PD Martin's Blog

August 16, 2011

10,000 words in a day

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — PD Martin @ 2:29 am

typing1This fortnight’s Murderati blog is on the writing process, in particular an amazing thing called a 10k day!

I know there are some freaks of nature whose normal output is 6,000-10,000 words a day, but for most writers it’s anywhere between 1K-4K words per day. And so, it sounds impossible when you first hear or think about writing 10,000 words in one day. But it IS possible…I’ve done it (many times). In fact, on my debut 10K day I wrote 12,000 words!

I first heard about the 10K day at a writers’ meeting in Melbourne. I was well and truly intrigued — and excited. I tend to write between 2,000 and 3,000 words a day (and I’ve been told that’s quite a high output) but the thought of quadrupling that was mind-boggling. So I Googled 10K day to find out what it was all about. The basic rules are:

  • You write for four two-hour blocks (NO interruptions whatsoever).
  • You take a 10-15-minute break between stints.
  • You stock up on food and drink in between each block so you don’t have to leave your seat during each session.
  • You clear your schedule COMPLETELY for that day.
  • You unplug the phone and internet (I know it’s hard, but you can do it).
  • You don’t edit or review anything you’ve written – just keep writing (perhaps the hardest one to follow).
  • You turn off your word processor’s spelling and grammar check so you’re not distracted by red or green lines.
  • You complete any necessary research and/or plot outlining work before the 10K day (or you fill in the research later).

It also helps to have a writing buddy. This commits you to the full day, and serves as further motivation when you phone each other or chat online (yes, you can turn the internet back on for the short breaks). It’s not only support, but I guess a bit of healthy competition too.

My 10K days generally look like this:
9am-11am – First writing block
11-11.15am – Contact writing buddy for a few minutes, then stretch and stock up on food/drink
11.15-1.15 – Second writing block
1.15-1.30 – Second break (as above)
1.30-3.30 – Third writing block
3.30-3.45 – Third break (as above)
3.45-5.45 – Final writing block
5.45 – Chat to writing buddy
5.50 – Collapse into a chair, almost catatonic (like this woman) 42-16586298

Coffee and chocolate can also come in handy. My preference is for quality coffee and chocolate (I love the Aussie brand, Haighs). Anyway…

What’s the output like?

The first question I get when talking about 10K days tends to be focused on the quality of the writing. Most people’s initial response is that the words on the page must be crap. Not so, I say.

First off, by not reading what you’ve just written, you’re cutting off the inner critic. So instead of thinking: “That sounds crap, how else can I put it?” or “Oh no, that’s all wrong!” you keep writing and eventually the critical voice realises you’re not listening to them today and gives up. And let me tell you, it’s incredibly liberating to silence that sucker!

Secondly, by not re-reading your work and virtually not stopping, you’re effectively following a ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style. Many times when I’ve read what I’ve written in my 10K day I don’t even remember writing it. And I’m almost always pleasantly surprised.

Admittedly the 10K day works really well for me because I don’t plan/plot, which means I can do a 10K day whenever I can clear one full day. I don’t have to plan for it by plotting out what’s going to happen in the next few chapters. I do, however, do a lot of research. But that’s easy to overcome in a 10K day. Your sentence might look something like this: She rested her hand on her gun, relishing the cold feel of the (gun make and model here)under her fingertips. Or maybe your character turns up at a crime scene that needs some detailed description. Simple: She pulled in behind the black and white. (Description of street/house here)

The point is, you don’t stop. You don’t stop for editing, for the inner critic, for research or for plot decisions. You just keep writing.

So by the end of the day, you’ve got 10,000 words, and rather than deleting those words you usually end up adding to them. You add in research details, you add in dialogue tags and you add in descriptions. Of course, you also edit to refine your writing, tweaking word choice and sentence structure as you go.

10K days are particularly amazing for dialogue (like I said, you can add the tags in later) and for moving the plot forward. In contrast, I can see they probably wouldn’t work well for literary writers.

Of course, you can’t use the 10K day to write a first draft in 8-10 days. At least I don’t think you could! I find the 10K day too much of a brain-drain for a daily or even weekly part of my schedule, but once a month seems perfect for me. And, let’s face it, a 10K day is a great way to get a large chunk of work done while also getting a more direct sub-conscious-to-page experience happening.

Try it out for yourself! You may not get the full 10,000 words, but I reckon you’ll approximately quadruple your normal output. A fellow writer friend who was my 10K buddy one day only wrote 5,000 words, but when her normal output is 1,000 she was overjoyed with 5K. And in some of my more recent 10K days I’ve only made it to 8,000 words or so. But who’s complaining? Not me! I juggle my writing with a pre-schooler and this year I’ve also been taking on corporate work so 8,000 words is massive for me.

So, what do you think of the 10K day concept?

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