Fiction and Writing

How To Be A Prolific Writer

This follows on from the post I threw together about how I wrote 5 books and 60+ serial episodes this year. That’s here. 

A lot of people, myself included, have the goal of earning enough from their writing to pay the bills and live comfortably. To do that you have to be pretty damn prolific, at least in the beginning. That can be difficult. This post looks at how to write more, regularly. I’ll also link through to some books that I haven’t read myself, but come highly recommend from a lot of prolific writers.

Full disclosure: I do only write when I’m inspired. I have however used the methods below to help get my mind into the writing state, and I do comfortably write 3,000 words an hour. If I can achieve what I did this year, with 3 months off due to burning out, and only writing when inspired, then think what you can achieve if you write every day. Or for five days a week if you prefer. 🙂

First things first, the maths. It sounds really quite scary saying “I’m going to write a novel a month.” A whole novel you say!? That’s not as bad as it sounds.

Let’s say you write 40wpm, that’s a reasonable pace for a touch-typist, you still have time to pause and think for brief moments.

I write spec-fic, so we’ll call a novel 80k words. Maybe you write romance or YA where that can be closer to 60k. For the sake of this, a novel is 80k words long.

If you write a steady 40wpm, you can write 2,400 words per hour.

Let’s say you do it in two stages to give your hands and wrists a 10 minute break, that’s then 2,000 words, with a 10 minute break.

If you can write for that one hour, for seven days a week, you’ll write 14,000 each week. That’s 56,000 words a month! That means it would only take you six weeks to write an 80,000 word novel. Assuming that you edit at a reasonable pace, and have an editor that can do the same, you could publish a book just over every other month.

You’d just need seventy minutes a day devoted to this endeavor – seventy minutes gives you the sixty to write, plus a little extra padding should you need it for editing and such. If you can give yourself a bit more time on weekends, then you’ll be truly set you release a book every other month.

When you break it down like that, it doesn’t like quite so scary does it?

Now I bet you’re giving me a dark look at the moment and muttering a mix of curses and excuses. Such as how you live a busy life, and what if things gets in the way, and what about when you’re tired, etc.

Well, let’s take a look at what it takes to achieve those seventy minutes a day shall we?

What you need.

  • A place to write distraction free.
  • The energy and focus to write for those sixty/seventy minutes.
  • The knowledge of what you’re going to write.
  • The desire to write.

First things first. If you’re going to do this. If you’re going to commit yourself to being a prolific writer, then you need to give yourself the time to do so. You need to remove all guilt, all worry, and be confident that this is your time to write.

Figure out when that time is best. Then give it to yourself. Tell your family what you’re doing, explain your reasons I’m sure they’ll be understanding, and take that time.

Next set up your writing space. It could be that this place is used for other things, that’s fine, as long as it’s comfortable and devoted to your writing when you’re writing. Personally I tend to write on my sofa. I do have a desk, but no desk chair, and it’s a whole thing.

Once you have your writing space, you need to help your brain understand what you’re up to. That means that you need to set up triggers and cues, I mentioned these in the previous post. If you use music, set up a playlist that you only play when you’re writing. That’s really important, you do not listen to it unless you’re writing. The moment you stop, the playlist goes off.

You need to go to that space in a good head space, think about what you’re writing next, visualise it, plan it out mentally.

That brings us into the bit about outlining. You will find being prolific much easier if you outline. It removes the pauses where you’re trying to figure out what you’re writing next, and help make editing easier too. A couple of the books linked at the bottom helps with outlining.

At this point you’re sitting at your writing place, wherever that is, your desk, your favourite cafe, whatever works for you. You’re sat down. You have your cues, be that a special coffee you only drink when writing, your writing playlist, the things you’ve set up. Now, you need to focus.

Focusing is hard for me. I do have ADD, but that’s ok, because I’ve figured out things that work for me. Personally, I need controlled distractions. In my case that’s primarily Twitter, and IM with my BFF. Some people can’t write when they have access to the internet, I’m the opposite. I need to be able to jump between my fiction, and social media, and back again. Don’t give me that look I’ve tried writing when I didn’t have the internet and my productivity took a nose-dive.

The way I do it is to write in ten minute spurts. I don’t time it, I just write a scene or a chapter, some form of complete mini-arc, then I bounce about on social media for ten minutes, then back to writing, rinse-repeat. I have tried writing for up to thirty minutes at a time, I did the big 1k30 sprints in Twitter for NaNoWriMo. That’s where you try and write 1,000 words in thirty minutes. Thirty minutes was ssoooo long! I had to keep flitting around and yea. It didn’t work for me.

Maybe you’re different. Sit down and figure out how you work best. Play with different ideas and methods. Write during the day,  try first thing, and last thing. Write in the living room, in a cafe, with music, with soundscapes. Try blocking social media, try with the internet, and without the internet. Experiment and see what works for you. Maybe you’re a sprinter, if so there are lots of writing sprints available on varying social media. A writing sprint is where you write as much as you can for a set time. Say 10 minutes, you then report back to the other participants how many words you wrote in that time. It’s competitive and supportive. I’m really competitive so they did me wonders.

On the continued topic of focus – Do not try and write straight after a big meal, you’ll be sluggish and lethargic. Equally don’t do it when you’re hungry, thirsty, tired, or have errands niggling at the back of your mind. You need to be in peak form to focus on your writing. Remove anything that might niggle you from your mind. Wash the dishes, groom the hamster, do that tax return, whatever it is that’s niggling you, get it done out of the way. If you’re writing at a set time each day, put in the effort to get it all done before 8pm or whenever your writing slot it.

