Let Your Words Pull You

Writing in Overdrive by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive
by Jim Denney

Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, talked about his need for speed as a writer. He set a daily goal of ten pages per day, or about 2,000 words. This would add up to about 180,000 words over three months — and three months, he said, was the maximum anyone should take to write the first draft of a novel. Any longer than that and the story begins to go stale in the writer’s imagination. “Only under dire circumstances,” he observed, “do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He wrote one dystopian science fiction novel, The Running Man, in a single week.

King described the euphoric sensation of being in a creative flow and writing quickly: “With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job. It’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There is plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”

Stephen King knows. The faster you write, the more confidently you write. You must write fast enough to stay ahead of the doubts. When you write quickly, when you enter that inspired state of creative flow, you’ll find you write brilliantly.

Detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler put it this way: “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” So let your words pull you. Let your creativity and confidence flow through you. Write brilliantly. Write fast. In Writing in Overdrive, I’ll show you how.

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How to Write a Novel in Three Days

From my new ebook, Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly [Kindle Edition, estimated length 173 pages, available at Amazon.com for $2.99]

Is it possible to write a highly-acclaimed novel in just three days?

Science fiction and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock proved it can be done. He has earned a reputation as one of the field’s most celebrated authors. As both a writer and longtime editor of the British magazine New Worlds, Moorcock has been a major figure in the “new wave” science fiction movement. His existentialist time travel novel Behold the Man won the prestigious Nebula award, and he is justly famed for creating the unforgettable fantasy anti-hero Elric of Melniboné.

Writing in Overdrive by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive
by Jim Denney

In his early career, Moorcock eked out a living writing adventure novels in the low-paying pulp fiction field. To boost his productivity and his income, he devised a plan for writing sword-and-sorcery potboilers very quickly, usually in a matter of three to ten days. Every novel he wrote this way adhered to a series of simple formulas:

• Length formula: 60,000 words, divided into four sections of 15,000 words, six chapters in each section, no chapter longer than 2,500 words. Each chapter is required to contain elements that advance the action.

• Plot formula: the familiar tale of a lot of people competing in a quest to gain a much-sought-after object (familiar examples of such objects: the Holy Grail, the Maltese Falcon, the gold of El Dorado, Alfred Hitchcock’s notion of “the MacGuffin,” or the Rambaldi artifacts in TV’s Alias).

• Character formula: a fallible and reluctant hero who tries to avoid responsibility, but ends up being pitted against vastly superior, even superhuman, forces.

• Structural formula: a dire event occurs every four pages to advance the action and keep the reader hooked.

• Fantastic images formula: the story must contain a series of wild, vivid, fantasy images, such as Moorcock’s “City of Screaming Statues.”

• Time formula: the hero is in a race against time. Moorcock explained: “It’s a classic formula: ‘We’ve only got six days to save the world!’ Immediately you’ve set the reader up with a structure: there are only six days, then five, then four, and finally … there’s only 26 seconds to save the world! Will they make it in time?”1

Even though the actual writing of a novel may take as little as three days (a phenomenal 20,000 words per day!), Moorcock would always spend at least a couple of days preparing and organizing the story structure, characters, and lists of images and events he wanted to include, so he’d have everything he needed once the writing began. “The whole reason you plan everything beforehand,” he explained, “is so that when you hit a snag, a desperate moment, you’ve actually got something there on your desk that tells you what to do.”2

This may sound like a recipe for churning out the most dreary and unreadable fiction imaginable—and in the hands of a lesser talent, it undoubtedly would be. But Moorcock actually wrote some of his highly acclaimed Hawkmoon and Elric tales on this formula. Though the plots were formulaic, his characters were strongly delineated and memorable, and his writing was clean and well-crafted. About the same time he had perfected this recipe for writing novels in three days, he began earning better money. Growing tired of the formula, he moved on to more challenging genres and projects.

Yet he continued to write quickly. One of his most celebrated novels is Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen, a literary fantasy novel that won the World Fantasy Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Published in 1978, Gloriana has remained continuously in print to this day. Moorcock wrote it in a mere six weeks.

