Project C Day 1: Outlining and the Need for Speed

The Need for Speed

The Need for Speed

Rachel Aaron writes 10K words a day. SL Veihl – who I have come to think of as Scary Word Count Lady – once told me:

By good words, I’m assuming you mean words I’m not going to delete or rewrite during the evening or final edit. I usually write an average of 15-20K per day, but of those I usually overhaul or lose 3-5K during the edits, so about 12-15K.

Comments from professional writers on my old LJ included:

Dear God… I have, on three days in my whole life, managed to do 12,000 words in a day. And it nearly killed me.

Holy. F###ing. S##t. … I can do 4,000 on a good day. A very good day… She’s not human.

Speed, of course, does not equate to quality. However it does not equate to lack of quality either.

Most of what slows an author down has nothing to do with the final product:

Typing at the speed you can think, leaving off fiddling until the draft is complete, writing serviceable – and thus easily enhancable – prose the first time, planning to avoid false starts, doing the right kind of research at the right time… none of these are going to make the novel worse.


“Bills aside…” (LOL)

Meanwhile, there are good reasons to aspire to speedy drafting:

  • When you type at the Speed of Thought, a feedback loop kicks in and you hit a kind of creative overdrive.
  • Rapid writing is more fun, which carries over to the content.
  • You get to complete more books in a year or a lifetime. Bills aside, my brain is crammed with novels trying to claw their way out through my scalp – it would be nice to ease the pressure.

So, to an extent – with editing as a backstop – writing faster means writing more, better.

My approach, like that of Rachel Aaron’s (2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love), is to deal with each aspect of the book at the appropriate level, but to be prepared to let the levels shape each other, much like the way a family evolves together in an web of feedback loops.

The first step is to  research and brainstorm – I”ve been using the new Scapple Beta for Windows for doing mindmappy stuff – and come out with a rough pub – as in drinking house – narrative. This pub narrative pretty much reads like how you’d tell it to a friend:

There’s this retired mercenary and he’s blown his money on buying an inn. However, the local baron takes a fancy to the merc’s young French wife. One day…

At this stage, the novel doesn’t have themes or a shape. The next stage is to fill out the following table:

Table of Doom

If this seems mechanistic, it’s not. It’s just my way of capturing how I already think. (I suppose it would be more arty to show you a scanned page from a moleskin notebook with lots of arcs and little sketches drawn in colored pencil, but (a) I’m a geek and (b) I can’t draw or read my own handwriting.)

It’s also a way of laying out the Five Act Structure which is arguably implicit in the Human Story Telling, or at least according to the writer who turned around Holby City (Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story).

So that’s my job for today. Enjoy yours. Mine will be full of angsty pacing the flat in my smoking jacket, then time rocking quietly to myself in the corner of a coffee shop…

(Project C Status: 1 day, 8 hrs – First Pub outline complete.)


Writer. Swordsman. CLICK TO SEE MY BOOKS !

Posted in Outlining, Project C, Work In Progress, Writing, Writing Fiction Faster
2 comments on “Project C Day 1: Outlining and the Need for Speed
  1. Ben Rose says:

    The “yes/no, but” in your spreadsheet reminds me of advice I got from author John Brown at a convention once. I like the idea of codifying it into a spreadsheet. Is that all of it, or is there more? What’s the significance of the different rows, and why do some of them span multiple columns?

    • mharoldpage says:

      Yes, it’s not new. Mine is an expansion of the sainted Dwight V Swain’s “When bad things happen, can hero defeat opposition, or will really bad things happen.”

      To answer your questions:
      1. The spreadsheet and the outline interact in a feedback loop. Sometimes I brainstorm into the sheet, then use that as inspiration for the outline, sometimes the other way around, and sometimes in parallel.

      2. The spans reflect the underlying structure. Some QABNs run the entire book – “Can hero reconcile with father? No, but he finds a new mentor. Now he must work hard to be an artist.” Some span one or more phases, e.g. “Can hero win battle…” might span Phase 2 & Climax. Finally sub plots and supporting character arcs may play out more slowly than the main plot.

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