I know there are some freaks of nature whose normal output is 6,000-10,000 words a day, but for most writers it’s anywhere between 1K-4K words per day. And so, it sounds impossible when you first hear or think about writing 10,000 words in one day. But it IS possible…I’ve done it (many times). In fact, on my debut 10K day I wrote 12,000 words!
I first heard about the 10K day at a writers’ meeting in Melbourne. I was well and truly intrigued — and excited. I tend to write between 2,000 and 3,000 words a day (and I’ve been told that’s quite a high output) but the thought of quadrupling that was mind-boggling. So I Googled 10K day to find out what it was all about. The basic rules are:
- You write for four two-hour blocks (NO interruptions whatsoever).
- You take a 10-15-minute break between stints.
- You stock up on food and drink in between each block so you don’t have to leave your seat during each session.
- You clear your schedule COMPLETELY for that day.
- You unplug the phone and internet (I know it’s hard, but you can do it).
- You don’t edit or review anything you’ve written – just keep writing (perhaps the hardest one to follow).
- You turn off your word processor’s spelling and grammar check so you’re not distracted by red or green lines.
- You complete any necessary research and/or plot outlining work before the 10K day (or you fill in the research later).
It also helps to have a writing buddy. This commits you to the full day, and serves as further motivation when you phone each other or chat online (yes, you can turn the internet back on for the short breaks). It’s not only support, but I guess a bit of healthy competition too.
My 10K days generally look like this:
9am-11am – First writing block
11-11.15am – Contact writing buddy for a few minutes, then stretch and stock up on food/drink
11.15-1.15 – Second writing block
1.15-1.30 – Second break (as above)
1.30-3.30 – Third writing block
3.30-3.45 – Third break (as above)
3.45-5.45 – Final writing block
5.45 – Chat to writing buddy
5.50 – Collapse into a chair, almost catatonic (like this woman)
Coffee and chocolate can also come in handy. My preference is for quality coffee and chocolate (I love the Aussie brand, Haighs). Anyway…
What’s the output like?
The first question I get when talking about 10K days tends to be focused on the quality of the writing. Most people’s initial response is that the words on the page must be crap. Not so, I say.
First off, by not reading what you’ve just written, you’re cutting off the inner critic. So instead of thinking: “That sounds crap, how else can I put it?” or “Oh no, that’s all wrong!” you keep writing and eventually the critical voice realises you’re not listening to them today and gives up. And let me tell you, it’s incredibly liberating to silence that sucker!
Secondly, by not re-reading your work and virtually not stopping, you’re effectively following a ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style. Many times when I’ve read what I’ve written in my 10K day I don’t even remember writing it. And I’m almost always pleasantly surprised.
Admittedly the 10K day works really well for me because I don’t plan/plot, which means I can do a 10K day whenever I can clear one full day. I don’t have to plan for it by plotting out what’s going to happen in the next few chapters. I do, however, do a lot of research. But that’s easy to overcome in a 10K day. Your sentence might look something like this: She rested her hand on her gun, relishing the cold feel of the (gun make and model here) under her fingertips. Or maybe your character turns up at a crime scene that needs some detailed description. Simple: She pulled in behind the black and white. (Description of street/house here)
The point is, you don’t stop. You don’t stop for editing, for the inner critic, for research or for plot decisions. You just keep writing.
So by the end of the day, you’ve got 10,000 words, and rather than deleting those words you usually end up adding to them. You add in research details, you add in dialogue tags and you add in descriptions. Of course, you also edit to refine your writing, tweaking word choice and sentence structure as you go.
10K days are particularly amazing for dialogue (like I said, you can add the tags in later) and for moving the plot forward. In contrast, I can see they probably wouldn’t work well for literary writers.
Of course, you can’t use the 10K day to write a first draft in 8-10 days. At least I don’t think you could! I find the 10K day too much of a brain-drain for a daily or even weekly part of my schedule, but once a month seems perfect for me. And, let’s face it, a 10K day is a great way to get a large chunk of work done while also getting a more direct sub-conscious-to-page experience happening.
