How I Wrote 17K Words In Just Two Days
I’m surprised that I want to write this. I’ve written more in the last two days than I’ve probably written in the last year. And yet here I am, sitting across from the wood-burning fire in my fancy room at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, itching to write more.
The last two days were my personal retreat this year. It isn’t over yet, I have a few hours left on the clock, but I’ve already hit my goal. It’s time to relax at the spa and yet I want to keep writing.
I’m a big fan of personal retreats. They’ve been immensely profitable for me. To save you another click, I’ll recap briefly that these retreats are two nights every December away at a fancy resort and present an opportunity for me to tackle a big project. It’s 48 hours of creative freedom. No family obligations, no timeline, just me.
It’s wonderful. I can recall every resort, every project, every quantum leap I gained from doing this. My wife supports them too because, well, they make money (and she knows I love it and wants me to be happy.)
When I left Scripted this past April I set three goals to accomplish before the following April. They were:
- Grow Toofr and find a second income stream so I don’t need to get another office job.
- Write a book about startup tactics and parallel entrepreneurship.
- Figure out my pathway to public office.
I’ve spent my work weeks focusing on #1. Toofr is growing well and it’s generating enough income to support me after Scripted. My stretch goal is to spin up a second income stream, and the most promising one I have now is Inlistio.
At night I’ve been working on #2. I started writing more about parallel entrepreneurship in the last few months, dipping my toe into the topic and getting reactions. My friends are supportive. They say it’s timely. The “side hustle” trend has been around for a long time, but my spin on it might best be described as a “side-side-side hustle.”
Meaning, if you can do one side hustle, why can’t you do three?
I found a terrific designer in Napa to put some book cover ideas together for me. Here’s my favorite one.
Finally, for #3, I’ve also begun talking to my local representatives and leaders of the county Democratic Party about getting connected and laying the groundwork for my eventual campaign for office. I’m not as far along on this front yet but I still have a few months before next April.
So this retreat was all about #2. My book. I set a word count target of 25K and went into the retreat with 13K written, most of it done on a flight to and from Chicago back in October. I wrote the outline earlier in the year and sporadically would pick a section and tackle it. It was a good tempo but I knew that nothing would work better than a 48 hour session of focused writing.
I had concerns going into it, though. I’ve never written this much before. Would I get sick of it? What if I hit writer’s block? Would the whole retreat be wasted? Is it even possible to write 12,000 words in two days? I wasn’t sure.
I arrived at the Fairmont around 3pm. My room wasn’t ready yet but the registration desk welcomed me with two tall glasses of champagne. I guess they’re not used to guys booking suites to be alone. I double-fisted over to the beautiful lobby and fired up my laptop. I did a word count to confirm my starting point: 12,700 words.
Day 0: Commit the book to RAM
My goal for this first day was essentially to store the whole book in my brain, the equivalent of RAM in computer memory. Faster access this way, so as I wrote I could keep referring to the context of the entire book, remembering where I wrote something similar in another section so I can draw the connection.
I also wanted to make sure I was happy with the overall outline. I skimmed the entire book, read the notes I’d put in the sections I hadn’t written yet, made line edits to the introduction and forward, and re-formatted all of the headings. I also expanded the introductions to the major sections, finding that there was more to say about why I structured the book the way I did.
At the end of the night, around 10pm, I had just under 17,000 words written.
Day 1: Write. A lot.
I woke up the next morning with a simple goal in mind: 20,000 words before lunch. I wanted to run, have breakfast, and take a shower so I figured I wouldn’t start writing until 9am or so, and gave myself a target rate of 1K words per hour.
At about 7:45am I had my running gear on and headed out into the crisp Sonoma air. It felt odd to not have a stroller to push or dog pulling me. It was probably the first time in a year that I ran alone. I did a 30 minute loop, ending at a diner around the corner from the Fairmont property.
It was a local joint. The young guy behind the register was the son of the owner and he welcomed every guest with a “Hey Gus” or a “Morning Dan, the usual for ya?” I sat at the counter and ordered my usual, an omelette and coffee, and listened to the guys around me banter about seed trucks and tax breaks and the terrible Sonoma fire.
Back at the hotel I showered, put on some nice clothes (I always dress up for my personal retreats,) went down to the lobby and dove in, starting on page 1 and going through the book bit by bit, filling in more gaps, writing new sections, moving text around. I pulled in writing I’ve already published on Medium and found drafts of writing I did in Evernote but never published. I discovered that my interest in this project actually goes back two years. The timestamps on the Evernote drafts of topics I’d also outlined in my Google Docs manuscript shocked me.
Have I really been thinking about doing this for over two years? Hey, time flies. Copy, paste, edit. That was a nice way to get a jump on 500 words.
I crossed 20,000 words and sat at the bar for lunch. I gave my hands and eyes a rest and didn’t multi-task. The tuna nicoise salad was excellent and I set another goal for myself: 25,000 words before dinner. This would be a push and commitment to writing 1K words per hour for five hours straight.
I went back to one of the leather couches by the huge lobby fireplace and continued where I left off before lunch.
I found that I don’t have the same stamina for writing words that I do for writing code. I can regularly get in the flow for 2–3 hours when coding. The time just goes. When I’m writing I need to take breaks about every hour. In the course of the entire retreat, I think I only did one two-hour stretch of writing. At some point, around the thousandth word, I hit a little wall. I have to stand up, stretch, and walk around.
In those walks I’d recall what it’s like to run a marathon. If you can get to the second half, you can be pretty certain that you’ll finish. Then you hit that infamous wall around mile 20 and it takes a lot of fortitude to knock out the last six miles.
Writing a book is like that too. I committed to finishing it at this retreat because I’d already written the first 13,000 words. I’d done a writing half-marathon. And true to form, the distance between the 20,000th and 25,000th word was difficult. I checked the word count often, too often, between my lunch and dinner targets. I was dying to get to 25,000 words. And then I did it.
Around the corner from the Fairmont, in the opposite direction of the breakfast diner, is a BBQ joint. I recalled driving by it on the way here and took note. I didn’t feel like eating alone at the hotel restaurant and ribs and brisket and heavy ale sounded perfect.
I’d just finished a marathon, after all.
After dinner, on my walk back to the Fairmont, I got a crazy idea. It was about 6pm. Could I get to 30,000 words before midnight? Should I push and do it?
It bothered me that I still wasn’t done with every section of the book. The hardest parts were done, the sections with fewest notes, the lightest outlines. I knocked them out. The remaining sections were easy, even fun for me to write. I had good notes. It was running still but it was running on a slight downhill grade surrounded by shady oaks.
Okay, I said. Let’s do it. I had another Red Bull in the refrigerator at the hotel, poured it over ice, and headed back to the lobby. I wanted the sound of the other hotel guests to keep me energized. And it did.
At 10:50pm they did last call at the bar. I ordered a Manhattan and by the time it arrived I’d crossed the 30,000 word threshold.
I cheers’d my screen and took a picture.
Day 2: Retreat from the retreat
The fire log lit earlier this morning is almost out. I’m still in the bathrobe I put on, meaning to go down the mineral pools and soak it all in. Then I was going to eat at the hotel restaurant, ignoring the price of their $28 omelettes, letting myself splurge.
Instead, I wrote another 1700 words. Go figure. It’s probably too late to hit the pools and make it back in time for breakfast.
But alas my hour is up. I need to walk around, stretch, give my head a rest.
There will be more to write later.