Recent New Processes and the Results: How I’m Managing 5k Words a Day

I came back from PNWA this year inspired by talking to Chris Fox, author of 5,000 Words an Hour, and adopted a new writing process, which has several parts. I want to emphasize that I’m pretty sure this is not a process that’s going to work for everyone. I have, for example, major luxuries such as a) no children, b) the financial resources for a gym membership, c) the time to make use of that membership as well as devoting a significant chunk of my time to writing, and d) good health and reasonably good energy levels. If this process sounds like one that might work for you though, I highly suggest you check out both the book as well as others by Chris Fox.

So here’s what I do.

  • I get up at 5:30 AM and drive over to the gym to work out, doing a mix of elliptical and rowing machine, mainly about 45 minutes to an hour’s worth. In recent days, when the fog has been thick, I’ve chosen to do an hour’s brisk walk instead. Yes, it is dark, and cold, and miserable. No, I am not looking forward to colder weather and having to de-ice things.
  • I come back here, eat my yogurt, start a pot of coffee, and begin writing with absolutely no Internet allowed, whether on phone or computer.
  • I write in Scrivener, (writing software I’ve been using for over a decade now, available for both Mac and Windows OS) and I set myself a goal of 5,000 words, keeping the word count tracking window open so I can see the progress.
  • I do a lot of 30 minute writing sprints, where I spend a few minutes beforehand figuring out what I want to accomplish in the scene I’ll be writing. Some of that will be typed, but if the flow is going well, I may switch over to dictation, using the Mac’s dictation feature, which I’ve come to favor over Dragon Dictate.
  • Usually by 9 or 9:30 AM I hit the 3k word mark, and at that point, let myself walk over to a local coffee shop to pick up a latte and a pastry. It’s a 10 minute walk (and that’s another luxury I have, pleasant and safe surroundings for such a walk.) I can text my spouse at this point, but no Internet access still, even when waiting in line at the coffee shop.
  • Sometimes I’m not sure I’ll hit my 5k mark by 11 AM but most of the time I do. (If I don’t, I keep writing till I do.)
  • I reward myself for hitting my goals, usually with something on a weekly basis, but I’ve also been known to promise myself a treat for the day if it’s hard going. The rewards of late are Breyer horses, which is something that I would normally never allow myself to splurge on. Apparently my inner twelve-year-old is a powerful motivator.

The Breyer that started it all, “The Girl from Ipanema” form th Equestral line.

Doing this has pretty consistently yielded 5,000 words each weekday along with another 5,000 spread out over the weekend, with the experience of the past few days, when I was at a writing conference but still managed two early morning workouts and 2,000 words. Currently I’m at over 93,000 words for the month of October. I’ve finished two books since PNWA: an adult novel as well as a middle grade one, and am currently 22,000 words into the sequel to the former.

I’m more productive overall and less likely to put stuff off (I think). Chris quotes Mark Twain as saying “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” And it’s true. Get it and soldier through something not particularly palatable, and other stuff becomes easier. It does seem that, for me, working on strengthening my willpower is paying off. Staying off the internet is better overall for my sanity I think; I know I’ve pretty much stopped paying any attention to the trollios because there’s just not enough time in the day and wrangling with them is pointless anyhow.

And what I’m writing is pretty good! Writing that fast means it’s fresher in my head and I’m less likely to lose my way or forget bits I’ve added, The “making it all fit together pass” is easier than with manuscripts written over more time.

So why say all this? Am I taunting you with my productivity? Absolutely not. But I am saying – I started pushing myself a little harder and I was surprised how much farther I could go by doing something that put me in my body and then avoiding distractions and focusing on writing in an undiluted way, free of email distraction. There was no mail so important it could not wait until 11 AM.

I did learn to get better about getting set up ahead of time, making sure my gym clothes were laid out, my headphones ready, and that I knew where Wayne had parked the car each night. One morning I ended up going to the gym in damp clothes and feeling quite virtuous; I’ve also been feeling a lot healthier, stronger, and more energetic as a result of this regime.

I also don’t beat myself up if I miss track. I didn’t write as much as I wanted to at Surrey, but I also spent some time napping and reading in order to maintain my energy level and stay at my best during the conference. Today it was so foggy that I didn’t drive over to the gym — but I still managed to get my 5k in, so hooray for me. Tomorrow will be another day.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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