes all I get is an hour, but longer periods are so much more productive because I can get in “the zone’ and stay there, cranking out the words.

For me, a two-hour minimum block of time is most productive.   What have other people found works best for them?  Have you tried burst-writing?  Has it worked for you?

Distractions and Avoidances Conquered

…for the most part.  A little over a month ago I wrote about how I was avoiding writing.  Actively not doing my job.  And, though I failed that week in overcoming my issues.  I have since made progress.  Kylie asked for an update.  Here it is.

 At some point, a few weeks ago, I made a resolution (like for New Year’s – except I’m keeping this one) that I would wake up and write.  I would not check the insidious email distraction until I wrote for several hours first. 

 If I check the email first, then I get side-tracked by reading blogs, leaving comments in hopes of winning some prize for doing so, deleting the hundred emails I don’t have time for, answering questions, and doing tasks requested in emails.  Seriously, that can take me until noon if I’m not careful.  Then I try to write but my brain is fried from the afore-mentioned distractions, so I need a nap, and then I’m fuzzy headed and not feeling creative.  Another day gone and wasted and no writing to show for it.  Grrrr.

 But with my new resolution, if I don’t look at the email, don’t even open it until after I write, even if I don’t get back to the writing in the afternoon, I’ve accomplished my main goal of getting words on page.  HA!  Evil email and internet tool that I love, I have conquered you and I wrote despite your tempting ways. 

 Maintaining my resolution, I am working my way through my story.  Some days are more productive than others, but whether I get 600 words or 6000, I am getting closer to ‘The End’. 

How is everyone else doing?

Cathartic Writing

This isn’t the blog post I set out to write.  We aspire to be a blog for writers dealing with the business and/or process of writing.  Sometimes though, writing is about more than the characters and the plot.  Sometimes, it can be about real life, even when everyone in the story is wearing armor and carrying swords.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve spent a fair amount of time the past few days watching documentaries about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  To the majority of Americans – indeed even a great number of world citizens – it is the single most historically significant event to take place within the span of our lives.

We can all remember where we were when we first heard the news.  We’ve all seen the haunting images of the senseless violence.  It was impossible to not be affected in some way emotionally by the events of that day.

Is it no wonder those emotions would find their way into my writing?

In the days and weeks directly after the attacks, I was surprised to see just how affected my writing became.  I was in grad school for screenwriting at the time.  Like many people I knew, I was angry, and the scripts I wrote during that period reflected that.  Loss and vengeance appeared frequently.

But, what became apparent while revisiting the footage these past few days, is how certain images and themes found their way into my fantasy years later.  The story I’m currently working on takes place partly in a desert city.  The desert itself is comprised of fine, gray dust and littered with teetering towers of obsidian.  When I was worldbuilding, I didn’t consciously draw upon images from 9/11, and yet this is just one of many that has manifested in my writing.

It seems only natural.

To write is to express emotion.  Just because we write speculative fiction doesn’t mean that, in some way, we’re not using it to look at relevant issues of our own time.  To dissect them.  To find out what motivates some people to do unspeakable things.  Perhaps, on some level, to find reasons to sympathize with those people, to understand them.  Or perhaps to live vicariously through the hero, thwarting the enemy’s plan in the eleventh hour and saving the day.

Sometimes, however, we write simply to cope.

Why You Should Be Writing Short Stories

Some of the best writing advice I have ever received was given to me by an editor at World Fantasy Convention. Simply put, he said I needed to write short stories. His reasoning was that writing short stories will teach you craft better than jumping straight into novels will. Also, it will teach you how to actually finish a story. After slogging through two novels (both still incomplete) and then successfully completing six short stories, I can tell you that his advice certainly worked for me. And each story written was better than the last.

In a recent blog post, Kristine Kathryn Rusch gave similar advice, but for different reasons. She looks at the short form from a business perspective. I’d highly recommend reading her original post, but basically she said that the current market conditions, as well as the ability to reassume complete control of the rights of your story after a short amount of time, lend great potential to making a career of short story writing.

There are other reasons as well. If you write speculative fiction, you probably have plenty of notes, or perhaps even notebooks, of worldbuilding trivia, including some semblance of a history of your world. How many interesting stories can be mined from all this material? Chances are there are a few, and if you’re writing a series, these stories will also help draw new readers to those other works, and vice versa (which is the exact tack I’m taking with my short story collection and subsequent novel). An author whom I think has done a remarkable job with this method is Peter Orullian. Before his book was released, he published a few short stories related to the novel on Tor.com. I’m sure the stories helped generate more interest in the book than there would otherwise have been. It worked for me; I bought the book on release day based on the strength of those stories. Another advantage to writing stories about those events that otherwise exist only in your notes is that it could help flesh them out in your own mind, providing more concrete detail from which to draw for your novel.

I know what some of you are thinking: “I’m a novelist, not a short story writer!” I thought the same thing before. But then I gave it a shot, and now I’m a firm believer in short stories. While not everyone will get much out of writing them, it costs very little in the way of time, and the potential benefits are too great to ignore. Who knows? You might even like it.