Try it out for yourself! You may not get the full 10,000 words, but I reckon you’ll approximately quadruple your normal output. A fellow writer friend who was my 10K buddy one day only wrote 5,000 words, but when her normal output is 1,000 she was overjoyed with 5K. And in some of my more recent 10K days I’ve only made it to 8,000 words or so. But who’s complaining? Not me! I juggle my writing with a pre-schooler and this year I’ve also been taking on corporate work so 8,000 words is massive for me.
So, what do you think of the 10K day concept?
PS I’ll be overseas when this goes live (in Ireland for my sister-in-law’s wedding) and I’m not sure if I’ll have internet access on 4 August. But I will check back in and reply to all the comments, so hit the notify check-box when you post.
PPS My daughter Grace is the flowergirl…so exciting!!!!
Your comments were switched off, so I just nipped into the site and switched them on.
Love the concept of a 10k day. Not sure about the reality. I just can't turn off my inner editor, who would rather have 1000 finished words than 10k of internal scribble.
Still, I may have to get the gaffer tape out and silence them long enough to give it a try …
For me, personally, I think setting a goal of 10,000 words would be destructive. I would constantly be checking the word count, and this would throw off any creativity on my part. I do know that word count goals work for a lot of writers though. I believe, not 100% sure, that in his book "On Writing," Stephen King discusses a writer writing 10,000 words per day. But for this writer, a word count goal is out of the question. I just write until I no longer feel inspired. Sometimes that can be 500 words or 5,000 words.
I think I'd like to try this, just to see what happens!
I'd probably have to rent a room somewhere or get the whole family out of the house — or sign out one of the study rooms at the library for a whole day (Hmmmm . . . .) but that's doable.
I've recently switched day job to allow for three solid days of writing at home per week. I am going to try this schedule. I have had several 5k days, but 10? That's like a dream! Turning off the internal editor may be the most difficult, I admit. Thanks for this.
I'd really like to give this a go too, my problem would be the writing buddy – don't really have one of those!
Admirable. I have finally taken the plunge with Freedom, the internet blocking software, and I love it. I turn off the net for two hours at a time, and just knowing I can't scratch that itch helps immeasurably.
I still tend to jack-in-the-box for coffee and water and trips to the loveliest room in the house, and I should try to get a better handle on that. And I'm a pacer, so I sometimes get up to move and think, but yours is a great strategy and well worth pursuing.
That said, I'm like Zoë, I find simply going for ward count actually works against me. For better or worse, one gets wedded to those words, and it's hard to just strike them all down if that's what required. I want quality, though yes, sometimes I have to dig through a lot of rock to find the diamond..
Hope all is grand in AussieLand.
P.D., thanks for the write-up on 10K a day. Your explanation definitely makes it seem less intimidating. I see some of my writer friends post I wrote 10K or more a day, and I am wowed by it. It's definitely worth a try, especially if you have a tendency to fall behind in word count each day. Thanks again for posting this. Have fun at the wedding.
Peace and love,
This is very helpful for first drafts. I've done Nanowrimo the last two years and written more than 50,000 words in a month (yes, the buddy system helps a lot, thanks Larry), which is great for someone like me who works more than full time. What I am looking for is a similar discipline where I can work through the draft and edit and still measure. I'm doing it in pages now.
I love the freedom of just writing like a marathon, as you find your comfortable pace and find a voice as you get a rythym..I think it's good especially for newer writers. But it leaves a lot to edit. I am trying to finish this manuscript before November rolls around again. We'll see. Thanks for the inspiration.
I have done some 7K+ days. I like the rush of words on screen, but like you, I am exhausted by the end of the day. If an author wants to sell a lot of books, they need to produce lots of words so I encourage people to at least try.
A couple of tips.
These strategies are about the first draft, so authors who are uncomfortable with leaving anything but a polished version on the page, probably won't be comfortable.
Turning off your inner editor – I stopped fighting with it.I realized that I gave it life when I argued. I just started agreeing. 'yes, it's crap but that's what I'm writing just now." eventually the voice went away and now I have to turn her on to do revisions.
