Guest Post: Author Bruce Blake on maximizing your writing time
Author Bruce Blake, a truly fantastic writer, is guest posting today! He has the very envious position of being a full time writer. Even though that least me rolling on the floor in envy, he tells me (often) that it isn’t about time. It has a lot to do with being productive in the time you have. With advice like that, I had to not only feel hopeful, but get more of an explanation. So here you go – Bruce, take it away!
When I tell people I wrote the first draft of my upcoming novel, When Shadows Fall (The First Book of the Small Gods) in fourteen days, they either stare at me with a blank expression, make me repeat it to ensure they didn’t mishear me and I actually said forty, or they ask me how I managed to churn out an entire novel in such a short time. Since you are not looking at me, and it clearly says ‘fourteen’ days in the last sentence, I’m going to assume you fall into the third group…so here’s how it happened.
Firstly, it’s important to realize I am a full-time writer—making stuff up is what I do. This output didn’t happen in half-hour snatches here and there, but in 5-7 hour chunks of tapping on my laptop’s keys. Before you stop reading because you don’t have that much time to write, realize that what’s most important about this output is how much I produced in the time I had—consistently about 1300 words/hour. This number—your productivity—is how all authors should evaluate the effectiveness of their writing time, with a goal of maximizing the number of words written in the time available. It can be difficult to work around a day job, family, and other commitments—and none of us can jam more hours into the day—but you can control what you do with the time you have and get the most out of the minutes you put in at the keyboard. Here are the steps I took to keep my word count high.
Pre-planning. More effort went into the planning of this book than any I’ve ever written. For a month, as I was writing and editing another project, I spent my evenings world-building for the Small Gods series. It was really during this phase that the seeds of the story grew and blossomed. The more I learned about the background and history of this world, the more the story I was planning kept taking twists and turns I wasn’t expecting.
Outlining. There’s always a debate amongst writers about outlining versus writing by the seat of your pants. Simply put: I find I’m more productive when I have a pretty good idea where I want to go. It means I don’t lose writing time by stopping to think about what to do next. This dovetails perfectly into the next point.
Daily planning. This is a tip I picked up from Rachel Aaron’s great little writing book 2000 to 10000: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. It’s a simple concept…take the first five minutes of your writing session, grab a pen and paper (that’s right—the old-fashioned way) and jot down what you will be writing about. Include actions, bits of dialogue, descriptions; all the points you want to hit, plus some of the detail. This is your road map for what you will write today—not tomorrow, not yesterday, but today.
No editing. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? Of course I edit, just not while I’m writing the first draft. I know too many writers who never get to the end of their manuscript because they spend too much time polishing the first half of the book to perfection. Not only are first drafts supposed to suck, I know the way I write; chances are good that, if I did a bunch of editing before I finished the rough draft, something else would change and I’d end up going back to rewrite all that careful editing, anyway. Time well wasted.
Unplug. The internet is not your friend. If you are writing and you can’t find the word you’re after, can’t come up with a great name for a new character, or need to do a bit of research, bookmark it and save it for non-writing time. Seriously, it will still be there at 10 o’clock on Thursday night when there’s a commercial during The Amazing Race…do it then. Don’t even get me started on Facebook and email
Make writing a priority. We all hear many writers lamenting that they can’t find time to write. I never have that problem because I plan my writing time, then make everything else work with it. I did the same thing when I was working sixty hour weeks…the job schedule was the only thing that was inflexible, everything else had to realize I had a book to write.
With planning and forethought, it’s more than possible to write quickly without sacrificing quality. Be ready, be focused, be dedicated…now go write.
by Bruce Blake
Well… if you aren’t quite ready to go back to writing, how about a little reading? I was lucky enough to snag an excerpt from When Shadows Fall and, boy, I really can’t wait to read the book now! So, if you need something to fire up your brain, read on!
From the Prologue of WHEN SHADOWS FALL
Her fingers brushed the edge of the paper, felt its roughness, its power, but then it disappeared. Ine’vesi pulled it away and glared at her, his brows drawn together.
“Prevent it?” he asked, incredulous. The priest shook his head without removing his gaze from her eyes. “We must take this to Teva Stavoklis and leave instructions on how to bring us back.”
Rak’bana’s mouth fell open. How did she not see this coming? She’d heard his words bordering on sacrilege, seen his disdain toward the Goddess in this time of judgment. But her sight had been clouded by the dreams, her mind filled with visions of the gray man, the Mother, the man from across the sea. She’d neglected to think for a moment that her twin brother—the man with whom she shared the priesthood and trusted more than anyone short of the Goddess herself—could have anything but the same goal as her.
How wrong she’d been.
“We can’t let this happen again, Vesi.” She despised the desperation creeping into her voice. “The generations that come after us must know.”
Another rumble echoed through the chamber, this one louder than the last. Ine’vesi sneered. “We are in agreement, sister. This cannot happen again. The Goddess cannot be allowed to treat her loyal subjects in this manner. They must be given a way to prevent it, and bringing us back is the way.”
“No. We deserve it. The Goddess never intended us to live this way. We–”
The priest took a step back and her gaze fell to the parchment he held in his right hand, out of her reach. The visions that visited her dreams meant nothing if she did not set them to words on the scroll, left them to be found when the time they were needed came. If she didn’t, she’d have failed the Goddess.
“The scroll will go to Teva Stavoklis, to be used when the Goddess again over-steps her bounds. To ensure her subjects are never again punished for being human.”
Rak’bana narrowed her eyes. “We are no longer human, Vesi.”
“No, I suppose not,” he conceded and took another step back. “We are closer to gods, aren’t we? Small gods, perhaps.”
She bit down hard and fought against the oncoming tears choking her throat. A louder rumble, and this time the walls trembled. The long pike of one of the Sek’bala warriors shivered in its hand, the metal shaft rattling against its gauntleted fingers. Rak’bana directed her gaze toward the massive suit of plate, lowered her chin and raised her hand. She wiggled her fingers the way she did when she called the water to her bidding and her brother realized her intent. Ine’vesi’s head snapped to the side, eyes wide as he looked to the Sek’bala, expecting it to come to life.
Rak’bana leaped toward him and snatched at the roll of parchment, her fingers grasping the edge. It took only an instant for Ine’vesi to realize she’d tricked him. The priest danced back two steps, but she’d gotten a grip on the scroll and it unrolled between them. They both stared at its blank surface as another ball of fire struck the building and a shower of sparks spilled through one of the high windows.
They raised their heads; their eyes met.
“Bana,” he said, voice calm and even, though his eyes reflected different emotions. “Don’t do–”
“When days of peace approach their end.”
“And wounds inflicted are too deep to mend.” Fear and disappointment surged through her, but she forced herself to speak clearly, drawing out the words to their full power, ensuring the parchment heard her over the reverberating impacts shuddering the walls. “A sign shall come, a lock with no key.”
“Borne by a man from across the sea.”
The wavering light of the flames licking the world flashed on Ine’vesi’s blade. Rak’bana had an instant to recognize the slender knife before he jerked her toward him and plunged the tip between her ribs.
The wicked point tore through her flesh, found its way between the bones, and pressed against her heart. The agony of the wound stole her breath, but the anguish of her brother’s betrayal crushed her soul. He pulled her close, the loose parchment folding between them, and a fresh wave of pain crashed through her, transported along her veins to the tips of her fingers.
“I am sorry, Bana, but it must be this way” he said, his tone quiet amongst the thunder of the Goddess’ judgment. “We are gods.”