So! You’re sitting. You know what you’re writing next because you have that shiny wonderful outline. You’re focused. But dammit you’re just not feeling it. Your brain’s itching, it knows you’re meant to be writing because you have your special coffee, it knows it’s meant to write that scene where Kadrix and Quin hook up. Yet… it’s just not happening.

This is where your overall wellbeing comes in.

If you want to do this, if you want to be a prolific writer, you need to understand and look after yourself. Do you do best when under light pressure and a deadline? Fantastic! Do that. Give yourself the deadline to publish the book by. Are you the opposite? Then take that pressure off.

Take regular breaks, throughout the writing sessions, and between them. If you need a day off, if you’re feeling drained, then take that day off. Do not beat yourself up, remind yourself that you’re thinking of the longterm. Burning out isn’t fun, and it takes a long time to recover from. You’re much better taking a day to feed the ducks, than pushing through and having to take six months to recover.

Stretch and look after your body. If your wrists, neck, or back ache or hurt. Stop. Stretch, massage, and give them a break. Do not wait for it to become a proper sustained pain. Do not risk that longer term injury. It’s really not worth it.

Assuming you’re physically, mentally, and emotionally ok. You’ve taken whatever breaks you need, then it’s time to look at the project itself.

Does the plot point you’re trying to tackle really make sense? Maybe it looked awesome in the outline but once you’ve actually got there it feels a bit… gloopy and just not right. It’s completely fine to adjust your outline. I changed a key motivation for a fight in Infernal Ties. I’ve tweaked the outline for Witch Infernal so, so, many times and added in a sub-plot.

Maybe it isn’t the plot point, but the project itself. Are you sure it has the legs to go the whole way? If you think maybe it’s fizzled out, or you’re just plain bored of it, switch projects. You need passion and enthusiasm. You need to love those characters and be sucked into the plot. Think longterm. If you’re not interested, then your reader won’t be either. Don’t think “but I already sank five days into this.” Think, “I only sank five days into this, at least I didn’t pay for a cover artist and editor and lose two months to something that won’t work.”

So, so, much of being a prolific author is mindset and understanding ourselves. If you’re currently a slow writer sit down and think about why. What’s holding you back?

Finally assuming everything above is all wonderful. You’re comfortable, you know what you’re writing, your brain’s raring to go, you’re still not quite getting the speed you want.

This is where I recommend positive reinforcement. To do this you need to throw out any ideas about being self-conscious, or feeling foolish, this is for you. It doesn’t matter what other people think, they don’t even need to know if you don’t want them to.

In short positive reinforcement is where you reward the desired behaviour. How you reward yourself for writing those words, is completely down to you. There are lots of options out there. As I mentioned in the other post, a lot of writers swear by shiny stickers and a calendar. I love this method, I just keep being a bit scatter-brained and forgetting to put my sticker on.

In this method you have a calendar and you write down the words you wrote that day. If you achieved your goal, say 2,000 words, you get a sticker. Once you’ve gotten a set number of stickers, say 10, you get a bigger reward. Maybe it’s a slice of that wonderful cake you love from your favourite bakers, maybe it’s a bottle of lovely wine. Then scale it up. When you get 20, you get a bigger reward, maybe a takeaway, or a couple of books from your favourite author. Then when you get 40 you get to binge-watch that tv show you’ve been dying to watch. And so on, and so forth. Use rewards that work for you.

Personally, I allow myself to read a chapter of the book I’m currently reading and loving, for every 2 chapters I write. When I’m done for the night I can read a few more. That keeps my brain fresh and me motivated to keep going “I could write just another couple of paragraphs.”

If you’re a visual person then I recommend trying Written?Kitten! (Link at the bottom) – this gives you a new adorable kitten picture for every 100 words you write. I’ve used it many a time, I tend to change it to showjumping, but I’m getting side-tracked. The desire to see a nice new picture is enough to keep me going “Just a few more words, I know what’s coming next.”

The idea is to use your brain’s basic functioning, that is the drive to have nice things, to encourage it to be enthusiastic about writing and thus write more. You want to enjoy writing, you want to approach the whole thing with an eagerness and find writing those words a pleasure. That way you’ll be less likely to burn out and write more in the longterm.

 

This turned into a rather long post.

In summary:

  • If you want to be a prolific writer you need to be prepared.
  • Think in the long-term.
  • Look after yourself.
  • Use positive reinforcement to nurture enthusiasm.
  • Understand how you work to increase focus and output.
  • Make the entire thing pleasurable and don’t feel guilty when you need to take breaks.

The links:

I put most of these in the previous post, but they’re well worth linking again.

The outlining book that a lot of prolific writers highly recommend:

Take Off Your Pants. 

Another outlining book that comes highly recommended from prolific writers:

Write Your Novel From The Middle.

Outlining by using beats, don’t be put off the fact it comes from screenwriting:

Save The Cat.

A book on writing more quickly that said prolific writers also highly recommend:

5,000 Words Per Hour.

Another book on increasing your writing speed that people highly recommend:

2k to 10k

The pomodoro technique – a way to increase your writing speed:

A Primer For The Pomodoro Technique.

A Twitter account that does writing sprints:

Sprint Shack.

Written?Kitten! A positive reinforcement app (free in browser):

Written?Kitten!

Write Or Die, a negative reinforcement app that punishes you if you stop writing. (Free and paid versions available):

Write Or Die.

I use this to keep my outline online (I also have a hand-written copy), it’s easy to tweak and move around:

Trello.

 

I hope this all helps you achieve your goals, whether you want to be super-prolific or just a bit quicker. Good luck.

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