One of the most common questions I get when I tweet or talk to writer friends about what I’m working on is, without fail,
How do you write so fast?
Laying aside the answers I usually give, which are, in order of frequency and truth:
The truth, in addition to those three caveats, is that when I sit down to work, I know that I have to make the most of it. I have three kids who I (for now) homeschool. I have no babysitters. I have no help from family. It’s just me, the kids, and in the evenings, my husband.
This year, I’ve written, revised, and edited six books. That’s roughly a book every two months, which, I am NOT saying YOU should do. Hell, write as much or as little as you want.
But, and hear me out, make the most of the time you get your butt in your writing chair to work.
If I don’t make squeeze the most out of my time in the evenings and in snatches during the day, I’m screwed and nothing is getting done.
Okay, Brittany, we get it. So how do you make the most of your time?
Ah, thank you, imaginary person, for getting me back on track.
Last year, maybe even six months ago, I would have told you I am a plantser, falling somewhere between a solid plotter and someone who flies by the seat of their pants. I would also probably be a liar. The more I’ve refined my process and aimed myself like a cannon at my manuscript and word goals, the more and more I’ve become a plotter.
THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO BE A PLOTTER. That is NOT what I’m saying.
What I AM saying, is that structuring your thoughts about your story will help you manage your writing time better. I am an incredibly visual person, so much so that my husband is constantly flummoxed about why I can’t always process things unless I see them mapped out. For instance, I mind-map scene ideas for stories before I write. I even wrote this handy-dandy post on it.
All of these tools are FREE and available in app form, which is key when an idea strikes and I’m juggling dirty diapers and god-only-knows what else.
I have also started using Trello. HOLY SHIT. I love Trello. I use the free version of Trello to help me look at all the components of my story in one place. It’s mostly for project management (and yeah, I use it for that too, with my secret pen-name). Trello is basically notecard plotting on steroids.
It works SO well for keeping me organized. While I love brainstorming on paper, moving my garbled notes into Trello gives me structure, helps me refine my thoughts, and I don’t have to worry about my kids eating my notes. (Yeah, that’s a thing that has happened.)
I use one Trello board for everything, because I work better when I can manipulate all the moving parts of my story at once. I’ve divided out the board into lists based on Gwen Hayes’ Romancing The Beat structure, with a different list for each act and different cards for each beat. Within the cards, I can drill down with a summary of what I want to happen in the that scene, along with adding a checklist or a due date and I can add colored labels to the card so a quick glance can tell me which POV the scene will be from.
I also use T. Taylor’s Seven Figure Fiction to help guide how I draft. Her concepts of Universal Fantasy help drive my story forward, as well as hopefully craft a page-turning experience for the reader. So I have a list for that, too. What are the driving fantasies my readers have that will keep them reading? I add the ones I want to use to a card labeled per act, and can further expand on it within the card itself.
I use cards to further drill down into the characters on Trello, with spots for wounds, what whole-hearted looks like for each, as well as any notes on their character arcs and appearance.
You can also plug research into Trello, linking outside sources and images in your cards to further refine and keep track. (and yes, I realize you can do some of this with Scrivener, but I prefer Trello’s user interface, the fact that it’s free, and visually this system makes more sense to me.)
Trello has made organizing my thoughts very, very easy. Now, instead of trying to figure out with I did with my damn notebook, or getting wrapped up in Pinterest, I can very easily log into Trello, look at the deadlines I’ve set for myself, and get to work.
If you are writing in a long series, I cannot stress hard enough how much you need to keep track of things in your world. For my series that have a gazillion characters, massive worlds, intense politics, religions, backstories, myths, place names, different days of the week, and even made up words- I would be LOST without my spreadsheets.
Right now, I’m in various stages of drafting and revising with three VERY different series. One is a huge space opera romance, one is a huge portal fantasy romance, and the other is a freakin’ regency.
Honestly if I think about it too hard, I get a headache.
I have a separate sheet for each series, where I log information into five or six main categories and then drill down from there. (Yeah, I could use Trello for this too, but for some reason the spreadsheet layout is easier for me to navigate.) My main categories for tracking world building are: characters, style sheet (aka world-specific language and other catch-all stuff like food), places, magic systems or technology, religion or myths.
Then, within each sheet, I break down certain things I want to track. The character sheets are the most detailed, with entries for name, appearance, personality, job, what they want, what’s in their way, powers (if any), oh, and importantly, what they smell like.
It’s a cheat sheet. That’s all it is. That way, once again, when I sit down to write, I don’t have to waste thirty minutes trying to remember what the eff my main character smells like/looks like or where the hell they are trying to physically go.
TRUST ME WHEN I SAY IT HELPS. TRUST.
I’m flipping between three wildly different series, and I can’t remember my own kids’ names half the time. I would be up a shit creek without a paddle if I didn’t have system. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to draft as quickly.
This is probably the most controversial and yet most helpful thing I do. EVEN though I try to plan as meticulously as possible, those damned characters have a mind of their own. Things end up happening that I didn’t even have an inkling about during my initial planning stages.
So, when shit goes down and I KNOW I have to course correct when I revise, I open up my google doc and take notes on which plot threads I need to adjust. And yes, I use a google doc, because LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE HERE it has a mobile app. That way when a revision note strikes me out of the blue, I can open up the app on my phone and add it to the cauldron of churning ideas.
Some of y’all are probably yelling at me BRITTANY ITS FINE TO REVISE AS YOU GO! And yeah, it is for sure, I do not care how you work. But, for me, I do better if I keep freaking drafting and keep my momentum going. Because, guess what! Things will continue to change and take shape as the draft emerges from the magical story ether. Sometimes, that plot thread I thought I’d need to rework completely? By the end of the book, it might not need the same change I initially thought it did. If I had stopped and revised it, I would have to go back and revise it AGAIN by the end of the draft. That’s just… you know. It’s more work.
When I’m ready to revise, I already have written myself an edit letter on shit I know isn’t working the way it needs to. Bam.
Do not discount the effect of external stimuli. Everything I’ve written here so far deals with how I front-load my work so that when I get a dedicated chunk of time, all my proverbial ducks are in a row and I can get in the zone.
Getting in the zone is not always easy.
BUT YOU CAN TRICK YOURSELF TO GET IN THE ZONE.
I’ve tweeted about this before, but I have a playlist I call “Writer’s Block” as well as a couple separate playlists for each series I write in. Usually, I plug in my sound canceling headphones, cue up the music, and get in the zone. This is auditory stimuli that tells my brain, it’s time to stop fucking around and put the words on the page.
Scents are another one. I know, it sounds soooo hokey, but TRY IT. Get a candle or essential oil or something that is DIFFERENT than what you normally burn or whatever oils do, and use that ONLY for writing.
I haven’t tried snacks, but listen, if you have a snack stimuli that triggers your muse, share that shit in the comments. I love snacks.
My house looks like garbage when I’m in drafting mode. I am absolutely not doing it all, and I am certainly not doing it all well. My garden is currently overgrown, my laundry is Mt. Everest- but more dangerous, and there are crayons all over the floor of my dining room.
I let these things go a lot of the time, because writing and taking care of kids ranks higher than having perfectly folded pants.
Just kidding. We all know I only wear leggings.