Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Marathon Writer: Writing 20,000 Words in 4 Days.



I wrote 20,000 words quite recently. And I did it within 4 days. Why did I do it? And how? That's what this blog is all about, friends!

Some time in the middle of January, I got an idea that I felt would make an interesting writing project. Something light and easy for me to start my writing year with. The elevator pitch I came up with was something that went along the lines of: "First Blood, Part II, but with robots. Or Predator, without aliens."

I started writing a synopsis of what the novella would be. Spoiler warning: it's First Blood, Part II, but with robots. I planned out a beginning, a middle and an end, all plot points blatantly and shamelessly stolen from the awesome movie that is First Blood, Part II. I figured the beginning would be 5000 words, the middle would be 10,000 words, and the end would be 5000 words. Then I realised something, HEY! That's 20,000 words. Just nice for a novella.

Then I started thinking how much time it would take for me to actually write it. The previous week I had taken part in a Twitter challenge that required writing 1000 words in an hour. I managed to successfully complete the challenge and realised that an hour was a great way to time as well as measure my writing progress. If I could write an hour for a day, I could write 1000 words a day. And the Twitter challenge had proven I could indeed write 1000 words for an hour.

But what if I could write for five hours a day? That's five thousand words a day! If I could write for five hours a day, four days in a row, I'd get my 20,000 bloody words! Crazy talk, you say? Yes, I agree. Even I thought that would be a crazy thing to attempt. But not impossible. If only I had five free hours of the day to spend writing... not an easy thing to obtain when you're an adult working a 9-to-6 job with two kids waiting for you at home.

It so happened that there would be four days of holiday approaching that was perfect for me to attempt this crazy #20k4d marathon. From the 19th to the 22nd of February, Malaysia would be on holiday for Chinese New Year, a celebration I personally don't celebrate (not because I am Chinese Ebenezer Scrooge but because I am of a different culture).

I began preparing for the four day writing marathon like a runner preparing for a marathon. I made sure I had my plot points and story beats all worked out so I wouldn't get stuck during the five hour sprints. I made sure to tell my wife and kids of my plan. No disturbing me between the hours of 7am to 12pm, the five-hour block of time that I would spend non-stop writing. This is important because without family cooperation, my writing marathon would fail miserably.

Suffice to say, I succeeded. I ended my four-day holiday with 20,000 words of a story. Was it a complete novella though? Unfortunately, no. By the end of the writing marathon, I had completely fell in love with the story that I decided I would expand it to a 50,000 word novel instead. I've since expanded the story that has become totally different from my original plan. It's no longer "First Blood, Part II, but with robots". It's... well, I'll tell you all about it when it's ready to be revealed, kay?

Here are some lessons I learned along the way:
  • Get enough sleep the night before. No point being too tired to write when you're about to begin in the morning.
  • Stay healthy. Exercise and eat well. No point if you're dead right? If you need breakfast beforehand, get it prepared. If you need coffee, have lots at the ready.
  • Stay on target. It's very easy to get tempted and divert from your path. I suppose you can take a little diversion now and then, but for me, that's putting you in the dangerous territory of potentially getting stuck and not knowing what to write later on. Write what you planned, because there's still the five-hour time limit to consider. Sticking to a plan also means you get into a routine, which helps make the writing easier and the words flowing.
  • If you do get stuck, remember Anne Lamott and take it bird-by-bird. Sometimes your brain will just refuse to work and you'll have no idea what to write even though you know what will happen next in your story. Take a breather, then just start writing a word, then another, then another. Eventually, you'll have a sentence! Repeat the process, and you'll have enough sentences to form paragraphs! And before you know it, you'll be getting into your groove again.
  • After a five-hour writing block is completed, rest and recuperate. Take the rest of the day off to relax and not think about writing. Watch a movie. Play with your kids. Take them to the park. It'll help your brain rest so it can perform again the next day.
Would I do this again? Absolutely! It was the most fun I ever had writing, and it was also definitely the most productive writing session I ever had. I'd love to do it again with another novella project.

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Available from: Amazon | Smashwords | iTunes | Google Play | Nook