Columns > Published on May 18th, 2016

Six Habits of Prolific Writers (and How to Make Them Yours)

Almost every writer out there dreams of being prolific. We all aspire to be the writer who puts out an abundant amount of quality work, drawing in new readers and fulfilling our creative destiny. For those of us who struggle to put words on the page on a daily basis, sometimes the dream seems out of reach. But in reality, there are a few key habits that most prolific writers maintain that can also easily be ours. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a high-volume writer, here are six habits to cultivate.

1. They Don’t Get Precious

Prolific writers know that writing time is sacred, and they don’t get precious about when or where they do it. Sure, some writers have hours of uninterrupted time to devote to their craft, but those writers who produce the most volume don’t wait for those continuous blocks of time. They squeeze in ten minutes while waiting for the water to boil. They draft a quick thought or idea on their phone in line at the post office. They find those pockets of time and place where they might otherwise be idle and turn them into moments of productivity.

How to do it yourself: This week, look at how you are spending your day. Where are there wasted moments of opportunity that could be better spent writing? Downtime is important, of course, and necessary for daydreaming and brainstorming, but there are almost always places in the day that are better spent putting words down on the page. Be sure you have the tools handy, whether that’s a notebook and pen stashed in your purse, or a phone with a notes application in your pocket. Find your own pockets of idle time and fill them with quick bursts of writing.

Prolific writers don’t hold any big secret. They simply pay attention to the work.

2. They Don’t Edit (Yet)

Do you ponder the meaning of every sentence as you write? Do you reword every thought and stress out about using the perfect word in every instance? Well, it’s time to rethink that strategy. Writers who consistently put out large quantities of work know that there is always time to edit later, and they know there’s nothing wrong with a shitty first draft. It’s called a first draft for a reason. Because there are likely more to follow. Prolific writers put words down on paper and make forward progress, even if it's not perfect. And they come back to edit. Later.

How to do it yourself: If you’re prone to editing as you go and trying to be perfect on the first pass, try setting a timer. Start with five minutes, and tell yourself that you won’t edit during that time. Focus on getting the words down, and ignore the misspellings and poor word choices you might make along the way. If you get stuck somewhere, it’s even okay to leave yourself a little note to be addresses later in revisions. The key is to just write!

3. They Practice Good Writing Hygiene

It’s time to take stock of your writing life. Are you writing slumped down on your laptop on the couch? Are you in an old, sagging chair? And how are you fueling up? Did you subsist solely on caffeine and consistently ride the wave of sugar high to sugar high? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most prolific writers know better on all accounts. They know that in order to consistently put out quality work, they have to take care of themselves, and that means in both writing space and body. Sure, there might be a whiskey filled night or two where they pound out the words until the wee hours of the morning fueled only by takeout Chinese, but long term prolifics know that the quantity of work produced is most often proportional to how well you take care of yourself.

How to do it yourself: First, take stock of your writing space. You might be relegated to a family space like a dining room table, but it is worth the investment to pony up and get yourself a good chair. Move away from the couch, put your two feet on the floor, and give your poor back a rest. And as for fueling up, try some protein or a bowl of baby carrots and hummus. Step away from the chocolate and be sure to drink plenty of water. You’ll be amazed at how much work you can get done when you’re feeling refreshed and stable.

4. They Ride the Peak

Besides taking care of themselves on a daily basis, prolific writers know when they work best. Every writer is different in terms of what time of day they produce the best work, but those writers who know their peak performance times ride that wave and make great strides in productivity. What they know and take advantage of is not only when they work best, but how to harness that time and make sure it is set aside solely for creative endeavors.

Prolific writers might very well have a muse, but what makes them different is that they sure as hell don’t wait for the muse to show up to do the work.

How to do it yourself: Take a few days or a week and track how you’re feeling on an hour-by-hour basis. Do you thrive creatively first thing in the morning upon having that first cup of coffee? Or do you hit your stride in the evening after the family has gone to bed? Track your energy levels and work production for a bit and see when you tend to do your best work. And then guard that time for all it’s worth.

5. They Have No Muse

Well, that might be overstating a bit. Prolific writers might very well have a muse, but what makes them different is that they sure as hell don’t wait for the muse to show up to do the work. Writers who put out great volumes of work know that sometimes it’s necessary to push through a bad writing day to get things done. They don’t wait around for just the right inspiration to strike before sitting down to write. They fight through the daily slog and write regardless.

How to do it yourself: Set a daily or weekly goal. If you’re a writer who needs to feel inspired to do the work, try setting a daily or weekly word or page count goal, and do whatever it takes to meet it. You’re bound to run into days where the muse is on vacation, but getting in the habit of a regular writing schedule will do wonders for breaking away from the need to feel inspired in order to produce words.

6. They Minimize All Distractions

What writer hasn’t gotten distracted and fallen prey to the siren call of Twitter when they are supposed to be writing? The prolific—that’s who! Seriously, writers who put out large volumes of work know how to minimize distractions that might take away from quality writing time. They disconnect the wireless. They leave the house. They put on the headphones. Whatever the method might be, prolific writers do not let typical distractions muddle the creative waters.

How to do it yourself: Know yourself. If you know you cannot resist checking Facebook when you sit down at the computer, consider using a laptop or word processor with no Internet connection. If you have a hard time paying attention when the television is on or family is in the room, then try going to a coffee shop or library where they aren’t distractions. Do whatever you need to do to bring uninterrupted focus to your daily work and reap the benefits.

It might seem like a pipe dream to produce massive quantities of work on a regular basis, but simply adopting some of these habits will set you on the right track towards that goal. Not every idea will work for every writer, but you can’t go wrong with taking good care of yourself and fighting distractions. Give some of these habits a go and see just how much your productivity increases. Prolific writers don’t hold any big secret. They simply pay attention to the work.

About the author

Riki has a long-standing love affair with all things books and writing. She indulged her love for all things literary with a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University and is currently studying at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Although she is well past her own teen years, Riki’s reading passion lies with Young Adult literature where she devours books that handle the “firsts” in life. When not reading and writing she can be found yelling at the television while watching sports.

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