How I Used Power Writing Sessions to Multiply My Manuscript Output

Even though I’m quite satisfied with where I am as a writer, I can’t help by envy those folk who seem to pump out page after page of writing each day. Now I know I don’t have the luxury of writing everyday, all day. I do have a job. Plus, when I get the opportunity, I spend time with my family first. That’s what it’s about.

Yet, I am a writer. And I commit myself to this endeavor daily. Why the heck else would I wake up every day at 4:45? Certainly not for the perks. No, I trudge to my computer in a crepuscular haze to indulge my joy of writing.

That was me last week. Then everything changed.

On Friday I ran across this article: 10,000 words in one day? No way…WAY! I read it and felt mesmerized. I instantly knew it was possible. The author, PD Martin, broke down the day. It consisted of four two-hour blocks, with tiny, fifteen-minute breaks in between.  I knew a whole day wasn’t feasible. I think writers who do this don’t have kids. My five-year-old girl is incredibly patient, but this would break the bank for waiting.

So an all day writing session was out. But I could shoot for one of the two-hour blocks. I’ve certainly written for this length of time before without any earth-shattering word outputs. But the way the author described the technique was similar to the outlining method I’d used before (see Write the Way Vermeer Paints).

Additionally, the author spoke of having no breaks whatsoever. Shutting of the Internet. Muting the phone. Etcetera. (Actually, the Internet is rarely a problem, but I do journey downstairs for coffee refills and stretches.)

I was intrigued. I wanted to try it, and soon. Saturday morning I found another article How to Write a Book in Three Days: Lessons from Michael Moorcock which details another writer using a speed method to shortcut his way to a novel. In these snippets of an interview with Moorcock, he admits to using a formula. Also, he supposed his form would work best for epic and fantasy fiction.

The gist of both systems was to write and without looking back. Don’t worry about formatting, dialogue tags, spelling or punctuation. Just write. And I’ve done this before, but only for forty-five minutes at a time. And it was rather draining.

The first hurtle I came up against was one of planning. This style of writing—pedal to the metal, damn the torpedoes—suits those who write with no end in sight. The type of author who has little notion where a book will go from page to page. That’s not me. I like structure and to know where my manuscript is headed.

Typically, I do what I call scene building. I map out scenes based on the character’s goals, complications, and frustrations. Often these change as I write the actual chapter, but having a direction helps me get over those spots where the inner critic stomps all over my creativity. (Even Moorcock recommends having a plan.)

My solution was to take a day (Saturday morning, in fact) and map out as far as I could go. I jotted down three pages of notes.

Sunday arrived and the alarm rang at 3:47 in the morning. (I have something of a fixation for numbers. Evens are bad and odds are good. Prime numbers are the best. They just feel right.) I bypassed the snooze and got the coffee on. I knew, that in order to have a solid two-hours, I needed to start no later than 4:15. This is because my daughter usually rouses between 6:15 and 6:25.

I actually got to the keyboard at 4:17. (I scarfed down a bowl of cereal.) To avoid extra breaks, I brought up my thermos of coffee. Then I went to work.

Using the print out of the scene mapping I did the day before, I crashed through the first hour with little problem. Then the distractions nudged at me. My brain began asking questions.

What time is it?
How many words have you written so far?
Should I take a break?

I should explain that I set my word processor (Pages) to full-screen mode, so I can’t see the time or menus or anything but the page. Yet for the next ten to fifteen minutes my gaze wandered everywhere. My body wasn’t used to this sort of output past the one-hour mark.

Yet I persevered. Once I got over the hump, I plowed through another hour of writing. I actually found a reasonable stopping point right around 6:20 (my daughter slept till 6:24 this morning).

In order to keep up the pace, I blew past anything that even hinted at stalling. I would simply write the word “description” for new people or rooms. I wrote dialogue closer to theater-style, with only a name and a colon, no quotes. Sometimes I skipped any indication of a speaker when it was obvious.

I’ve always found that dialogue comes out much better this way. To get the flow correct, you can’t pause. You must have it match the natural rhythm of a real conversation. I add the word “beat” when I want a pause in the speaking. I know, when I go back to edit, that I’ll add in plenty of  details.

My final output, for two hours, was 2550 words spread over 14 pages. Typically I write between 300 and 500 words, so this was about a week’s worth in one day. Of course it was pretty rough on y body. I yearned for a nap all day. And the words I did write are fairly rough. They need some serious editing and revision.

But still, I took my output and quintupled it. At least. Any further revisions will only add to the word count.

Power Writing may not be for everyone. But the rewards are amazing. You get words on the page. Your mind finally snaps free of the inner critic.

Try it. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Tim Kane