Writing more books helps you make more money. But most authors write slow! In this episode, we talk with Chris Fox about how to write faster and better.
And to help us with that topic is our friend, Chris Fox. Chris Fox is an extremely successful author of both fiction and non-fiction, as well as being an excellent teacher … Chris, great to have you back on the show …
- Why is fast writing so important?
- How do authors write faster?
- Writing sprints- no interuptions. No editing, just writing. Twenty minutes.
- What’s the mindset of a fast writer?
- Walk us through your 5 step process:
- Step 1- Clear the Decks
- Step 2- Know what you are going to write
- Step 3- Start the Clock
- Step 4- Record the Results
- Step 5- Learn from the work
- As writers try your method … what are the blocks they’re going to come up against?
- How much of a word count increase to you see on average?
- How long does it typically take before this new way of writing kicks in?
- What tools make it easier to write faster?
- Is it better for writers to try this on a piece they’re not as emotionally invested in?
- How can someone put this into practice today?
- Read How to Write 5,000 Words an Hour for free.
- Buy How to Write 5,000 Words an Hour on Amazon.
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Pathway of Peace: Living in a Growing Relationship with Christ by Cheryl Elton
Pathway of Peace explores key areas of life that help cultivate enduring peace—including handling stress, quieting the mind, and forgiveness. Rich scriptural insights and inspiring stories will encourage and help you develop a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
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[00:00:01] This is novel marketing a show for novelists who aren’t necessarily fond of marketing but still want to become a best selling author.
[00:00:09] Episode 152 I’m James L. Rubart.
[00:00:14] I’m Thomas Umstattd Jr. and I’m Chris Fox and in this episode we are going to talk once again to Chris Fox. As you probably just figured out Chris thanks for being back with us once more. You are quickly approaching. I think we’ve only had one other guest on three times is that right Thomas.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:00:33] We’ve had Joanna Penn on three times we’ve had Lacey on three times now Chris Fox. So Lacey Williams who a pen and Chris Fox I feel like that’s a good group to be in.
Chris Fox: [00:00:42] That’s distinguished comedy right there.
James Rubart: [00:00:45] Is indeed indeed. And Chris is on you know he’s in the San Francisco area so he’s on Pacific Standard Time which is the time zone. So Thomas you have to adjust to us this episode which I love.
[00:00:57] That’s right.
[00:00:58] So we record this ahead of time and for those of you listening and we record often in multiple time zones and Joanna Penn is the widest gap and this is the narrowest.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:01:07] For those of you just tuning into this episode for the first time Chris Fox is the real deal he doesn’t just write successful fiction. He teaches fiction and his students have gone on to thrive and succeed at fiction themselves. And he writes nonfiction too because why not. Chris welcome to the show.
Chris Fox: [00:01:25] Thanks for having me.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:01:26] So the title of the show I think gives away a little bit maybe your secret to success. Well paid authors seem to agree that if you want to make money you need to write a lot of books. But the challenge is a lot of authors write slow. Chris you wrote a book titled 5000 words an hour what the heck.
Chris Fox: [00:01:48] That is my most click baity title I’m very proud of it.
James Rubart: [00:01:51] Oh are you kidding me. Of course it is because we’re all going what you got to be kidding me. I’m feeling great in a thousand words an hour and you’re saying five is possible. So yeah I think a lot of people right now are going OK I’m all ears. Talk to us.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:02:04] But first let’s just ask the question because it needs to be asked Why is writing fast important.
Chris Fox: [00:02:08] The writing cast is important in my mind because for us to reach a level of expertise we’re really good at our craft and can actually turn out a novel that people really want to read. We’re usually going to have to do multiple drafts and if you’re writing a one hundred thousand word book The faster you can get those hundred thousand words down the sooner you have a complete draft the more you can learn about storytelling the better you get at this craft. If it takes you three years to write that 100000 words versus 30 days then then all of that development is going to be slowed down. It sort of decelerated. It’s like if you were let’s say a baker you know you get to be better as a baker by baking for eight hours a day. And you know trying to get faster better at turning out the cakes that you worked on building that level of mastery and I think that you just get there much much faster than if you spend you know a half hour once a week baking some cookies.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:02:56] Yeah yeah. So there’s this principle of 10000 hours that get thrown around a lot of people hear this term 10000 hours. But it’s not just 10000 hours it’s 10000 hours of deliberate practice which means that you’re actually trying to get better you’re measuring you’re looking at how you did you watch your performances. You know if you’re a swimmer you watch yourself swimming in slow motion. You know all of that is deliberate practice and practice does make perfect. And if somebody is only practicing an hour a day it takes them ten thousand days to get to 10000 hours. And that’s a long long time. And I think with writing it could be fair to say that maybe it’s not 10000 hours that’s it’s maybe five hundred thousand words like once somebody has written 500000 words or 100000 words that’s when they really find their groove and things get better. So how do you write faster. What’s the key.
