How do you write so much and stay so thin?
That’s the question I wish people would ask me, but they never do. It might help if I was actually staying so thin, but writing is not exactly calorie burning and I am at the age where my natural metabolism is no longer fighting that particular battle on my behalf. But that is a completely different sort of blog post, so let’s just move on.
How do you write so much?
And also, an update on pulp speed writing.
I write a lot and I get a lot of writing done. Other writers often tell me that I am prolific and objectively I agree. Subjectively, I am a prolific storyteller. If I could make my fingers work as fast as my brain, or somehow abbreviate the planning, writing and editing to simply telling the story, I could be a lot more prolific. So I don’t always see myself as prolific.
Since I get asked it a lot, how do I write so much? How can you get your writing speed up? For me it’s a simple three step process.
- Build your creativity.
- Build your writing muscle.
- Write, a lot.
1. Building your creativity.
Creativity is often seen as one of those traits that you either have or don’t, but that is a half truth at best. Yes, I was always a creative even as a child. Or, that’s what the nicer teachers said. The others said things like a lazy day dreamer who would rather stare out the window than do work, but I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion.
Probably the best book on creativity is Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. If you haven’t read it, I would strongly suggest it.
Bradbury compares creativity to the dust motes that float across your eye. We quickly learn to see through the motes, so much so that we are unaware that they are there. That is until someone mentions them. Even then, there is a trick to seeing them. You have to unfocus your eyes, become aware of them drifting across your vision.
Creativity is like that. It’s everywhere around us. But in order to focus on day to day life, we have to see through it. We have to shove inspiration into some back corner of our minds and focus on work, family, chores. Soon we can’t even see it.
To build our creativity, we simply have to unlearn. We have to stop shoving inspiration aside and unfocus our vision to see it again. We have to take the time to look for it. Ask ourselves questions, let our minds take us where they will.
Once you learn the trick, story ideas are everywhere. Every ‘what if’ question is a potential story. Every time you wonder what someone is thinking, or how they came to be caught up in some event, that’s a story idea.
You start to question everything. Why did that happen? What if it happened differently? Why did they make that choice. How would a different person have responded to that situation?
It is this tendency to question everything that makes writers and other artists so dangerous, so often censored in politically repressive regimes. But it’s also the root of a million new stories.
2. Build your writing muscle.
Writing is work. Non-writers and beginning writers share this myth that it’s easy to write. If you have inspiration, that is, you sit down and the words just flow out onto the page. In truth it takes a huge mental effort to put a story down on paper.
And that work is exhausting, at least at first. Slowly you get better at it, just like exercising a muscle.
Just like exercise, you will have good days and bad days. There will be days when you jump out of bed and say, “I want to go for a run today.” Other days you will have to drag your weary ass out, saying, “if I want to be a runner, I need to run today, no matter what.”
Writing is like that. If you only write when you have the inspiration, you will never be a real writer. Only the writers who learn to make a habit of it build the writing muscle.
Those days when you drag yourself to the keyboard, you might not get much done. You might wonder if it’s really worth it, or if you should just wait until you have the inspiration. Persist. You might not be achieving much in word counts, but you are achieving something more important, you are building your writing muscle. Eventually the day will come when you can sit down to your keyboard with a cup of coffee, put some music on and jam out the words for three straight hours. Which brings us to step three:
3. Write, A Lot.
Once you’ve discovered the secret to creativity and built up your writing muscle you are ready to become a prolific writer. There’s no great secret to putting these two thing together, it just takes time.
As Dean Wesley Smith states repeatedly in his blog, every writer writes at a certain pace. For some it’s faster or slower. But beyond that the only real secret to writing more is to write more often or longer. Many others writers have said this, Chuck Wendig says it a lot, with frequent profanity laced in for effect. Natalie Goldberg says it in Writing Down the Bones. Writers write. If you want to be a writer, sit your butt down and write.
There is only one point that I disagree with it all these people, I think sometimes we introduce the ‘write more’ rule too quickly. If you are still a beginner, getting stuck on story ideas, pick up Zen and the Art of Writing. Spend some time learning to unfocus the day to day mind and let the creativity in. If you’ve never written, focus on making it a regular practice before you attempt long sessions. Get up every morning, open your computer and write for five minutes, then ten minutes. Eventually it won’t seem like enough, not enough to get all the stories clamoring in your head to get out. Then start writing more and more.
Which brings us to an overdue update on my year of writing dangerously.
The short version is I gave up on it. The longer version is that I decided I didn’t need it right now.
I am not a professional writer, but I pretend to be one. I am a nurse, in my other life. I work night shifts and I’ve got an unusual schedule. I work more than part time, but less than full time. I work one week, more or less without any days off. Then I have close to a week off. It works for me. I have one week where I am a nurse and fit writing in when I can. And I have one week where I am a writer.
On those ‘writer’ days, I write. Three thousand words a day isn’t really that bad when all you have to do all day is write. I usually can jam that out in one mammoth session of three hours or so. On non writer days it’s another matter. Three thousand is tough to squeeze in around other stuff. I would fall behind on those days, so far that I wasn’t able to catch up easily on my days off.
There was more to it, though. I am producing new works, lots of them. I have a novel I am doing on Wattpad. It’s written at least in rough form and I am editing and posting as I go along. I have a multi-part science fiction serial that is in the editing stages.
I also have the four books I intend to publish this year finished. I have a couple of manuscripts in the queue for next year and one in the works. I have the remaining Bear Naked books in planning stages.
What am I going to do with all these manuscripts? Eventually I hope to publish them all. But I can only publish so many. It takes time to self edit things, money to have my editor go over them again, time and money to make covers. I am not ready to up my publishing schedule yet. So why I am in such a hurry to produce books?
My goal for this year is to publish four new books. In the future, I don’t know. If I am making enough to pay for production cost, I should increase that to five or six. If I am making enough from writing that I can cut back on work even more, I can devote that much more time to writing. Maybe I will approach Dean Wesley Smith’s pulp speed someday, or maybe I won’t. Right now though, it’s not important.