How to UP Your Word Count and Write Like a Boss! (Part 2)

Keep calm and write onGuest Post by Sheryl Scarborough

We shouldn’t be surprised or amazed when our writing suddenly starts to click. After all, this is what we’ve been practicing, perfecting, mastering and perhaps even MFA’ing, right? So it makes sense that as we grow as writers we will become more proficient. We will find our centers and words will flow.

But as all writers also know, the magic word faucet can suddenly and inexplicably develop a clog. So for those times – and regular times, too – I asked some of my successful writer friends to share their methods.

My friends publish a LOT of books and I’m predicting this blog will be relevant for some years to come, so I’m not listing their recent sales next to their names. Instead, I’m including a link to their websites where you will find the most up-to-date info on their publishing successes. Please do yourself a favor and check them out.

Kelly Barson, and Melanie Fishbane, don’t worry about word count per se but both of them try to get through a complete scene in one sitting. Then if they feel like they can go further, they do. I call this PACING YOURSELF.

The prolific Kekla Magoon, admits to not being very scheduled or orderly, but she writes up against DEADLINES so she sets daily goals for herself depending on chapters, pages and scenes. She also swears by Scrivener, saying it has enhanced her productivity. Kekla’s method seems to be GUN-TO-THE-HEAD + PROPER TOOLS = WORDS ON THE PAGE.

Carrie Jones, sets ridiculously low word count goals for drafting, then celebrates when she goes beyond that goal. She also points out that failure to meet her goals would result in starvation, so there is that. I’m calling Carrie’s method SURVIVAL as MOTIVATION.

Kristen Kittscher is another author/friend who advocates SCRIVENER. “Scrivener helped me speed up immensely because I feel freer to jump around and write where the energy is,” she says. I call this creativity freed through proper tools.  FORGET WILLIE… FREE YOUR CREATIVITY!

nanowrimo_logov101Heather Demetriios-Fehst just offered up two words – “Use SCRIVENER.”  I’ll forgive her the brevity since she has already released TWO books this year. This is the third vote for Scrivener… It’s starting to have an impact on me.

Tammy Subia did something she never thought she would do. She wrote a complete first draft of a novel in four months and she was anxious to share her secrets.

Tammy has identified three things that really worked for her and they might work for you, too.

  • One: she set weekly word goals instead of daily ones, but she kept a daily chart of what she accomplished. She said just seeing the progress each day spurred her on the next day.
  • Two: She read her first chapter to a non-writer friend who really loved it and kept asking to hear more. Consequently, she wrote more to satisfy her friend.
  • Three: this might be her most important technique of all. Tammy described feeling like this book needed to be written. She wanted the story to be told so badly she couldn’t stop writing it! I’m going to call this DRIVE (and for the record I’m picturing Nick Cage behind the wheel of a muscle car when I say this.)


Everyone seems to employ a different technique. Below is the full list. Feel free to be creative. Try on different ones. Pick and choose. Combine two or three. Experiment and see if you can’t UP your output. And if you do… write to us and let us know.

GET A RUNNING START Hold something back for the next day
DEVELOP A ROUTINE Write everyday.
KNOWLEDGE + TIME + ENTHUSIASM Know what you’re going to write, put in the time and be excited about your story.
PACE YOURSELF One word after the other until you get to the end.
RESPECT DEADLINES You can’t blow ‘em, so you get it done.
WRITE FOR FOOD You can’t eat promises and I should’ves.
DRIVE Find a story that demands to be written.
KEEP A WORD COUNT Set word count goals, daily or weekly. It piles up.
USE SCRIVENER Yay for sophisticated writer tools.

As for Scrivener – I’m going to buy it and use Scrivener for my revision process. I will report back in my next blog.

Here are some Scrivener tutorials that came up in a search on I haven’t looked at any of them yet… but I plan to.


Be sure to read the first half of this amazing two-part series: How to UP Your Word Count and Write Like a Boss! (Part 1)

More guest posts by Sheryl:

Sheryl Scarborough - Photo by Russell Gearhart PhotographyOver the years, Sheryl Scarborough has written: TV series, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, magazine articles, Business Plans, Direct Music Marketing letters (as Mariah Carey, MC Hammer and others), Corporate Newsletters and Restaurant and Theater Reviews (for free food and great seats!) Now she writes what she really loves which are YA mysteries and thrillers.