Chris Fox: [00:03:49] So I like most people who are probably listening was trying to fight having a very busy day job I was a software engineer I worked at a startup you know and everybody knows what the hours are like in a startup. It was 68 hours a week and I really badly wanted to find a way to finish novels in kind of a decent timeframe so I could make a living at this. And I only really had an hour a day. So for me it was the bus ride into work and I was just obsessed with maximizing that one hour. Like how many words can I fit into that hour. What can I do to become a better faster writer. How can I make this more efficient. I I’m technologies that was kind of my whole thing and I spent every day for months trying to engineer the best possible process to get faster and what it comes down to for me is I write full tilt in what I call writing sprints for a fixed period of time in my case I like 20 minutes I’ll start a timer and I get to write for 20 minutes with no interruptions. So you’re not going to allow the internet your turn it off to turn your phone off. You know you go into the bathroom ahead of time. You’re making sure there’s no interruptions and for that 20 minutes. All I do is write I’m not allowed to go back in and edit I can’t stop writing. I just finished that chapter. And the idea there is sure there’s going to be tons of editing that needs to happen after the fact. But I can wait until I finish the writing to do that. So I focus everything on that initial production getting those words down. And I found that segregating writing and editing that way really really help my productivity.
James Rubart: [00:05:15] Ok. Talk to us Chris about the cause you hear this bandied about all the time. Kill the editor kill the editor kill the editor and just write. But how do you how did you train your brain to do that.
Chris Fox: [00:05:25] I kind of made it into deal with my mind. You know the critic and we all have an inner critic and I told my self critic listen you can tell me that something is wrong you can make a note of it but you can’t really harp on and force me to fix it right now. So if I write some dialogue that I feel is clunky for example I’ll make note of it and NATO jot down something in the margin that I need to come back later and work on that but that’s all the time that I get my critical self when I’m writing. And over time you know with this deal that I made myself. I’ve gotten better at turning that voice off because that voice knows that when I’m done I am going to put my editors hat on and I am going to go back and do all the same work. So it’s sort of forgiving yourself doing it right now because you know for a fact I’m going to do it later.
James Rubart: [00:06:08] Did that take time. In other words did did it take time for you to get to that point. Did that voice argue with you for months or years or did it. Did it come fairly quickly.
Chris Fox: [00:06:18] It took probably several months. And like I think a lot of beginning authors I got into this right where I would start writing a paragraph. And I would tinker on the prose and you know at the end of the day I would have added 57 words because I read the same paragraph 19 different times. This whole process is designed to stop that kind of walk that we fall into where we can’t produce because we are stuck doing the same thing over and over and over.
James Rubart: [00:06:45] You know that’s so good.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:06:46] And I think it’s really powerful and I want to underline it and that is you’re not saying you’re not going to fix it because I think a lot of people feel like they have to tell their editor this is never going to get better. This will always be terrible you’re just saying I’m not going to fix it now. And in a sense you’re getting procrastination to work for you instead of against where you’re procrastinating the editing and you’re just writing like crazy rather than trying to kind of have everything be perfect as it goes along.
Chris Fox: [00:07:16] Exactly and what this did for me long term is I found that once you start seeing errors so let’s say I wrote 40000 words and then I went back to edit those 40000 words and I found the same nervous writing text like maybe I overuse the word or I make the same mistake or you know like in my first novel I didn’t know what a comma was. If you’re making those kinds of mistakes consistently once you see it you can still write very fast but you’ll stop making that mistake. So the more you do this process where you’re doing is writing sprints. The Cleaner you’re writing gets and it gets to a point now where I can turn out at 80000 word novel in about three weeks and then I have to do only one pass of editing before a publish that.
James Rubart: [00:07:57] Say that again Chris.
Chris Fox: [00:07:58] So I guess what I’m saying is you’re self editing speed will improve dramatically by making yourself write fast.
