Learning to Sprint

10569090_633761050065065_5779383253084797733_nI participated in SavvyAuthor’s Summer Writing Boot Camp in July. The goal: write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. To save you from having to do the math, that equals 1,613 words a day.

Now as someone who tends to write, revise and research as I go along (with the ultimate hope that the first draft isn’t completely hopeless), my average daily output ranges anywhere from 750 to 1,000 words, with the occasional burst of 1,200-1,500 on a really good day.

I knew I’d have to change something. As the old adage goes, only a fool continues to do the same thing day in and day out while expecting a different result. Basically, I’d have to stop jogging and learn to sprint.

To prepare for Boot Camp, Savvy Authors offered a one-week “plotting event” where editors from various publishing companies worked with authors to build their book’s blueprint.

Finally, I thought, a course that might teach me to how become a plotter (someone who knows exactly where their book is going) vs. a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants with only the vaguest clue of where they’re headed).

I signed up.

The lessons were great. There were character worksheets and scene worksheets (which I completed, although truthfully, I found them to be mind-numbingly tedious), plot point assignments, and something called a Beat Sheet, which breaks the story down into segments from start to finish. Based on Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, adapted from Save The Cat!, a repository of beat sheets for everything from Breaking Bad to Frozen can be found here. It’s a fantastic resource if you’re at all interested in the writing process, or how screenwriters pitch ideas.

Inspired by the beat sheet for Breaking Bad, the Pilot, I completed my very own beat sheet and submitted it to the editor. A couple of minor tweaks and I was ready for BootCamp.

I was already following one of the main mantras for successful sprinting: set a dedicated time aside every day to write, even if it’s only forty-five minutes or an hour. To effectively sprint, you need to unplug from the world and write. Don’t worry. No one will notice you haven’t checked emails, texts, or phone messages, especially if you’ve planned your time well. Or write at 5 a.m. So I felt blissfully and confidently prepared.

The first few days went really well. I kept with the blueprint and by July 14th I had reached 25,000 words. Halfway there!

And then something happened. A niggling voice in my head that said, “yes, I know you have the plot all figured out, but I’d rather go in a different direction.” At first I tried to ignore the voice, and plodded on. And I do mean plod. Suddenly it felt as if I was wading knee-deep through mud. All I could think about was that different direction. Sure, it would mean going back to the beginning, and changing certain key points to make it work. Not major revision, not in the first draft stage, but revision nonetheless, and maybe even some research. At the very least it would slow down my “sprinting” process. After all, you can’t make up time by running backwards.

After a week’s worth of deliberation, however, that’s exactly what I did. My ending word count on July 31st was just shy of 40,000—10,000 short of my initial goal—but I was ahead of my typical month’s word count. More importantly, I had a manuscript I was eager to complete.

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I was part of Champagne Book Group

On August 1st, I set a more manageable goal for my pantser/researcher style of writing: 1,000 words a day, six days a week (although I try for seven). I’ve also allowed myself the luxury of letting my characters pull me along, which sometimes means going in yet another direction I wasn’t expecting.

I know what you’re thinking. At that rate it will take me longer to get to the finish line, but I’m enjoying every step of the journey as I unravel my whodunits and whydunits and all those other dunits. Oh, and as of today? I’m a little over 50,000 words; only 20,000 to go!

After the first draft, of course, comes revision, revision, and more revision. But that’s the easy part. To quote Jodi Picoult, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

But can you change the way you approach the writing process? Maybe some folks can. Turns out, I’m a pantser at heart. And I’m finally okay with that.

To read my blog Can a Pantser Become a Plotter?, click here.

4 responses to “Learning to Sprint

  1. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for taking the time to read it and comment, June! Always nice to “meet” another Giles Blunt fan.

  2. Really enjoyed your post Judy. Also thanks for taking the time to Like my post on Giles Blunt, much appreciated.

  3. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Jan. Finally everything is coming together! Persistence pays off.

  4. Good post Judy! Also want to congratulate you on your success in attracting publishers for The Hang Man’s Noose and short stories. That’s great…

    Jan

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