Follow Sheryl on Twitter: @scarbo_author

Read more by Sheryl on her blog: Sheryl Scarborough Blog


Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud

Dystropian Task ForceHave you been reading the Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Cooper’s blog? If not, you should!

I participated in the series back in January with my thoughts on breaking the rules of character development, but my fellow VCFA dystropian classmates (who are fast selling books, getting agents, and taking the writing world by storm) have posted a ton of amazing articles for you to devour. The posts include life lessons on writing, hard truths, and of course a picture of a cute dog!

How could you resist?

Check out the awesomeness:

Journal Writing and Craft  by Melanie Fishbane

Writing Truth and Authenticity Amidst the Noise by Jessica Denhart

Writing Lessons Learned from My In-laws by Jeff Schill

What Travel Writing Taught Me About Fiction by Steve Bramucci

A Cute Picture of My Dog … And Words About my Writing Life by Rachel Lieberman

The Top 10 Uses for an Action Scene by Sheryl Scarborough

Breaking the Rules of Character Development by Ingrid Sundberg

Show vs. Tell

Telling-vs.-ShowingGuest post by Peter Langella

Versus is key.

Most writing books and classes and critiques and seminars will say “show don’t tell,” but I think we can all agree that showing isn’t always possible or appropriate. Some things can be told, and that’s okay. The only stories that are realistically going to show the reader everything are ones told in first person present tense with a limited timeline. Everything else needs to be written in a combination of showing and telling, just not both at the same time, or one immediately after the other.

That’s where versus comes in. Show something or tell something; don’t do both.

Sounds often trigger my thought process. Both music and the spoken word. Even sound effects sometimes. They often help me better understand something I’ve been thinking about. So it came as no surprise that I had a revelation about this topic while I was driving in my car listening to the morning news. I found that the most engaging news – and news reporters – balanced their lead-ins and sound bites with an awesome clarity and precision, while reports I found less interesting were telling me the same things twice, the equivalent of a writer showing and telling the same piece of information.

I’m going to try to come up with a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean.

Host: Stock markets were up this morning in Hong Kong as Nike and Samsung both made large gains. Joe Smith has more…

Smith: Nike and Samsung each made a splash with new products this week, allowing them to secure large gains in the HKEx index…

The host and feature reporter both said the exact same thing. They just switched the words around a bit. That’s an obvious example, but it’s what I often hear on the radio, and it’s what showing and telling sounds like on the radio.

As opposed to this:

Host: Stock markets were up this morning in Hong Kong as Nike and Samsung both made large gains. Joe Smith has more…

Smith: New products for Nike, like the Lebron Air 9 basketball shoe, got a boost before they even hit the stores this morning in New York. A similar response at Manhattan’s Nike Town flagship store could mean a record quarter for the Oregon-based sporting giant…

Smith now gives details and more information. In this second example, the story is getting moved forward, not laterally. If you’re a radio news listener, pay attention to your favorite reporters. I bet they rarely show and tell. It’s one or the other, always moving forward.

When revising, it’s our job to find these instances of show and tell and ask ourselves which one needs to stay. Show vs. tell. Which one fits the scene or situation?

851629-stench-bad-smellI’ll try a narrative example.

Jeff walked into the hall. The stench was awful. It filled his nostrils with a musky mix of molasses and Pepto-Bismol. It was sickening. His stomach felt nauseated.

That’s showing and telling. Telling the reader it’s awful and sickening, and then giving them details doesn’t work nearly as well as this:

Jeff walked into the hall. The stench stung his nostrils with a musky mix or molasses and Pepto-Bismol. His stomach gurgled and gagged in a nauseated mess.

Or this:

Jeff walked into the hall. The stench was so awful he nearly threw up.

Both examples work. One is shown, the other told, but they each work in their own way, depending on what scene they’re part of. They most definitely work better than the show and tell passages. Those passages don’t let the reader do anything. By showing and telling, we take all of the fun away from the reader. If we say something is simply awful, we need to allow the reader to decide what awful swells like. If we show them something’s awful, we don’t need to tell them it’s awful because they’ll already know.

Use showing to add power, emotion, and resonance to scenes. Use telling to get readers through necessary time jumps and story-leaps. Try to use both effectively and in balance with one another.

