How to produce 17k words in 2 days

The past year has been a big one. I ended a relationship, lost several friends to illness and accidents, and have been sick for a large chunk of the year…

But this year has also been awesome.

How To Write This Book came out and immediately became a bestseller. Overdeliver with Brian Kurtz and Why Didn’t Anybody Tell Me This Sh*t Before with Marcella Allison both launched and are thriving. 

And of course, the Business of Writing Podcast went live with a bang last week too.

So, grateful as I am, it might not surprise you that I was pretty tired by last weekend. I could feel burnout coming, but I had two books due at the end of July. It was not the moment to stop.

Instead, I opted for silence. 

I rented a car, packed way too many books in a backpack, and drove 2 hours out of Lisbon to a 20-house village called Mendiga. 

(My MO is to open Google Maps, find a big patch of green, zoom in until somewhere in the middle emerges to stay.)

Each morning, I drove to a trailhead and hiked across scrubby moors for a few hours. 

Each afternoon, I mainlined instant coffee and worked like a fiend until the sun started dropping and my see-the-sunset-over-the-mountains FOMO kicked in. 

I didn’t talk to anyone for 3 days, and that’s how I wanted it.

By the end, I’d smoothed out 17,000 words for one of the books (nearly 50% of what I need for the final draft), and pieced together several chapters’ worth of raw material for the other.

And that right there is the key.

The raw material.

People are surprised that I can produce 4 books in a year. But it’s not that I work harder than anyone else or that I’ve got some unique gift.

I just prepare better than other people.

Most of my projects happen on 12 or 16-week timelines. I spend the first 4 to 6 weeks interviewing the client. That’s all I do. I talk to them, and transcribe the important bits. I write lists of questions and ask them things over and over until I understand, and transcribe some more. Then I walk around town thinking about what they tell me, and telling anyone else I can make listen.

And then, when the interviews are done and I’ve faffed around for a few days, I start getting itchy. Suddenly there’s this urgency to start working that raw material right now and I get this thrill when I open the transcripts and find that all the threads are there, waiting to be braided together.

That’s when all those chunks of raw material, all the conversations and questions and bullet points and notes-to-self start transforming into material someone else could actually read.

It happens in silence. That quick, magic moment sparks when I have a long stretch of time and such profound quiet that I can hear my own thoughts, and only my thoughts.

I’m lucky to have the option to go to nature when I need recharging, to be able to seek out silence and sink into it when progress must be made.

But I think all creative people need this, and even the people who wouldn’t call themselves creative (really, we’re all creative in some way). Do it for yourself, even if the best you can do right now is going to a local park and lying on the grass for a few minutes.

The quiet hum of the earth, the moment you choose to give to yourself — that’s where the magic comes from. That’s what allows you to take your raw material and spin it into something strong and special.

So take your moments. Befriend silence. Go to the work recharged. This is how you turn out 17k words in two days.