4 Things I Learned Writing at Breakneck Speed

Millie Ho Illustration Story

Sketch of my main characters + miscellaneous cats.

I finished Draft One of the new story today. The total manuscript is 476 pages and 98,298 words. To recap, I started writing last month after plotting for a week or so, and basically word vomited every day for twenty-four days. So yeah, no social life for me! And, as expected, what I achieved with speed I sacrificed in coherence. But that comes with the territory, and I’ll fix this later in the revision and rewriting process.

I felt like I needed to write this new story as quickly and as imperfectly as possible. I needed to do the exact opposite of what I did when I wrote and revised the Long-Suffering Manuscript. I needed to come at it hard and rely on my intuition more often than my outline. Also, I didn’t want to be in the position of not delivering a story on time or leaving beta readers hanging ever again, so being able to write quicker is part of my training.

This was the hardest and fastest I’d written anything before, so naturally here’s a post about what I learned:

1. There is no one right way to write.

As I learned from other bloggers and am discovering for myself more and more, there is no one right way to write. Though I still lean more towards plotter, “Whatever works” is going to be my motto from now on.

Therefore, an addendum I’d add to my past writing learnings is this: just because you identified a writing process that works for you right now, it doesn’t mean that’s all there is.

You might find something better later on, so allow yourself to be flexible.

2. Listening to music helps with writing momentum (at least for me).

Here’s something that will always be true for me. Regardless of how and where I write, the process is always more pleasant and productive when I put on some tunes.

For Draft One, I listened to rock and hip-hop. The lyrics—what I could make out, anyway—were cathartic and occasionally necessary to drown out the sounds of the writing environment.

Fast beats also guided the rhythm of my typing, so the faster, the better.

3. Entertain some exploratory writing.

Back to that ‘story as fossil’ analogy that Stephen King described in his On Writing book. Since I didn’t polish the plot before writing, it was inevitable that I would run into parts where I had no solutions or resolutions.

In these situations, I just pulled up another document and scratched around in it a little, until I found something promising. Then it’s copying + pasting the above average bits into the main draft, and going from there.

4. It’s possible.

It’s possible to write a lot in a condensed period of time. One of my favourite authors is Catherynne M. Valente, and I used her 2011 pep talk for NaNoWriMo as a guide for writing quickly without stopping. Here’s the part that marked a turning point for me:

Though it is important not to put too much pressure on yourself, it is also important to know that quality and speed have absolutely nothing to do with one another. You can write something heart-catchingly brilliant in 30 days. You can do it in 10. There is no reason on this green earth not to try for glory.

Quality and speed have nothing to do with one another—isn’t that brilliant? Of course, this may be true for Catherynne (my Draft One was barely clinging to life when I was done), but it got the ball rolling for a new project, and I’m so glad I tried, if only to see what I was capable of.

What’s next?

I printed out the manuscript and will start reading and revising.

I took lots of notes as I wrote, so the process will likely also involve scanning those notes, trying to make sense of them, and making a Frankenstein-esque Draft Two. The main goal is to ensure that every scene, character, and subplot a) progresses the main conflict and b) is relevant to the main conflict.

Time to get to work.

26 thoughts on “4 Things I Learned Writing at Breakneck Speed

  1. theryanlanz says:

    Hi Millie! I have a writing tips blog of over 7k subscribers, and I regularly feature guest posts. I’d like to ask permission to feature this full article as a guest post on my blog. It would include your credit, your bio, and a link back to your blog.

  2. Steve Myers says:

    “I’ll fix this later in the revision and rewriting process.” Yes Yes Yes! I much prefer the free form vomit and return to the text later and revise. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a necessary curse to be stuck under the ground, forced to remove all the rocks from the avalanche and then finally and kind of suddenly, out of now here, a gush, plowing through like you do or did Millie. 476 pages and 98,298 words. Incredible! Wonderful! Great job! Congratulations. Absolutely inspiring. I could never expect that much in such a short time, not yet anyway, but nonetheless, you sharing the process is so beneficial. Thank you.

    • Millie Ho says:

      Thanks for your comment, Steve! It does seem that this is the natural progression of things. You need to learn the hard way before you learn the right way, and you need to be prepared to be flexible when you find an even better way later on. It’s definitely validating to see that you also prefer the word vomit + revise later method, seeing as you produce really great poetry. So there’s got to be something to it!

      Until I read the Valente pep talk, I had no idea that you could write a novel in 10 days. That novel also became her first published novel. She went through many revisions afterwards, but the fact that she did it in 10 days was inspiring for me, and led me to try something I used to think was hard. Now that I did it, I realized that it gets less hard the more you stick with it, and that all mistakes can be fixed with revision and rewriting. It’s more about mindset, I think. If I can do it, so can anybody. I think we’re all capable of more than we think.

  3. aetherhouse says:

    Holy crap! 100k in 24 days is amazing. Very well done. I’ve always wondered if I could spit out a story this quickly if I vowed to put everything else aside. It would kind of be like crash dieting 😛

    But now the fun begins, because you actually have something to edit. I guess another additional benefit of writing so fluidly and instinctively is that you probably don’t remember everything you wrote, so you already have “fresh eyes” to begin the edit with 🙂

    • Millie Ho says:

      Thanks Michelle! Yup, the fun now begins. I’m thinking of setting it aside for a few weeks to let everything marinate. I think I remember too much of what I shouldn’t. 😛 I’m sure you can do it if you put your mind to it. In the end, I didn’t have to sacrifice too much. Just a few hours a day, and forcing yourself to write during those few hours.

  4. writingbolt says:

    My face is on fire from this post!! 476 pages in less than a month?! Kablooie!!!!!!!!!!! It’s completely reckless and unhinged. But, I am sure I am just as capable of such madness. I just don’t do so willingly at this time. Four months to complete 365 pages is plenty fast for me.

  5. M. Miles says:

    Over 90,000 words in a month. That is a stupendous feat! Congratulations!

    I have a lot of respect for your quote “just because you identified a writing process that works for you right now, it doesn’t mean that’s all there is.” Very true. There’s no need to be firmly planted in one camp!

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