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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When You Need To Write FAST (And Procrastination Is Not An Option)

Do you ever battle the piranha of procrastination? You know, that sharp toothed literary fish that devours your writing time?

Yeah, me neither. I start writing at 3pm every day whether I have other things to do or not. (Please, if you have conquered that smiggley little creature, e-mail me. I’d love to know the secret.)

My Dilemma

For the past two and a half months, procrastination has not been an option. On September 12th, my publisher and I decided the book I’d been writing during summer would be book two. Yep, my own personal version of Nanowrimo. But instead of 50,000 words in four weeks, I needed 96k in ten.

And not just words. Words I’d be proud of turning in. Words my editor could read in complete sentences. It seemed insurmountable.

What Helped

I built myself an Excel spreadsheet that broke down the task into Bird by Bird numbers. (See Anne Lamott’s stellar book on writing if that reference zoomed over your skull.)

Ten weeks is approximately seventy days x 1,372 words per day = 96,040.

Yeah, I know, there needs to be editing days in there too—as well as research time—so I gave myself fifty days to write the novel (1,920 words per day) and twenty days to research and edit.

My writing pace is 1,000 words per hour so I knew if I could commit two hours per day to writing, it was doable.

Not easy, but doable.

And taking my eyes off the summit and zooming in on the number of steps I needed to take up the mountain each day made a tremendous difference in my emotional state. (I turned the manuscript in this past Sunday night and made my deadline.)

Might work for you too whether your deadline is ten months or ten weeks. Procrastination be gone.

(By the way, I wrote my first novel ROOMS in six years. My second, BOOK OF DAYS took two. THE CHAIR, my third, was finished in five months. And as you know, the novel we’ve been discussing—currently titled THE NAMELESS ONE (October 2012) was complete in ten weeks. For those of you who are math savvy you realize applying the exponential timeline outlined above to my fifth novel means it'll be written in three days. I can hardly wait.)

James L. Rubart is the best-selling, and award winning author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing, helping authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, water skis, and take photos. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at


  1. Thanks for this post James. I'm in a procrastination is not an option place right now! This is very realistic and doable. God bless!

  2. I learned a lot doing Nanowrimo for my first time this year. The main thing I discovered was that I need about equal time spent ruminating and writing. Best ruminating time for me was exercising and housekeeping. And I needed about one day a week completely off. In the month I finished about 60k plus research and editing. Which means my timetable is similar to yours. Novel #1 three years. Novel #2 one year. Novel #3 will be around two months. But, Jim, sorry to tell you, I don't think it gets much quicker than that ;)

  3. Problem is . . . the more I learn about writing, the more my inner critic keeps me from writing fast.

  4. Quite frankly, staring at the blank screen is not fun.

  5. But then, I never said writing was fun. It is an obsession. And when I can't write I get cranky.

  6. It's a good idea for those yet to be published, too. I was so used to not having to produce each day, when Patty Hall challenged me and I took her up on it, I set a goal of 1,000 words per day. I hit the goal and often exceeded it. So I learned it's a mindset just like you said. :) Thanks, Jim, for reinforcing that!!

  7. If I had my way, I'd write one book every 2 years, and it would be a wild bestseller. Of course, unless you've written To Kill a Mockingbird, and had that kind of success, probably not going to happen. I learned with Crossing Oceans that I can write fast and well. I was on deadline for the last chapters and under pressure I can do it. With Dry as Rain, the pressure was far greater because of major rewrites and I never want to be under that kind of pressure again. But deadlines are interesting. Just when you think you're a one chapter a week writer, come crunch time, it's shocking to learn you can write one or two chapters a day.

    So, Jim, how do you feel about that book. Is it just as good as Rooms do you think? I'm curious if you thought the writing or story suffered from the pressure.

  8. I've discovered having the tight deadline (via NaNoWriMo or a looming writers conference) is what I need to crank out the words and not procrastinate.

    I agree with Dina about having the time to brainstorm beforehand. I like to envision scenes and then dive in. Depending on how well I can picture it all before I hit the keyboard, I can increase my writing rate significantly.

    PS - I'm anxious to hear how the novel in three days goes - knowing you, James, it will be fabulous no matter what!

  9. I'm curious: Is it actually titled THE NAMELESS ONE, or is that what you're calling it? Either way works for me. My CP has a novel we've had to refer to during discussion as TBTCNBN = The Book That Can Not Be Named.

    To be honest, I don't know if I'm at all encouraged here, Jim. It sounds like we procrastinators need threat of death and misery to make us focus and produce good stuff fast. And I'm not fond of either. And I'm with Gina: did you love the outcome?

    My hope is that with time and several books under my poncho, my writing will naturally be faster and gooder. But at the moment, after pushing hard to finish an unfinished Genesis Winner in order to sub to the houses who requested it at conference, my word "well" is dry. We're talking Blondie dragged by rope across the desert behind Tuco dry. (obscure movie reference apology) If I don't refill the well by reading some amazing good writing and am only looking at my own stuff, the quality of my writing starts to stink. I have yet to master the art of writing fast AND well. I hoped doing it alot would grow that ability, but so far I don't see it.