For Michael Moorcock, preparing to write quickly is a matter of quality as well as speed. He organized and disciplined himself to write quickly, and in the process he wrote very well, and acquired a reputation for literary excellence.

Notes
1. Michael Moorcock and Colin Greenland, Death Is No Obstacle (Manchester, UK: Savoy, 1992), 8.
2. Ibid., 9.

Jim Denney’s WRITING IN OVERDRIVE: The Secrets to Writing Faster, Writing Freely, Writing Brilliantly, Now Revealed

From the Introduction to my new ebook, Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly [Kindle Edition, estimated length 173 pages, available at Amazon.com for $2.99]

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”  —Isaac Asimov. “In quickness is truth. … The more swiftly you write, the more honest you are.” —Ray Bradbury.

Writing in Overdrive by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive
by Jim Denney

Looking over my writing schedule, I see I’ve written one book per month for the past seven months. Those seven books were contracted with three different publishers, and all were delivered on deadline. Here’s the list:

• A 62,000-word book, November 2012.
• A 66,000-word book, December 2012.
• A 54,000-word book, January 2013.
• A 50,000-word book, February 2013.
• A 70,000-word book, March 2013.
• A 50,000-word book, April 2013.
• A 50,000-word book, May 2013.

I also wrote about half of this 40,000-word book in May, so add another 20,000 words, and you get a total of 422,000 words in seven months, an average of more than 60,000 words per month.

Full disclosure: These are all nonfiction books (which, for me, write faster than fiction), and they are all a bit on the slim side (I consider a full-sized book to be 80,000 words or longer). Even so, I think this output establishes my bona fides as a writer who can speak with authority on the subject of “writing in overdrive.”

Have I always been a fast writer? Absolutely not! I’ve been writing fulltime since 1989, and for much of my career my annual writing output was probably less than a third of what I produce today.

The turning point came in 2001, when I submitted a fiction proposal to a major publishing house. After considering my proposal for several months, the acquisition editor reported back. “We’ve got good news and bad news,” she said. “The good news is we want to publish your book. In fact, we’re offering you a four-book deal.”

That wasn’t just good news, that was four times more good news than I dared hope for. How bad could the bad news be?

Well, pretty bad, as it turned out. For starters, the advance the publisher offered was modest, to put it charitably. And the deadline was simply insane — they wanted me to write four books in four months. Worst of all, the contract contained a $100-per-day penalty for late delivery.

I didn’t have an agent at the time. I did my own negotiating — something I do not recommend and would never do again. But I can be a tough negotiator when I need to be.

The publisher wouldn’t budge on money, but did agree to move the deadline out an additional two months. I tried to remove the $100-a-day late delivery penalty. “It’s hard to be creative,” I said, “with a gun pointed at my wallet.” When the publishing house insisted on keeping the penalty in the contract, I asked for a 30-day grace period before the penalty kicked in — and the publisher agreed.

I had negotiated a contract I could live with — just barely. But even with the deadline extensions and concessions I had gotten, it was going to be tight. In the end, I delivered Book 1 ahead of deadline, Book 2 right on deadline, Book 3 two weeks late, and Book 4 almost a month late. But I stayed within the grace period, and I didn’t incur the $100-a-day penalty.

In the process I learned I could write much faster than I ever dreamed possible — and I could do so without sacrificing quality. In fact, writing under intense deadline pressure was actually liberating, because it forced me to free up my imagination and intuition and write faster than I had ever written before. Those four books seemed to pour out onto the page in a burst of uninhibited creativity. I believe the books are actually better than they might have been if I’d had more time to analyze what I was writing.

It’s a paradox but it’s true: The faster you write, the better you write.

Since that time, I’ve made an intense study of the creative process. I’ve explored every technique and technology for writing faster, writing freely, shedding inhibitions, stifling the inner critic, and writing “in the zone.” My study has confirmed what my own experience suggested: writing in overdrive produces more powerful writing. I discovered that the writers I admire most — Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, John Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler — always wrote their first drafts with remarkable speed.

If you want to write more quickly, freely, and creatively, this book will show you how. It will transform the way you write almost immediately. My goal is to give you the tools to improve your writing skills right now.

