Tips For Flash
By Cheryl Bolen
Many of you have read a previous article I did on Book in a Week.
For many people, especially those of you who work full time, finding
seven days in which to write uninterrupted is impossible. I've honed a
technique I call "Mini Book in a Week."
I've done this Mini BIAW several times, most recently last June.
After Zebra announced it was closing the line I wrote for, I completely
stopped writing my work-in-progress because I had not been paid for it
and thought Zebra would not continue its plans to publish it. Then, more
than two months later, my check came in the mail--and Zebra was still
holding me to my original deadline.
So, I found myself a hundred pages short of where I needed to be
in order to get the book done on time. I decided I would do a quick 100
pages. I had two full days sandwiched between two half days in which to
get this 100 pages done.
I accomplished my goal.
Those 100 pages, though, were far from being publishable. But they
were written, and that is the hard part. I am unable to write just
anywhere. I can, however, edit anywhere. I edit (rewrite) in bed before
I go to sleep for the night. I edit while waiting in dentists' and
doctors' offices. I edit whenever my husband and I are in the car (with
him driving). I carry the chapter I'm editing everywhere I go. Editing,
for me, is the easy part of being a novelist.
Nora Roberts, the most published romance writer of all time, says
"you can fix anything but a blank page."
As a rough rule of thumb I spend three to four hours editing for
every hour writing. During the editing, I usually add at least one page
for every 10 written. While editing, I think of myself as a poet. It's
at this stage I vary sentence patterns, eliminate repetitive words, try
to add original similes and metaphors, look up facts, and layer in
descriptions and sensory details. I always save the sensory details for
last. I'll explain why shortly. Since I write historical, it's important
that my writing have a lyrical quality in it. Because this does not come
naturally to me (I spent 20 years as a professional journalist), I have
learned to layer that in, too.
Typically, I print each chapter between seven and eleven times,
correcting and polishing extensively with each printing. It amazes me
how much still needs to be improved with each "clean" chapter
to be edited. Once I'm fairly sure I've caught everything, then I can
look through a really clean manuscript to ask myself if I can picture a
scene. Can I see the sun shining on the heroine's hair? Can I see the
expression on the hero's face? What does the wind feel like? How does
the heroine smell? That's when I add in the sensory details.
But in order to have those pages to edit, how did I whip out 100
pages in a mere three days?
During the two full days of writing, I wrote from about 9 a.m. to
about 10 p.m. I did not do housework, nor did I cook. In fact, I did
nothing but write. Even when my back was (I thought at the time) killing
me, I wrote.
Each of the full days I wrote, I set a goal of 40 pages a day. For
me, that translates to 10 pages between breakfast and lunch, ten pages
between lunch and a short power nap, ten pages between nap and dinner
and ten pages between dinner and bed. Therefore, I had a built-in
inducement: if I didn't meet my goal, I couldn't eat or go to bed!
In order to write this quickly, there are a few simple rules:
1. Do not read over a single word you have written. Not before you
write, not when you are writing.
2. Do not print.
3. Do not look up facts, hair/eye color or proper names. That can
be done later in the editing stage. I use place holders, such as
Not long after I joined RWA in 1993 I recall hearing Susan Wiggs
say (in a workshop) that while she was writing, she never looked up her
historical facts. She wrote in the daytime. At night, she sat in the
same room with her family, and that was when she would look up facts.
She had a young child at the time, and it was important for her to spend
time with her family.
Wigg's talk was on time-management for writers. She could have
written the book on it. She taught full time while she wrote her first
several books and still managed to crank out long, historical
novels--and had a pre-school aged daughter.
Hearing Wiggs say that was a Eureka! moment for me. I had done so
darn much bird-walking away from work-in-progress looking up historical
details. We must learn there has to be writing time, time when we do
nothing but write, and if we don't allow ourselves that, we won't have
finished books to market.
Just as there are don't for my flash writing, there can be some
do's. These work for me:
1. Drink caffeine, even if you're restricted. Two/three days won't
kill you, and it really helps keep you mentally alert.
2. Give yourself mini breaks to ease the aching back.
3. Set realistic goals and stick to them. You can do 40 pages a
4. Go forward, never backward.
5. Use place holders for things that need to be looked up later.
This flash writing method--for most of us--does not come
naturally. I'm no exception. As writers, we love to read and reread and
reread our written words. Even when there's no room for improvement, we
still reread because we're in love with our words. Such rereading is
hazardous to our writing careers. We must go forward. There's a time for
rereading, and that time should not be during what I call the
Before I close this piece I feel compelled to point out that these
methods may not be helpful to beginning writers. I had already written
10 books (only two of which were published) when I did my first BIAW. By
then, I like to think I had a handle on dialogue, characterization and
Even now, I have to know where my plot's going. Before I can sell
a book on proposal, I first sit down and plot the book. To help me plot,
I use Christopher Vogler's book The Writer's Journey: Mythic
Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters. I heartily recommend
I also recommend that those of you who need to finish those
contest-winning books challenge yourselves to a mini BIAW.
This article was first published in Happily Ever After in the
November/December 2002 issue.