James Rubart: [00:08:05] That makes a lot of sense.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:08:06] I think Jim just fell out of his chair when you said just one path of editing.
James Rubart: [00:08:12] No no I actually not. I was fascinated by it because that’s me too. I do not have to do draft after draft after draft after draft. What what I’m interested in and I know this is part of your five point process. Chris I want you to address this but you do say I think the second step is no what you were going to write if I know what I’m going to write going in and I’m I’m kind of a classic pantser but if I know what I’m going into right now I can absolutely scream through I mean I can you know pump out probably you know 2000 2500 words an hour. But to get up to 5000 that definitely seems like a stretch. So anyway that’s a bit of a digression. Take us through your five step process.
Chris Fox: [00:08:53] Wow I haven’t seen my five steps in forever.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:08:55] I take this off your website doing research for this show if you’d like I can feed you the name of a step and you can tell us what it means.
Chris Fox: [00:09:02] Please please do it. I’m happy to say what that is. So step one is clear the decks.
[00:09:08] Ok so clearing the decks is very straightforward when you sit down at your computer. You have you know a videogame open in one tab and you’ve got nine different Facebook tabs open and a whole bunch of e-mail stuff open and all these distractions going it’s going to be very very difficult for you to sit down and just write. So the very first thing that I tend to do when I’m borrowing this from John Cleese he gave a wonderful talk on creativity and well he said you needed to do was to create a tortoise enclosure where you’re not going to be interrupted and the first step of that. Is anything anything anything that could be interrupted needs to be destroyed. So turn off your e-mail turn off your phone go in the house go to the bathroom get your coffee made. Anything that’s going to prevent you from writing that might cause you to look away or stop. Clear the decks get that taken care of so that you eliminated every external excuse that’s going to prevent the writing.
[00:10:02] And if you’re on a Mac there’s a do not disturb mode now that you can turn on on your Mac itself where the things that would normally pop up and notify you can get suspended. And I know Scrivner and several other writing apps now have distraction free mode which when Scrivener came out with that it was like revolutionary change the world and everyone else like oh yeah we’ll steal that feature but it hides the whole screens. There’s nothing to see but words on a white page just think really powerful. OK. Step two know what you’re going to write.
Chris Fox: [00:10:33] So what I do is every morning I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and I go to the gym and I spend the first hour working out. And what I’m doing mentally during that hour is I’m thinking about the scenes that I’m going to write that day. So maybe I have them meticulously thought out which is usually the case these days I’m on my current novels. But back in the day it was not the case I was more of a pantser. But by playing the movie projector in my head and thinking about the scenes when I actually went to sit down at my desk I knew what the scene was about. I knew the emotional states of the characters and kind of what they were after in a given scene and I found that if I did that before I sat down the words just flowed. But if I didn’t if I just sat down on the computer and sort of looked at my outline and tried to figure out what chapter I was going to work on sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t. But knowing consistently what it was that I was going to write definitely helped get me into a flow state way way faster.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:11:25] So that is a hack right there. I hope you all heard what he just said about going to the gym and thinking about it and just having the freedom to think about it without trying to write. Man that is so powerful. And I will say that has happened to me a few times outlining episodes for Novel Marketing I’ll be in the gym and just episode after subtle comments to get off the treadmill or jotting down notes or at least ideas because there’s too much I can’t I can’t handle it. But that’s really good. Okay. Step 3 is start the clock. What is that.
Chris Fox: [00:11:53] So this is where I was talking about writing sprints. The idea is if you are writing against a clock you have pressure to keep putting words down on the page you’re much less likely to stop and go back and look at what you’ve written and what this does is get you into a flow state. So for for those that are not neuroscience geeks there is a trackable brain state that we refer to as flow state or zone. You’ll often hear athletes call it and if you think about the best chapter that you ever wrote it probably happened when you were in flow state where the words just came and you got to the end of it and you’re like oh my god I can’t believe that was me. Well your goal by starting the clock is to train your brain to get to flow state as fast as possible and do it in less than 30 seconds. Now. And to write in flow state for the whole time so you you’re not only putting down the fastest words you can get but you’re doing the best work you can get.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:12:42] That’s amazing. And the book Flow that that concept comes from is based off some really solid science so he’s not just like making up words here I can tell you that flow really is a well researched thing and it’s also that I didn’t mention this I think but it also makes it more rewarding like being in flow is what makes video game so fun it makes it so what makes watching a movie so fun you’ll actually will enjoy the writing more if you’re in flow while you’re doing it.