I call this book Writing in Overdrive for a very good reason. In automotive terms, an overdrive is a mechanism of the transmission that allows a car to sustain a high rate of speed at a reduced engine RPM. The ability to cruise in overdrive enables a car to go farther on a gallon of gasoline, and to work less hard, causing less engine wear.

In the same way, a writer cruising in overdrive is able write faster, write longer, and be more productive while working less hard. In this book, I’ll give you the steps and principles you need to write in overdrive every day. I will show you:

• How to write so fast you’ll have no time for self-doubt.
• How to organize your time and workspace to be more productive.
• How to set ambitious yet attainable goals.
• How writing badly enables you to write brilliantly.
• How to overcome your inner resistance to writing daily.
• How to finish what you start.
• How to prepare yourself to write “in the zone.”
• How to tap into the power of your unconscious mind.
• How to write freely and fearlessly.
• How to use “writing rituals” to prepare yourself to write.
• How to be aware and focused yet relaxed as you write.
• How to be undistractible when surrounded by distractions.
• How to use technology to be more creative and productive.
• How to get the most out of NaNoWriMo.
• How to overcome writer’s block.

Chapter by chapter, as you go through this book, you’ll acquire skills you can instantly road-test on your current work-in-progress — and I’ll share stories from my own experience and from the lives of other successful writers to show you how these principles apply in real-life writing situations. The tools and insights in this book will enable you to write with greater speed, confidence, and mastery, whether in traditional publishing or the indie publishing world.

I wish you joy, success, and astounding speed on your writing journey.

— JIM DENNEY

Work Hard at Your Writing—But No Harder Than You Have To

[NOTE: The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly. —J.D.]

Some years ago, a publisher offered me a two-book contract to write the text for a pair of lavishly illustrated books. The acquisition editor gave me a stack of similar books his company had already published. Looking through the stack, I gauged each book to be about 15,000 words in length. Yet he told me he needed about 35,000 words per book. “Are you sure?” I said. “That seems long.” He assured me that was the number.

I wrote the first book and sent the manuscript in to the managing editor (the acquisition editor had moved on to another publishing house). I had hit the assigned word count practically on the nose — 34,800 words. The managing editor read the manuscript, then emailed me: “The book looks great, Jim. Only problem is it’s way too long. We need you to cut the book down to about 18,000 words.”

I groaned. Relying on the assurances from the acquisition editor, I had written twice as much text as I should have. I spent additional days cutting text I never should have written in the first place, first cutting entire chapters, then sculpting the text paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and word by word. I left half the book on the cutting room floor — but it was a learning experience.

When I began the second book, I slashed the amount of research I did, I wrote 18,000 words, and stopped — done. Most important of all, the second book was better written than the first because it didn’t need to be trimmed with a chainsaw.

The moral of the story: Work hard at your writing, but don’t work harder than you have to. Improve the quality of your writing by eliminating unnecessary work.

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Work Hard at Your Writing—But No Harder Than You Have To

[NOTE: The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly. —J.D.]

Some years ago, a publisher offered me a two-book contract to write the text for a pair of lavishly illustrated books. The acquisition editor gave me a stack of similar books his company had already published. Looking through the stack, I gauged each book to be about 15,000 words in length. Yet he told me he needed about 35,000 words per book. “Are you sure?” I said. “That seems long.” He assured me that was the number.

I wrote the first book and sent the manuscript in to the managing editor (the acquisition editor had moved on to another publishing house). I had hit the assigned word count practically on the nose — 34,800 words. The managing editor read the manuscript, then emailed me: “The book looks great, Jim. Only problem is it’s way too long. We need you to cut the book down to about 18,000 words.”

I groaned. Relying on the assurances from the acquisition editor, I had written twice as much text as I should have. I spent additional days cutting text I never should have written in the first place, first cutting entire chapters, then sculpting the text paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and word by word. I left half the book on the cutting room floor — but it was a learning experience.

When I began the second book, I slashed the amount of research I did, I wrote 18,000 words, and stopped — done. Most important of all, the second book was better written than the first because it didn’t need to be trimmed with a chainsaw.

The moral of the story: Work hard at your writing, but don’t work harder than you have to. Improve the quality of your writing by eliminating unnecessary work.