WARNING: This post contains math.
We’re going to file the inspiration for this post under the heading, David has too much time on his hands . . .
The other day I was brushing my teeth. This is not an unusual occurrence. I brush my teeth everyday. But while I was brushing my teeth, I was also thinking, and that is somewhat rare. My wife and I have one of those Sonicare toothbrushes that work for a set amount of time — 2 minutes — and then shut off. (Bear with me: this really is going somewhere.) So, it occurred to me that I brush my teeth for almost exactly four minutes every day, which doesn’t seem like a lot at first. But if I brush my teeth for 4 minutes a day, that’s 28 minutes per week and 1,456 minutes per year. Or just slightly over 24 hours. So, in effect, out of each year, I spend an entire day — twenty-four hours — just brushing my teeth. Wow.
Then I got to thinking that if something as mundane and insignificant as this can add up so impressively, maybe there are ways to put this phenomenon to work in establishing new writing habits. And voila! Today’s post was born.
Let’s start by applying the lesson in a way that really is no stretch at all. The older I get, the more I realize that time is the most precious commodity we have. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do. Now for me, writing is my job. I’m incredibly fortunate, in that I don’t have to set aside time for writing; it’s already built into my schedule. But so many others struggle to find time for writing. I struggle to find time to play music, and depending on the day that can be a source of frustration, or anger, or sadness. I want to play my guitar more. Many of you want to write more.
So what would happen if we were to promise, right here and right now, that we were going to carve an extra ten minutes out of our days to do the things we really love and want to do? 10 minutes. Less time in front of the TV and more time writing (or playing guitar). That would be 50 minutes per work week. Spread that over 52 weeks and it comes to more than 43 hours!! If you can make it 15 minutes instead of ten, it means an extra 65 hours of writing per year. Think about how much you can get written in 65 hours. Think of how much practice I could get in with my guitar.
Sometimes, though, it’s not the time that influences how much writing we get done, but rather our use of that time. While working on City of Shades, the third Thieftaker book, I have been pushing myself to work more efficiently, to make more of the time I have. I measure my efficiency in terms of word count, because ultimately that is the yardstick that editors and publishers use to decide if a book is the appropriate length. And I find that I can improve my word counts by pushing myself to make certain goals each day, and then rewarding myself with a few minutes to surf the web or check email or (light bulb!) play my guitar.
So let’s say you’re working at a decent pace. You’re getting 1,000 words per day or 5,000 per work week. That’s good. That gets you a 100,000 word novel in 20 weeks. Now let’s say that you force yourself to write just a bit more — 100 more words per day. At that new pace you’re getting 5,500 words per week, and you’ve completed your book nearly two weeks earlier. That’s an extra two weeks for revising, an extra two weeks to let a manuscript sit BEFORE you revise. If you can up your production by 250 words per day, or the equivalent of just a single manuscript page, double-spaced with standard margins, you can write that same book in 16 weeks. You have an extra month to revise.
And the really good news is that the slower you write, the more these incremental changes help you. Let’s do the same thing we just did, but let’s start with a slower pace. You’re writing 500 words per day, or 2,500 per week. That 100,000 word novel is going to take you forty weeks to write. Add just 100 words per day — less than half a page — and you will finish your novel in just over thirty-three weeks. 100 extra words per day just saved you nearly seven weeks!!
The math is just as impressive when it comes to subtraction. I have a friend who used to be an editor. And when she encountered books that seemed too wordy or too long, she would make her writers cut two lines from every page of their manuscripts. Now two lines can mean different things on different pages. If you have a paragraph that ends on a line that contains only a single word, that’s going to be pretty easy to cut. If you have a page on which the last line of each paragraph goes all the way to the right margin, losing two lines is going to require a lot more editing.
Well, what happens if you write a manuscript that is supposed to be 100,000 words, but comes in at 125,000? That is (approximately) a 500 page manuscript. And let’s say for the sake of averages, that cutting two lines translates to a cut of 12 words from each page. Simply by doing my friend’s exercise, you’ve cut 6,000 words from your book. Four lines per page gets you 12,000 words, without having to make any painful cuts to your plot, your character work, or your worldbuilding. And I guarantee that if you try to cut your manuscript in this way, you will end up with a book that is leaner, more concise, and better written, because you will be searching for more efficient ways to word your sentences.
Last one, and this involves no math at all. I had a signing this weekend in Chattanooga. It was a group signing — half a dozen local authors seated at tables, greeting shoppers, discussing their books, and hoping to make sales. For most of the time I was there, it was very slow. I think I sold five books in an hour and a half. But I spoke to a lot of people, I gave away Thieftaker post cards, I asked people if they were interested in writing, and if they said yes, I told them about Magical Words. In short, I didn’t get frustrated, I didn’t sulk. I was friendly and upbeat. And while I didn’t sell a ton of books that day, I am certain that the signing will yield a good number of sales down the road. Being kind, being friendly, offering a smile and a heartfelt “Hello,” is a small thing writers can do that yields big results, not only at signings, but also at conventions and conferences. Whether one is a professional or aspires to be one, being nice helpf. I can’t quantify it the way I have the other tips in this post. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
So what little things do you do during your day that you think yield big results? (And no, they don’t need to relate to writing.)David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net
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