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


Marketing Fun and the “If I Stay” Movie

Okay, so I don’t normally promote silly marketing ploys … even when they have to do with fantastic YA books.

But, this one is so darn fun.

I have to admit, I’m really excited that Hollywood is turning a bunch of contemporary YA books into movies! Books like If I Stay, The Spectacular Now, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Fault in Our Stars! These are books that deal with difficult subjects like alcoholism, death, and cancer, proving that YA (at least in the eyes of film) isn’t just fighting to the death in the latest and greatest Dystopian world. Not to say I don’t love Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Giver. I’m just really happy that difficult teen subjects are being taken seriously as subject matter worthy of film.

So yes, I’m gonna take a moment and share this silly promo gimmick for an absolutely wonderful novel (If I Stay by Gayle Forman) that comes out as a film in August.

What’s the gimmick? You can generate your own IF I STAY movie poster!

The movie poster is actually very beautiful and well designed:



And now you can insert your own photos into the poster’s design, like this:


Do you need this in your life. No. Is it fun. Absolutely. Did this gimmick work? Of course it did, here I am talking about it like a fool. I don’t know if this will make you see the movie, or better yet read the book, but at least my ten-minute internet distraction resulted in making something beautiful. And that’s worth something.

Create your own If I Stay movie poster here!

Now stop playing on the internet and go back to writing! 🙂

Immersion: The Writing Process

We each have our own writing processes, and every book demands to be written differently. While participating in the #writingprocess blog tour last month, I talked about how my current WIP has been a difficult project to wrap my brain around. I said:

“This book demands immersion. She demands focus for hours at a time. And I’m not talking half-assed freewriting or NaNoWriMo first draft word-puke. This novel wants my blood. I do the best I can to keep myself immersed in this novel as much as I can, because she likes to hole up and shut me out for weeks if I’m not diligent.”

I haven’t been diligent. I’ve allowed this project to hide in the back of my mind. I’ve been avoiding it.

So after failing to immerse myself in this novel, I’ve decided to dive in 100% and go for it. There’s no time like the present. I just dropped my fiance off at the airport and he won’t be back for five days. Which means I have five days without distractions. It also means I can turn my writing studio (which happens to be in our living room) into a shrine to this project.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. Say hello to my workspace this week:


Yup, I’ve covered the walls with all of the brainstorming I’ve done on this project: character sheets, outlines, mind-webs, questions I need to answer and more.


I’ve been working through John Truby’s 22 Steps of Story Structure:



I’ve collected setting and location images:


I’ve created character sheets with photos and lists of controlling beliefs, external goals, fears, moral needs, self revelations, and distinguishable traits.



As much as I’ve been avoiding this project … I can’t anymore. Not if I have to look at this every morning!


Lets hope this keeps me motivated!

I wish you all happy writing this week and the next. And if you have images of your work spaces, I’d love to see them!

Thrilled, Overjoyed, and Humbled…

I’m over the moon and elated to be able to share some very exciting news with all of you. After three years working on this project (and the countless years before when this project was a completely different novel, and a screenplay before that), I’m excited to announce …

My novel ALL WE LEFT BEHIND is going to be published!

Publishers Weekly Annoucement

Simon Pulse is the perfect home for this gritty YA romance between Kurt and Marion!  I’m truly humbled to have found an editor who loves this book as much as I do. Plus, how is it possible for me to not adore Sara Sargent after she described my novel on twitter like this:

Sara Tweet

Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel SPEAK is my all time favorite YA book and Simone Elkeles is a powerhouse in the romance department, and my new editor just compared my novel to both!


If that wasn’t enough excitement to have me on cloud nine, I can’t be thankful enough for the outpouring of congratulations and love that I received yesterday on Twitter and Facebook. Having such a supportive writing community really makes these big moments even more meaningful. I genuinely cannot wait to celebrate the sale of each and every one of your books with you.

ALL WE LEFT BEHIND is a novel that has transformed me as a writer. It’s forced me to be brave. It’s demanded my time, my heart, and my fearlessness. I’m truly ecstatic that it will be coming out in Spring of 2016 and I’ll be able to share Marion and Kurt’s story with you.

There’s a lot of work ahead, but today we HAPPY DANCE!




Keeping Track of Time

Infinity-Time1One of the big struggles with writing is time. It takes months, and often years, to complete a novel. I find that a lot of fear gets wrapped up in that time investment.

For example, the idea of revisions after completing a draft is often met with a sinking sense of desperation. Not because we’re afraid to revise, but because it seems like we will never be done. We aren’t afraid of the work, so much as the time it will take to complete the work.

But how much time are we actually talking about?

I’ve started to wonder if our fear is due to the ambiguous nature of how much time we spend on a project. I can guarantee you that a novel that took eight years to write, wasn’t worked on every day. Most of us have full time jobs, families, and other commitments that demand our time. We chip away at our novels when we can find the space to schedule it. But what if the year it took to write a novel, only seems large because we worked on it in small pieces? What if we actually kept track of the time we spent on it?

One of my new year’s resolutions is to keep a writing time sheet. This isn’t glamorous by any means, but I’m finding it really helps to manage my writing expectations. I started this process when I wrote my NaNoWriMo novel. My goal was to find out when I was most productive, but an unexpected byproduct was getting to see the actual hours I spent on the project.

Like a job, I started to see how many hours I actually put into a week. It wasn’t nearly as many as I thought. I also got to see how productive I was during those hours (far more productive!).

Writing Timesheet Example

At the end of the month, this was my NaNoWriMo weekly breakdown:

  • Week One:  8 ½ hours
  • Week Two:  10 ¼ hours
  • Week Three:  17 ¼ hours
  • Week Four: 2 hours

Total Hours: 38 hours

As it turns out, I didn’t even put in a 40-hour week to get to 50,000 words and write my NaNo novel. Wow!

Of course, I could say I spent a month on this project. But in actuality, it was closer to about one work week, spread out over a month. The numbers also break down to about an hour and a half of writing a day, over 30 days.

Not all novels are a manic sprint like NaNoWriMo. In December, I only worked 16 hours on my steampunk novel, and I only have 13,000 words to show for it. But it’s nice to know the exact amount of time I’ve put into it. If I buckle down and write 16 hours a week this month, I’ll probably have a finished draft by the end of it. Plus, 16 hours a week is only 2 ½ hours a day. I could easily put in those hours if I stopped watching TV or surfing facebook!

Time sheets are also great for identifying patterns. I always thought I was a morning writer, but it turns out I’m surprisingly prolific in the hour before bed … if I actually sit down to write.

The point of all of this, is that time isn’t quite so scary if you see how you’re using it. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to master your craft. How will you know if you’re a master if you don’t keep track of your hours?

I highly suggest keeping a time sheet. You might be amazed and empowered by the patterns you discover.