If 2 hour blocks don't work. write in 15 minute sprints.
I'm sorry, but I just can't do it. Like David said, I feel wedded to those words. I'd rather write two really great paragraphs a day than ten thousand words of stuff I'm going to throw away or dig through for the kernel of greatness.
However, your schedule is awesome. I think I'll try it in an effort to write my two paragraphs.
I'm moving to a home with a water view and my writer friends are looking for a writer's weekend there. Great time to put your schedule to work — with maybe a longer lunch!
And top it off at night with wine and cheese
I've done one 10k day in my career, and I did not switch off my editor (internal or otherwise). I sat for about 13 hours and was slightly dizzy at the end, but it was good work and got published as part of a novel that critics were quite kind to. 5k hasn't been too unusual, but usually for short stories. The norm, however, is a lot less – 1k-2k. And I certainly don't write every day.
I've been very curious about these 10K days. I just cannot imagine ever doing one, but I am going to try. I will be happy if I increase my wordcount or focus.
I did NaNoWriMo last year and got a lot of words down – though nowhere close to the goal for 30 days. I didn't expect to, really, but I though it might increase my focus. I didn't do that, but it did increase my butt-on-tsk time. I think I might have not prepred for it well enough and floundered a lot with direction.
Now I'm thinking I might prepare with an outline ::gasp:: and see if the limited time of a 10K dy helps my ocus. A major problem I had with NaNoWriMo was too much time to schedule other things into my day.
Hope you're having a great trip!
Well, I have to say, I saw this in the queue Tuesday and decided to try it today. I started at 9am and just wrapped at 6 with 10,381. And I'd bet 95% are keepers. So it IS doable. Thanks, Phillipa, for the inspiration!
The point of the exercise is to keep your butt in the chair much more than actual word counts. If we all actually worked all day every day like this, we'd write bunches more books!
I'm typically not a word count gal, but I do believe there is merit in the approach of butt in chair, all distractions gone, get as much done as you can do in a day. I'm curious, PD, about why you say it wouldn't work well for literary writers but should work well for genre writers. I like to think I'm as careful about prose, character development, and voice as a "literary writer."
I've never done a 10k day, but the current novel-in-progress started out that way. Especially for first drafts, I find that momentum is critical. The WIP started off like gangbusters (3/4 of a first draft in a month) before life circumstances in the form of a legal battlederailed me. The legal battle has been over for 2 years, and I'm just now able to muster the focus to return to the book without triggering post-traumatic memories. Momentum, once lost, is frightfully difficult for me to regain, it seems. And, now I understand why a lawyer friend of mine calls litigation "the thermonuclear war of conflict resolution", as costly for the victor as the vanquished.
Online for first time in nearly a week! It's been even harder than I thought it would be to get internet access….
Zoe: Thanks for turning on the comments for me! Yes, it's not for everyone but I do love the stream of consciousness feeling of writing this way and the freedom of turning off the inner editor/critic.
Jimmy: Yes, not for everyone, but it can also be liberating if you focus on the techniques rather than the word count 🙂
Sarah and Dawn: Good luck! Yes, you do need space (physical and psychological).
Alan: You can do it without a writing buddy…the buddy just provides a little incentive and inspiration.
David: Switching the internet off is important! Can be hard to do in today's world. It's been interesting for me being on holidays with only internet access once or twice a week. Kind of nice and kind of horrible 🙂
Paula: Thanks! And the wedding was fabulous 🙂 Photos in front of an amazing castle and everything. Maybe I'll write a post on it!
More to come…
Allison: Yes, definitely a first draft technique! I did NaNoWriMo for the first time last year and hope to do it again this year. Ideally I'd like to finish the first draft of my WIP by November but I'm not sure if that's possible. Sounds like we're in the same boat.
PA: Great tips about the inner editor! 7K days are fantastic and yes, the reality is writers are under more pressure to produce books these days. Having said that, I like the fact that the 10k days are also about a different writing style. A win-win, I guess.
Stephen: Yes, it can't work for everyone. I'm too impatient to spend a whole day on a paragraph so it works better for me to get the story on the page as quickly as possible and then edit. But that's just my process.
Judy: Sounds like a plan! And wine is great after a 10k day 🙂 Almost necessary, you could say.
Steven: Wow, 13 hours in one stint is a lot. No wonder you were dizzy. Writing can be a bit disorientating (for me, at least) and I do think the intense style of writing in a 10k day adds to that feeling. It's worth it though.
Reine: While reaching 10k is part of this exercise, like others have said it's also about the bum on the chair. Good luck!
JT: Glad your 10k day went well! We'll have to buddy up one of these days. Actually, that's not going to work…one of us would have to stay up all night.
Alafair: I guess I feel the 10K days work better for genre writers than literary writers because in GENERAL there's more plot happening in genre fiction and this 10k technique is great for advancing the plot. Of course, it also depends on the style of genre fiction. I think voice and character are both definitely achieveable within a 10k day but not so much finely crafted prose. But that's also where the editing comes in.
Tammy: Sorry to hear about your legal battles. I hope that you can still get back into your WIP even though it's now associated with tough times. And it can also sometimes be good to return to writing with fresh eyes a year or two later. Good luck! Maybe a couple of 10k days will help.
Thanks again everyone for your comments and sorry I wasn't able to respond earlier. I hope you still get a chance to read my responses.
Thanks, Phillipa. I love that you get back to everyone. I read it all – blog, comments, and responses. Nice. Really – very helpful.
Thanks, PD, for a thought-provoking post.
I don't believe that an author's goal should be to write a lot of words. The goal should be to produce a publishable manuscript. Sometimes, writing a lot of words can get in the way.
If your unconscious mind and your internal editor don't play well together, it might be useful to turn one off so that you can listen to the other. Mine have always worked in harmony. So I find this concept perplexing. Still, the important thing is to follow the process that works for you, and to discard anything that doesn't.
I'm going to try this one day when the kids are with their father and I can turn off the phone. It sounds like bliss. I might even institute a 10,000k/day per month. We'll see. Let me get through the start of the school year first!
This sounds amazing to me. Generally, I do a lot of revisions to my work. I always start with what Julia Cameron calls "laying track," which sounds similar but less ambitious. I love the idea of stream of consciousness and nothing else for 10k words. I wonder about doing 10 days in a row, though. Wouldn't that be awesome?!? Anybody tried it? What happened?
Phillipa, Thanks so much for putting this up. I'm generally a slow writer because I do lots of research and editing as I go. I'm part way through my third novel and I want to finish it more quickly. When I read your post, I decided to try the method, not going for 10,000 words today because I don't have the time, but trying the unconscious writing thing without editing or doing research for two hours. I wrote 2,000 words in two hours, which was a big change from my usual pace. I've spent a couple of hours editing it and it's not bad–although still needs work. The stream of consciousness writing isn't easy for me, but as soon as I get more plotting done, I'm going to try the 10,000 word day. Thanks for the detailed instructions. I'm going to share your blog post on Twitter.
Reine: Thanks! It is great that you follow the comments too. I agree, they're usually very interesting and insightful.
Andrea: I agree an author has to do what works for them. I love the 10k day approach because it drives me forward in the plot without over thinking things. And then I go and edit! I do think it's more a style of writing with the by-product generally being an increased word output, rather than ONLY focusing on word counts. And it puts a halt to procrastination too, which most writers I know are prone to!
Pari: Yes, you definitely need mental and physical space for a 10k day. Let me know how you go!
Diane: I don't think it would be mentally or physically possible to do 10 10k days in a row. After one you're mentally and physically drained. It really does take it out of you! I think even one seven days later would be a bit exhausting, although definitely achievable if you've got time in between to edit the first 10k day.
Lynn: Glad you found the post useful. Good luck with your 10k day.
A very good read. I can't do this every day because, as you said, it's too much of a brain drain, but I'm going to aim for twice a week. I'm such an intuitive writer, and never edit as I write, that it's fairly easy for me to sit down and just let the words flow. though after six or seven hours I may have 10,000 words, my head feels like jelly.