Versus not and.

Show vs. Tell.

Peter LangellaPeter Patrick Langella holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and writes in Vermont and thinks elevenses should be recognized by his employer.

Other posts by Peter:

Writerly Doubts?

writing-a-letterGuest post by Peter Langella

Dear Writer,

It’s easy to think that what you’re writing doesn’t matter. It could be years before it’s published, if it’s ever even published at all, and it’s hard to imagine that someone else is out there waiting to read your words.

You’re wrong.

While it’s true that many of the students I work with as a high school librarian are too concerned with their smartphones, sports teams, and other extra-curriculars to care much about your characters, there’s also a core group of readers out there practically salivating for more books.

I know one student who checks in daily about new books, even though he knows that we don’t get new books everyday. When I told him that we order many of our books online and therefore can’t necessarily pinpoint a delivery date, he simply insisted that was all the more reason for him to check daily. He just doesn’t want to miss the chance to read a new book before the rest of his peers.

girl with booksI know a girl who checks out so many books that we often have to ask her to return them because others have put them on hold. These conversations can get a little dicey. She reads multiple books at a time, and she is very protective over the books she’s reading. First she gets mad, then a little sad, then she starts coming up with terms to a deal, like what if she finishes book x by Thursday if I agree to renew book y for two more weeks? It’s refreshing to see her so connected to the books she loves.

There’s this one guy who has no joke read every graphic novel we have. He’s barely ever said a word to me, and he rarely checks a book out, but he always sits in the same chair during his free block, devouring graphic novels. I buy new ones for him based on the notes he drops in our suggestion box, and every once in a while I’ll hand him something I think he’ll like. He doesn’t respond, instead just retreating to his chair, but I know if he likes it or not by the amount of time he spends with a particular title.

Our state teen-choice reading award is called the Green Mountain Book Award. We have a display of the fifteen nominees for this year and a punch-card with pictures of all the book covers. Students who read at least four books on the list (and get four punches) are then invited a special voting/make-your-own-sundae party in the spring. The student or students with the most punches will receive a gift card to our local independent bookstore. Long story short, one girl read five of the books over the summer and wanted to make sure that she got credit for it. She said that one of the books is her new favorite book and the writer of that book is her new favorite author and her mom could come in and tell us all about how many times over the summer she read that book and the other ones too and could we please find a way to punch her card even though she didn’t check the books out of our library. I didn’t make her mom come in.

teen boy readingI know one boy who’s pretty athletic and usually hangs around with his teammates. When they’re done doing a little group work and chatting and it’s time to leave the library, he often lingers, fiddling with his backpack or pretending to tie his shoe, that kind of thing. Once his friends are gone, he’ll head to the fiction section to grab something to read. Sometimes he’ll talk about books or ask for a recommendation, too. After he makes his selection, he calmly places the book in his bag and walks out. I don’t think his “friends” have any idea that he reads so much, but who cares? He clearly loves it, and it’s okay that it’s a private activity for right now.

There’s a girl who always notices when a display changes. New nonfiction? She reads the blurbs. QR codes linking to book trailers? She whips her phone out immediately. A sign? Reads it. A post on our webpage? Asks about it. And no matter what, she always has a book under her arm. Or two.

Teen readingI enter the school building through a side door every morning. Without fail, I see two students in that section of hallway. The first is a girl sitting in the doorway of her first class, knees tucked up under her chin, a book about two inches away from her face. Sometimes she’ll look up and say hi, but most of the time she doesn’t. She’s too entranced with the novel. The second student is a guy who walks and reads. Sometimes he’s pacing up and down the hall, other times he’s practically spinning in circles, completely lost in the pages he’s trying to devour.

I could keep going, but I hope you get the point. These kids exist. Still. In 2013. Their brothers and sisters and friends exist, too. I see them every day. They crave your words at a level that is nearly impossible to explain, although I’ve tried. They need you to keep writing. They need you to stay confident. So please, the next time you feel overwhelmed by the blinking cursor in front of you, think of these readers or someone like them and just start typing. You never know who’s trying to peek over your shoulder from afar.

Peter LangellaSincerely,

Peter Langella

p.s. I needed this just as much as you did.

Peter Patrick Langella holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and writes in Vermont and thinks elevenses should be recognized by his employer.