Chris Fox: [00:13:10] Agreed.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:13:10] Step 4 is record the results.
Chris Fox: [00:13:13] So you can’t really think something that you are not tracking and I learned this when I was losing weight I lost 90 pounds at one point. I’ve since added 20 back. At one point I lost 90 pounds. And how do you do that is you tracked meticulously every calorie that goes into your body in that same way. I track my writing so every single time I’ve finished writing a sprint I write down the time that I started the time that I stopped and the number of words that I got down and all sorts of interesting things start coming to light as you do this over time. I learned that I write faster in the morning than I do in the evening. And I learned that if I have a sprint that’s longer than 20 minutes I tend to slow down my productivity. So those types of sprints work for me whereas some my students will go for a full hour. And that works better for them.
Chris Fox: [00:13:59] So I track again everything that I write and I do that because tracking things enables you to improve it and you don’t even have to do that much your brain is automatically going to try to make things more efficient if it knows that today you are able to do 11 hundred words tomorrow it’s probably going to try to push you to infinity.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:14:16] There’s a saying in business what gets measured gets managed and often all you have to do as a manager to improve the performance of your employees is measure them. This applies to measuring yourself as well. This is really solid OK final step learn from the work. What is this.
Chris Fox: [00:14:32] I talk to so many writers and part of the reason why they haven’t published their first novel is they’re worried about what the world is going to think and what I tell these authors is that you are not the words. If theoretically we all need to crank out two million words and for good how you do that is finishing stories. So when you’re done in the fifth step you take these words that you’ve written and you read them critically. You spend as much time as you need figuring out what can be improved. What you can do better as an author because this is like the recovery part of working out. This is where you are actually growing as a writer when you’re studying and revising those words and learning how to do it better next time and often times for new writers. It’s easier to do that if you have a writing coach or a developmental editor that can sort of shine the spotlight on your flaws. However you do it. Look at that writing and see how you can do it betetr.
James Rubart: [00:15:22] Ok so Chris I love the things you’ve said here and you’ve taught this you’ve gotten feedback I’m guessing from a lot of writers at this point who have tried it. What blocks have you seen them come up against as they step in to trying this method.
Chris Fox: [00:15:36] So I’ve worked with wow like I don’t know 25000 authors at this point. I think of the system I would say probably about 5 percent of those authors simply cannot turn off their inner critic and they’re unable to do the allowing typos to slide and just write as fast as you can. And to those people I say if you try it it’s really not working for you can remove the writing Sprint part of it. That’s the number one hurdle I don’t hear a lot of other curdles beyond that except for people trying to set too aggressive of a goal or to set too long of a timer. I’m a huge fan of so like a five minute timer for writing sprint when your first getting started and maybe make your daily goal like a thousand words not 5000.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:16:18] And turn off spellcheck for five minutes so you don’t get all those red squiggly says.
Chris Fox: [00:16:22] Yes if that bothers you and me and you have to go back and fix those and some of us have that OCD tech then yeah just turn it off and you can always turn the page and call them later.
James Rubart: [00:16:29] What I love what you said earlier and I think I want to emphasize this that you’re saying hey I found out my perfect sprint is 20 minutes somebody else it might be 15 minutes for somebody else it might be 35 so to experiment and find out what your optimum sprint distance or sprint time is.
Chris Fox: [00:16:44] Exactly.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:16:45] So what do you have any tools to make writing faster easier. Like what do you use what is your writing environment?
Chris Fox: [00:16:52] So my writing environment has changed over time I used to be a huge proponent of dictation and this is because my time is very limited. So what I would do is I would walk to the bus stop and then for the first 10 minutes while I waited for the bus I would speak into my headphones it looked like I was talking an iPhone. And I record those words and then I sat down on the bus thing with dump them into the Dragon app. And I could pour those words right into my existing manuscript so dictation. If you are starved for time it’s a skill like anything else. It takes some time to learn you have to speak your dictation. But it could dramatically accelerate the writing and dictation is why the name of the book is 5000 words per hour. I can theoretically type 5000 words per hour but realistically the only times I’ve ever hit that is when I was using dictation because the human an average human will speak a 150 words a minute versus you know typing closer to 50.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:17:42] And we will do an episode on dictation at some point in the future because I know a lot of authors who use this and it is a learned skill. It’s not just as simple as talking into a voice recorder although maybe for 10 minutes you could get away with that but if you’re going to write a whole book in dictation there’s some there are some tricks to it. I know Joanne tippin is a big advocate of dictation. She is quite a bit is Chris a couple of questions for you. One is is it better for writers to practice this on a piece there I’m not as emotionally invested in or does that not really matter.
