4 Ways Winged Pen Writers Get Words

View of a blue river, blue mountains in the distance, framed by bushes
You have to write a lot of words before you catch a glimpse of your story. View from Löwenburg, Rhine River valley, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

Did you ever wonder why this is The Winged Pen? It’s because this group of writers make the words fly. How do they do it?

When you face the dreaded blank page, what helps you start your writing engines? Do you have a daily word-count goal?

Read the Winged Pens’ answers in our own words:

Laurel Decher: I’ll go first. 🙂 I realized I aim for at least 1000 words at a time because 500 words doesn’t always get me into the story, even when I have a scene list. *cough* Too much caffeine makes my characters chatty.

For first drafts, I like to prep with mind-mapping to find the scene conflict and then freewrite with a kitchen timer.

Halli Gomez: When I write a first draft, I aim for about 1500 words. Sometimes I make it sometimes I don’t. I usually have to stop because I have to be somewhere.

Michelle Leonard: I’m a very goal-oriented person, so I tried giving myself word total goals for writing days. For some reason, it didn’t work for me. I ended up achieving the goal with words I didn’t like. The pressure to achieve a certain word level seems to mess with my creativity. I always put a lot of pressure on myself to do more than I think I can, but I’ve found for writing, to stay happy (and not give up on writing), I have to give myself a free pass to let my mind roam and be unproductive to be productive. That being said, when I get on a roll, I can churn out 5000 words in a day.

Kristi Wientge: I don’t think I’ve ever followed the same routine for any of my manuscripts. I just try to get something on the page in the beginning. No real word count goals, I need to really feel the voice first and then things flow (for the first draft).

Sussu Leclerc: First, make sure I know my characters well. Then I plan my set pieces for the whole novel. I make sure I know which tone the chapter will have, what I need to accomplish and what the character arc is going to be. I do not write until I have this pinned down. When my chapter brainstorming is done, I start writing. Word count is unimportant to me. If I have reached my goal for the day, I’m happy and have a feeling of accomplishment. 🙂

On a daily basis, I decide what I am going to do that day. I try to tell someone and then tell them at the end of the day what I have accomplished. Usually it’s my son. He never misses asking me if I have done what I planned. He checks on me as I check on him and his work. So voicing goals is important to us.

Julie Artz: 1000 is a solid day for me. At the start of each novel, it was a struggle to even get 400 words down in a day, but once I get going, I can sometimes crank out those bigger days (2,000 to 3,000, 3,000+ days).

It usually takes me 1 to 3 months to draft, so I give myself a deadline. (NaNoWriMo for first book) With Kalevala, I was submitting 10k word sections to a professor as part of a novel writing class, so that gave me a 10 week period of time with set deadlines. With the latest, I have recreated that on my own over a 2-month period..

I use Scrivener’s Project Targets to keep my word count on track and am always racing myself toward the green, which means I’m close to my daily word count (which is usually 1000 a day, but as I approach the deadline and am inevitably behind, it creeps up toward 1500).

I typically try to stop when I still know what needs to happen in the next scene so that I have an easy place to start the next day and I often reread the few scenes previous (and do very light editing/revising) to get me in the groove for the day’s writing session.

Gita Panjabi Trelease: When I know where I’m going with my story, there is nothing that helps me write faster than the growing green bar on Scrivener’s targets. 🙂

Kate Manning: Ack, you guys are definitely making me feel like a slacker. I tell myself when writing the first draft that I have to write at least 250 words every time I sit down to write. Sometimes I write more, but usually it’s not more than a thousand at a sitting. I do occasionally take a weekend writing retreat, where I crank out all the words.

Richelle Morgan: When I’m drafting, my goal is 1000 words each time I sit down to write, but I try to be satisfied with whatever I get down. It’s all progress!

I do have one trick that helps me, though: I leave myself a roadmap when I close out for the day so that I can jump right in the next day. Sometimes it’s hard to make myself stop, but if I write until the end of my ideas about where the scene/book is going to go, I struggle a LOT when I sit down again. Giving myself that little bit of work still to do tricks me into diving in, and once I dive in, it becomes pretty easy to keep going.

Gabrielle K. Byrne: I always start with editing what I wrote the day before. It helps me dive back in and warm up, not to mention improving the work as I go.

When I’m drafting, a word count between about 1,500 to 3,000 is a good day. If I hit a hurdle or a tough scene or impasse, I focus on that and if I can get through it that’s a good day too, even if it’s only 250 to 500 words.

Here’s my quick overview of our best Winged Pen tactics:

  1. PLAN to write. Freewrite for 15 minutes by the clock, take a weekend writing retreat, or plan something in between.
  2. Set STRATEGIC word count goals: 0-5,000 words per day. Most Winged Pen writers build momentum over time. “Just show up” might be perfect for the early draft. But once writers feel the voice of the story, know their characters and/or set pieces, word counts zoomed up and up.
  3. TRACK your progress. Swap goals with a writing buddy and follow-up. Use Scrivener‘s famous green bar (or your trusty calendar) to link your daily word count to a deadline.
  4. MAKE it easy on yourself. A tiny bit of preparation takes the edge off the blank page. Mindmap to find your scene’s conflict, edit the previous day’s writing, leave a roadmap for the next day, stop when you know what will happen next.

Need more help getting airborne? Try these excellent resources:

Rachel Aaron‘s blog post and book, 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love. (The best 99 cents you’ve ever spent on your writing. Her blog post introduces the magical triangle of Knowledge, Enthusiasm, and Time. Her book has smart things to say about speeding your revision process.)

Jacqui Lofthouse‘s free e-book is a great way to ease into a writing session: Get Black on White: 30 Days to Productivity and Confidence for Writers.

IMG_4373HighResHeadshotLDLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.