Other posts by Peter:

Musicality and Reader Emotions

Guest Post by Peter Langella

brain-musicWhen I first began writing seriously, I was just telling stories. I wasn’t thinking about plot or structure or the concrete and abstract desires of my characters. Sure, a lot of that found its way into my drafts, but it wasn’t my focus when I brainstormed or sat at the keyboard.

That all changed when I become a writing student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. My faculty mentors and talented classmates made me question my intentions in every scene. Were my characters learning, failing, growing, or changing? Was my plot moving forward? Was I creating an emotional arc for my characters that future readers could connect with?

Because of questions like these (among the many other things I learned), I grew exponentially as a writer during my MFA experience. I’m now gaining confidence with my writing voice, and my drafting toolbox is larger and much more accessible.

However, the question I struggle with on a daily basis is the one about character emotions and reader connection. This literally keeps me up at night. Many, many nights. I used to think that I didn’t need to worry about a potential reader. Just be true to your characters, I’d tell myself. Write the story that needs to be written, I’d hear my past professors saying.

Just write the truth, for goodness sake!

the-great-gatsby-movie-posterThen I watched Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I was blown away, specifically by his use of modern music in the 1920’s setting. By choosing a soundtrack that features Jay-Z, Jack White, Beyoncé, Florence & the Machine, and many other contemporary artists, Luhrmann isn’t only telling the characters’ stories, he is speaking directly to the audience.

Now, I’m fully aware that Luhrmann’s music choices made most critics cringe, but I think it was extremely innovative, and similar choices can certainly be used by writers to make our books more relatable.

Seriously. I’m not crazy.

For example, during the first huge party that narrator Nick Carraway attends at Gatsby’s mansion, Luhrmann chooses to blare techno behind the visuals with vocals by Fergie and just a tiny hint of horns from the 1920’s. It’s jarring for the viewer, but it works because the character and viewer are experiencing the exact same thing. Nick Carraway has never heard music like this before, and he’s never been to a party so lavish. He’s completely out of his comfort zone. Viewers feel the same way. Most of us have never been to a party like that, either, and we’ve definitely never heard music like that paired with the visuals on the screen. We’re completely out of our comfort zone, too. If Luhrmann simply chose a jazz number new to Long Island that summer, Carraway would probably be feeling the same. He would still be blown away by the newness of the situation. But we wouldn’t be. We’d be thinking about the nice period piece we’re watching with timeless jazz music authentic to the era. We wouldn’t be feeling the exact same thing as the character, and the scene would be much less effective for that reason.


That’s what keeps me up at night. How can I – without the sounds and visuals that Luhrmann has at his disposal – create that exact connection?

Or, at least, how can I get it close?

In my current work-in-progress, one of my main characters is the son of a presidential candidate. Obviously, most people don’t know what it feels like to go through that. Neither do I. But many people know what it feels like to have a detached parent or someone at school who doesn’t like you as much as you like them or a friend who can’t talk for more than two minutes without making reference to some book or movie or TV show they watched recently.

The musicality, so to speak, is what happens in the background. It’s what the story is about, even though a hundred people could outline the plot and not mention these smaller items. These items that (hopefully) create an intense bond between the characters and a potential reader.

Looking for AlaskaWhen I read Looking for Alaska, I was blown away by the scenes where Pudge and The Captain hang out in their dorm room. Maybe it’s because I went to boarding school, so I could understand and appreciate the rhythm of the monotony. But maybe it was because that’s where the characters figured out who they were. When I think about that book, I don’t think about Alaska Young or any other characters or anything any of the other characters did. I only think about those quiet scenes where nothing and everything happened for me all at the same time.

So, whether you’re famous like Baz Luhrmann or John Green, or you’re just someone trying to write their heart out like me, take another look at your draft and ask yourself if there’s any room for musicality in it. Ask yourself if there’s a way for your characters to connect with readers on a profound level, even if it happens in a small or weird way that might not seem to have anything to do with your story. It could be a scene from the roaring 20’s with techno music or a chapter where two friends sit around talking about nothing, but it will probably be something brilliant that only you and your characters can team up to create.

Trust me, when you’re up at night thinking about it, I’ll be up thinking about my stuff, too.

Peter LangellaPeter Patrick Langella holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and writes in Vermont and thinks elevenses should be recognized by his employer.

Other posts by Peter: