6 Tips On How To Be Prolific
I get a lot of teasing or gentle (and not-so-gentle) ribbing about my prolific output from other authors. I started writing novels in 2009 and I just released my 20th book. Along the way I’ve written around one hundred short stories, two TV pilots, several articles—and that’s not mentioning the five novels that remain unpublished (at least one for good reason).
A question I get a lot is how I do it with a full time day job, two kids, a podcast, a sideline designing book covers and that elusive commodity: sleep.
So here are a few tips I can share that might help you increase your output.
1. Writing a novel isn’t that hard. Get over it.
So first things first: I feel too many people approach the task of writing a novel as if they are preparing to scale Mt. Everest. Somewhere along the line the novel has been elevated to mythical status and is seen as the pinnacle of writing endeavors and something mere mortals can scarcely attain.
Want proof? Go to a library. Take a look around. See those shelves jammed full of novels? They represent current and more than two hundred years of classic fiction, and yet they are only a small percentage of the books that come out each year. If it was really that difficult, then how do so many people do it?
Winning an Olympic gold medal is difficult. Walking on the moon is difficult. Truly hard things are reserved for a rarified few. Some days it feels like you can’t hurl a rock without hitting ten people with a novel in the works.
So before you even begin, debunk the myth that writing a novel is something you are not worthy of. If so many people before you have done it, how hard could it be?
2. Lose the pants.
Ah, the eternal debate: outline or seat-of-your-pants? Well, do you want to be more prolific? I suggest learning to outline.
There are some pantsers who will try to make you feel like an outline is a crutch. Don’t buy it. Too many writers get bogged down while staring at their computer screen waiting for the next plot point to come to them. Or worse, writing page after page of meandering nothingness until the real story emerges. With an outline, that thinking is already done. When you sit down to write the novel, you are free to focus on the details and the prose instead of trying to think up your plot on the spot.
The end result is the same. It’s all some stage of making it up, having a flash of inspiration. Whether you do it at the start or as you go, the creativity is equal. But if you plan ahead with a rough sketch of the structure, then your mind is free to pay close attention to the important stuff when you’re trying to make a word count: the words.
That said, keep your outline loose. It is a skeleton upon which you are going to add flesh. Leave room for the muscles, the skin, the joints. And know that your outline may change in small ways and large. This is okay.
The biggest advantage of outlining is maybe it cuts down on the other big myth of writing, and that is…
3. “Writing is re-writing.” – Don’t believe the hype.
You’ll hear this quite a lot and I know mine is not a popular opinion, but I totally disagree with this. People say all the time, “My first draft was shit, but that’s when I buckled down and got to the real work.”
The implication is that blurting out your ideas in a disorganized frenzy is okay and that a first draft isn’t the work of writing at all. Well, it should be. Your first draft should NOT be a mess. It should NOT NEED major reconstruction. It takes twice as long, twice as much effort and frustration to amend something that’s already written than it does to write it better the first time.
Again, this gets back to planning your writing. Your major plot points should be worked out before you begin to put down the pages. Plot holes should become apparent there, not when reading it back after you’re done. It is much, much easier to course adjust a storyline, character or plot point when it’s still in bullet points.
If the majority of your time spent on a novel is in the rewrite stage, you are wasting a lot of time and effort.
If you are okay with a first draft being a big ol' mess, then you are more patient than I am or maybe you’re a masochist.
Planning and organization during your first draft will mean less work on the back end and more pages at the end of the month/year/career.
I fully expect a lot of pushback on this one, but tough. It should be said that whatever your process, it’s not wrong. You do you. But if you’re already this deep into this article, I’ll assume you wanted to crank out more pages. So take what I say as you will, but know that this is what works for me.
4. Don’t look back.
Writing is a game of inertia. A majority of writers will tell you to write daily. I don’t think this is completely necessary when you’re not working on a fully fleshed project, but when you take on a novel, it definitely helps. That momentum builds and becomes a little engine that drives the word count. Interrupting that flow for a length of time means restarting the engine when you get back to it.
Part of what prolific authors do to keep the engine revving is to only move forward.
It is tempting, I know, to go back and re-read what you wrote yesterday and revise, tweak, adjust, nitpick. But it slows you down. If you follow #3 and you have a tight manuscript in the works, you won’t need to reinvent your whole book in rewrites, so let it go until that (very different) process. Keep plowing ahead. Keep laying down fresh asphalt. Head for the horizon and don’t stop until you type The End. (Does anyone type The End anymore?)
5. Finish a thought.
I find that my writing day is done not when I hit a certain word count or pass a certain page marker, but when I finish a thought. It can be a scene, a chapter or just a bit of dialogue, but I suggest not leaving a scene midway through and trying to pick up the next day.
In terms of putting out pages, you always want to be moving forward, and when you start your writing session by having to get back into the mindset of a scene you started the day before, it takes precious time and even more precious brain power.
Really, our exhaustion with writing comes from being mentally exhausted, not physically. I tend to tap out after not much more than an hour, partly because I write at the end of my day so I’m already mentally drained a bit. I always try to be aware of how much brain power it is going to take so sometimes I will know I have more in me, but the next scene is a big deal so I might end a session after only a thousand words or so, knowing that what comes next is two- to three-thousand.
Much easier to start the next session at the bottom of that hill* and know you will reach the summit at the end of your day.
*But keep in mind, this is a slow rolling hill, not K2. You can get there with slow and steady progress without exhausting yourself for the next leg of the journey.
6. Write through it.
And what happens when you hit a wall? It will happen. Whether it’s a story element that grinds you to a halt or a simple lack of motivation (and really, both of these will happen) you can’t think of it as writer’s block (another bullshit term for another day).
You press on. You write through it.
We’ve all had days when we wrote ninety words total and they weren’t that great. That’s okay. You moved the rock a little bit further up the hill. Being prolific means constantly putting down words. How many isn’t important. Just some.
The biggest test will be the night or morning when you just don't feel like it. You’re unmotivated, uninspired and unwilling to write even a single word into that dumb book of yours which was a fool’s errand to ever start in the first place.
Good. This is your moment.
Write through it.
Sit down. Force yourself. Trick yourself with a reward waiting for you: chocolate, a new handbag, a stiff drink. But do it. Make yourself write when you don’t want to and you’ll see you can do it. You might end up with a great day filled with great words and this is what you’ll hold on to. You conquered that beast and you lived to fight another day. This one time of pushing through will inspire you the next time and the next, because that feeling of “I don’t wanna!” will never go away.
So there are a few tips. You’ll notice none of them are the simple stuff like learn to type faster. It’s not about that. Writing is a mental game and you need to set yourself up to win that game each and every time you write.
Hopefully a few of these tips help you increase your output. I’d love to know if anything here helps you, or doesn’t. But for now, I’ve got to run. Gotta go push that rock a little further up the hill.
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