I survived the Fast Draft writing challenge. Here’s what I learned.
I’ll admit it. I’m still a little twitchy and out of sorts after Fast Draft, an extreme writing challenge where you write 5000 words a day for 14 days. Not being on the hook for such a huge word count every day is going to take some getting used to. 70,000 words! This calls for a celebration.
To recap: My friends Courtney and Nam, and later Catherine, started FD on June 1. (Catherine on June 3.) A mere 14 days later, we all had a messy first draft of 70,000 words. At the end of the first week, Nam and I met up with Courtney at her house in Chicago to have a little mini-writing retreat and eat massive amounts of Brie. Courtney lives in Oak Park, not too far from the Write Inn Hotel, so we trekked there each night to unwind at the hotel’s Hemmingway’s Bistro, chat about the day’s work and sip our new favorite cocktail: champagne, St. Germaine and raspberries. I haven’t been this fired up about writing in a long, long time.
I’d hoped to do more blogging over the two weeks but was creatively tapped out. But here are seven survival tips I learned along the way:
1. Choose your friends wisely: I honestly wouldn’t have gotten through FD without Courtney, Nam and Catherine. Our daily check-ins via email were crucial. These girls would NOT give up, so I wasn’t about to either. Nam had personal commitments the very first weekend and ended up having to play catch-up to the tune of 5000 words. Yikes. She was a machine, though, pumping out an extra 1000 words a day till her word count was the same as ours. When she made up the lost ground, I was as excited for her as if I’d done it myself.
2. Identify your magic hour: We all have one. That time when you’re more productive than you would be at any other time of the day. For me, it’s first thing in the morning. Getting up an hour early is hard, but getting off from work with 5000 words to go is so much harder. I was regularly writing 1200-1500 words before breakfast and this was some of my best writing.
3. Don’t let Fast Draft become Fat Draft: Massive amounts of Brie aside, I didn’t want to undo all my Insanity progress. Come up with a short workout routine (I did Insanity Fast and Furious) that will let you blow off some steam. After all, exercise increases creativity, everybody knows that.
4. Order the Pomodoro: No, not the yummy pasta dish. I’m talking about the time management technique where you do 25 minutes of hard writing, then take a five-minute break. Write for another 25 minutes, take another break and so on. You’re supposed to do 4 Pomodoros, then take a longer break, maybe 30 minutes. I usually only did two but they made a real difference. Before Catherine suggested this technique, I wrote about 1000 words an hour. Usually less. By closing my email programs and timing myself for the 25-minute intervals, I ended up writing about 1400-1600 words an hour. Trust me, when you’re fighting for every word, every little bit helps.
5. Accept that being harder is what makes it easier: Ever hear that expression, “if you need a job done, give it to a busy person?” That’s Fast Draft in spades. Knowing you’re on the hook for 5000 words a day means there’s no time to play around. You’ve got to start early, work hard throughout the day and burn a little midnight oil. You’re hard charging the whole time and, after a while, there’s just no stopping your forward momentum.
6. Brainstorm every chance you get: The beauty of FD is that you’re immersed in your book for two weeks. Your characters, your plot – they’re always top of mind. But because you’re using every spare second to write, you may feel adrift with your plot. Brainstorm in the car, the shower, those odd moments when you used to check your phone or Facebook. Keep a notebook handy. These precious seconds may help you unlock a key story point you didn’t see before, so you’re not facing a blank page every time you sit down.
7. Crank up the tension: When the words aren’t coming, it could be a sign that tension is lagging. Throw in a twist, a huge action scene or a brand new problem for your character. High tension scenes will have your fingers flying over the keys. Remember, you can always play “what if”. Even if you don’t keep the scene on revision, you can still explore the unchartered territory. You might surprise yourself. Oh and feel free to skip around. If you run into a roadblock in one scene but have a juicy idea for another, go for it. You can always connect the dots later.
Now I have to let the messy first draft simmer for about a month and then I’ll start revisions. Meanwhile, I’m already getting ideas for what I’d like to change, what worked and what didn’t, so I’m taking lots of notes. Can’t wait to look at my manuscript with fresh eyes. I’m already excited about it!
What about you? Have you ever done Fast Draft or another writing challenge? I’d love to hear your survival tips.