    What's your secret? Don't tell me it's in the spreadsheet... :-)

  10. Jim, you're like the good-novel-writer angel on my right shoulder. I'm reading Book of Days, and enjoying it thoroughly. Last time I wrote you, I had the nuggets of a story outline rolling around in my head like pieces of a 3D puzzle. Since then, on a lonnnng boring drive from what I have affectionately termed the butt-crack of Texas (no offense to anyone from San Angelo, but why? why do people live there?) the pieces have shaken together into the first complete outline I have ever done. I don't have a deadline because, obviously, no one knows or cares at the moment. I wonder if the pressure is worse when it's all about your publisher or when it's all about your personal goals. I know without a doubt that the root of my procrastination is the deep-seated fear that once again, I will start something and not finish it. That I'll hit a moment where I don't know what to do next and instead of working through it, I'll just drop it. I don't want to be that person anymore. Night before last, I sat down with great intentions of hammering the story out... instead I found myself sucked into social media. 2 am and 0 words written. Last night, I started at 11 pm, and by 2 am, I had a complete outline and 2,000 words. Thank God I am self-employed, because I decided to give it some more time this morning!! Thanks for the post, it makes me feel good to know that people who really know what they're doing struggle with procrastination too.

  11. So you're saying that in order to get something written, you actually have to WRITE it? That's illuminating. I've been wondering why my WIP wasn't going anywhere...
    Seriously, this is good practical advice. I'd never written anything on a deadline until this year, when I wrote a novel in 6 months. I used a method similar to yours: breaking it down in do-able increments instead of thinking I had to chew up the whole elephant in one mouthful. I guess I should learn from that and apply the same principle to my current project!

  12. Hah! I just wrote about this yesterday on my blog: Writer Off the Leash (shameless commercial plug).

  13. ROFLOL...good luck with the three day thing. Now...if columns came just as easy :-)

  14. LOL. Yes! Getting it down to three days!!!

  15. I write a certain number of hours each day rather than shackle myself to a certain number of words each day. Of course, if I have a deadline, I let other things go and write more hours until the deadline is met.
    Ann Gaylia

  16. Awesome post! I get a little worried when I realize I'm heading into Year 3 of working on the same book. Maybe it means I'll beat your pace in a few years and crank out a book in a day!

  17. You certainly have a lot on your plate.

    Procrastination can sneak in at anytime. We must be prepared for it.

    Great post.

  18. You can do it, Karen!

    Great point, Dina. There has to be brew time. And you're saying three days is unrealistic? Shoot.

    Sharon, so true. That's why you have to kill the editor first go around. I've learned to write scenes that are a mess—not even complete, but it helps to get the idea down for the second go around.

    Ane, rock on.

    Gina, great question. When I wrote The Chair in five months I thought my editorial letter would be 50 pages long. I thought it was in horrible shape, but my macro edit on that one was my shortest so far. I realized having written two books before that helped tremendously. It does get easier in that you're not making a lot of the rookie mistakes anymore. And The Chair was named Christian Retailing Magazine's Top Pick for September. Goes to show our faces are certainly pressed up against the tree. Can't see the forest. As far as this current book goes, the jury is out. At this point my face is inside the tree.

    Thanks, Nicole. Appreciate that.

    Camille, I think we need more details on that movie reference.  Yes, The Nameless One is the title. I like TBTCNBN! As I mentioned above, I think our writing does become gooder and faster just like any skill. The first time you cook an exotic dish it seems to take forever. After five or six times it certainly goes faster and often tastes better. I'm like you in that reading great writing helps inspire my creativity while I'm working on a first draft. The secret to writing good and fast? Trusting your muse.

    Glad you're enjoying Book of Days, CLH. Hey, I have friends in San Antonio!  Does it help to know many author's (me included) procrastination comes from fear that what they're putting down is rubbish? You're not alone!

    You crack me up, Yvonne.

    Plug on, Michelle!

    I'm sure there's some hidden meaning in that comment, Bonnie. But I can't for the life of me figure out what it is.

    Can you give me four days, Lelia?

    You make a good point, Scribbler. If you don't have a deadline looming it helps to give yourself the freedom not to hit a word count, but commit to a certain amount of time in the chair.

    Sarah, I think you'll find a lot of author's first novels took a long time. Keep going!

    You're right, Loree. If you have a bigger plate send it my way. 

  19. INSIDE the tree, Jim? ROFLOL! That's gonna be the new Novel Rocket team code for where we are on articles and our books. Inside the tree. You kill me, buddy. :o)

  20. I guess I'm doing something similar. Whenever I finish a chapter, I take the word count and date. I have spreadsheet formulas that break that into my total word count, average words per day during that period, and average words per day overall. When I go a day or more without writing it makes my numbers dip and puts a big ugly zag on the graph.

    Making the graph more visible during the day would probably be a good motivational tool. Gotta get on that.

    I'm a strong believer in having a good methodology for writing, because the organized approach makes it a lot easier to handle the details and frees my time for more writing. I'll go ahead and plug my blog,, since I have an article planned on that subject.

  21. J.A., With mine if I go under my word count it shows in red the number of words I'm behind, but the graph would be more visual. Great idea.

  22. Sorry - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Apparently not a household classic for everyone.

    I'm afraid my Muse hasn't spoken to me since I cut her off chocolate. But you make a tremendous point. That and the tree thing. If you don't mind, I'd like to share these tips with my crit group. Randy will no doubt have something pesky to add.

  23. Camille, please share on. Regarding TGTBATU, I use the film title in conversation often but I must confess I've never seen more than a few seconds of the movie.

    If it's milk chocolate, that's downright cruel.


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