How to be a Prolific Writer

I’m a prolific writer. With my 10th full-length novel coming out this month and another 10 shorter works on the market, that’s just a statement of fact. Other writers tend to have a love-hate relationship with prolific writers. In writing group some will express admiration or jealousy over how much I write. Others are far more disparaging, sure that writing a lot means writing poor quality stuff.

Zoey one

My tenth full length novel.

Too many writers think that prolific writers are just born that way, that we are somehow different from other, slower writers. In fact there are two simple secrets to being a prolific writer, and neither are secret at all.

Everybody writes at a certain pace. There are certain tricks to speeding up the pace but I found most of them don’t work. Some writers suggest doing high-intensity sprints of writing. For me, the sprints just wear me out and slow and steady racks up better word counts anyway. A lot of prolific writers use technology, programs like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I do, too. I do it to save my wrists. Honestly, it doesn’t speed up my work counts that much. It varies a little bit from genre to genre and piece to piece, but overall dictating has not sped up my writing is much as I thought it would.

So if we accept the idea that every writer has a certain pace of writing there are two simple ways to increase your word counts and become more prolific.

One. Write more.

Two. Make more of your “writing time” writing.

Writing more

One of my writing friends likes to joke that she uses the writing strategy of “butt in chair.” It really a great writing strategy that can help with many writing problems. And I guarantee you will increase your productivity. If you average 500 words per hour and you want to double your word count, write for two hours. The more time you spend in the chair writing, the more writing you get done.

Sadly the only guaranteed way to write more is to spend more time at the keyboard.

Sadly, the only guaranteed way to write more is to spend more time at the keyboard.

It’s really easy on paper, but much harder in real life. We all have many competing claims on our time; there are day jobs, families and we need to take care of ourselves as well. There are days when it seems like everybody wants something from us. If we are the kind of person that routinely says yes to requests, we quickly find our day filled up with everything but writing.

In ways, saying that I’m a prolific writer is simply putting a positive spin on the fact that I have no life. Okay I’m joking, or half joking. I made a conscious decision a few years ago that if you want to be a writer you must write. And if you hope to someday be a professional writer, someone who supports herself entirely with their writing, you need to write like a professional. I track my time and I shoot for somewhere between 20 and 40 hours a week, depending on what else is going on in my life.

Not everybody will be able to dedicate that much time to writing, nor am I always able to do that. The most important thing to draw from this is attitude. Nobody else is going to care about your dream as much as you do. And living your dream is going to take time. You will have to learn to make choices, set limits and carve out time to write.

Some of you will have supportive spouses who will actively help you make time to write. A few of you will have unsupportive spouses. But most of the time spouses and family members will be somewhere in between, they will acknowledge your writing dream but the extent to which they will honor your need to make time for it will vary from day-to-day. Very few will hold your feet to the fire and force you to make that time. You have to be the driving force.

Make more of your “writing time” writing

I’ve noticed over the years that prolific writers tend to be planners and researchers. This might seem counterintuitive but it’s not. To make the most of a limited amount of writing time you need to spend most of that time with your fingers on the keyboard and your eyes on the screen. Planning and researching can help this.

First let’s be clear about what I mean by planning. A lot of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers are dead set against any sort of planning. They also tend to associate planning with long complicated outlines and 50 page synopsis. Apparently that was how MFA programs taught or teach writing. I say apparently because I don’t know a single writer, MFA trained or self-taught, that actually plans this way.

There are literally dozens of different ways to plan out a novel. In my own writing I have tried storyboarding, the snowflake method, beat sheets and several more. My current writing process is a hodgepodge of several of these methods.

I now use Scrivener to plan my writing.

I now use Scrivener to plan my writing.

I’m not going to argue for one planning process over another, or insist that you have to plan a certain way to be prolific. I’m merely going to suggest this; if you have some sort of a plan then as soon as you finish one scene or chapter you can easily jump straight into the next one. Without a plan when you finish the part you know, you must stop and think up the next part. This kind of musing is critical to writing but doesn’t necessarily have to be done while you’re sitting at the keyboard writing.

And therein lies the advantage of planning for the prolific writer. Knowing even the broadest plot points that will occur at some point in your novel allows you to write from one point to the next. It allows you to spend all of your writing time doing the writing.

The same thing can be applied to research. Writers who do the research they need before they start writing will have those facts on hand as they write. Writers who don’t will waste large chunks of their writing time on Google.

Doing your planning and research together provides double benefits. By having a plan for your novel you know exactly what you need to research. So research takes less time. Having that research done and in hand makes the writing go faster and smoother.

And that’s all there is to it. If you want to be a prolific writer you need to spend more time writing and you need to make sure the time you spend writing is spent well. No tricks, just discipline.

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