Chris Fox: [00:18:14] I don’t think it really matters. I know people are using this for their thesis or for college homework or other things. Anything you’re writing is going to get you into the right habits. So if you can start with something you’re not emotionally invested in just for practice I think it’s a great idea because we have less ego associated with it. But you know this is the book you always wanted to write don’t let that stop you.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:18:32] All right. So I want to put this into practice today. Let’s say what do I do what tips do you have for somebody who they’re going to hit stop on the podcast they’re immediately going to try to write their 5000 words.
Chris Fox: [00:18:44] Ok well first I would go to Chris Fox right Dot and I would download the 5000 words for our book and read it which take about an hour. But assuming you didn’t want to do it I would get on a stopwatch a pad of paper or a spreadsheet whichever you’re more comfortable with. And I would set that timer for five minutes and force yourself to write full tilt and see what happens. And just look at the words when you’re done count the number at a very low and you know usually most people are disappointed with their first writing sprint but just try it out and see what happened and then make a deal with yourself that every day for the next week at that same exact time you do 1 5 minute writing sprint and you’re going to keep practicing and see how it goes. And at the end of that week make a decision. This process is working for you. You know maybe invest a little bit time in reading the book and set it up so they are tracking all of your writing on the spreadsheet or this pad of paper they’re using.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:19:33] That’s right. And for those of you who have my book progress the WordPress plugin it actually has a dashboard where you can put in your daily words that you’re writing it will give you charts and graphs and e-mails and encouragement as you go. So I know many of you are using my book progress that’s a great way to do it. And even shares your progress with your readers and helps you build your list. Speaking of list though Chris you actually have to write 5000 words an hour for free. Is that right.
James Rubart: [00:19:58] What what are you kidding me. Oh my goodness. So they don’t have to go by it. I love it.
Chris Fox: [00:20:04] Yeah it’s been a free for for pretty much since it was released and ironically even though it is for free I have still sold 25000 copies of that book.
James Rubart: [00:20:13] Wow.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:20:13] So we will have links for those of you who would like to buy a copy for money on Amazon in the Senate so you scroll and in your app or for those of you who want to get the book for free in exchange for your e-mail address on Chris’s list we’ll have a link for that for you as well it’s your choice. You can also not buy it but you want to pay money or not pay money it’s up to you. But I will say you can unsubscribe from Chris’s e-mails if you don’t find them helpful. So I would recommend the free one.
Chris Fox: [00:20:42] Chris Where can people find out more about you already mentioned it but I’ll say it again Chris Fox Writes dot com I’ve got a YouTube channel with hundreds of videos to help you improve in every aspect of writing articles and other resources all available there and then of course the books fiction and nonfiction can be found.
James Rubart: [00:20:59] St. Thomas Do we have a sponsor for the novel Marketing Podcast this week.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:21:03] Yes. So the book launch a blueprint. Thanks to those of you who’ve registered already. If you’re on the fence just realize there’s only three days left to register. Registration ends at 11 fifty nine p.m. on August 31 so you can find out more about that novel marketing dot com. This is a small group of folks are a focus group of folks that Jim and I will be working with personally to help you watch your books if you want a team of people to help you want your book. I really do think you should check that out and if you want to know more just listen episode 150 we talked a lot about it so I won’t talk about it too much here but I do check that out at Novel marketing dot com and we have a featured patron.
James Rubart: [00:21:41] We do our featured patron this week is Cheryl Elton. She’s written a book pathway of peace living in a growing relationship with Christ pathway of peace explores key areas of life that helped cultivate enduring peace including handling stress which happens to us writers quieting the mind and forgiveness rich scriptural insights and inspiring stories will encourage and help you develop develop a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.
Thomas Umstattd: [00:22:12] And Cheryl thank you so much for being a patron. If you want to learn about becoming a patron and get our special patrons only podcast episodes which there are two every month you can find out more about that patreon dot com forward slash novel marketing.
James Rubart: [00:22:26] You have been listening to James L. Rubert Thomas Umstead Jr. and our special guest Chris Fox on another Marketing Podcast giving new novel ideas on how to promote yourself and your writing online. Online and everywhere in between. Thank you so much for listening.