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Writing: How To Boost Your Productivity

20 July 2014

From ALLi:

A couple of years ago, I realized that if I was going to have any success as an indie author, I was going to have to step up my game in a big way.

. . . .

It took me five years to write the first book, nearly 10 to write the second, and five years to write my third book. I’d made a total of ten thousand dollars for my entire career. It was either make some changes or consider another career path.

At that point in the time—the summer of 2012—I noticed there was a key factor which was consistently helping indie authors hit the charts, build followings and make careers in their writing. What those key writers had in common was that they were prolific, some of them putting out novels every three or four months.

. . . .

[T]he one idea I came across was on the blog of sci-fi author Rachel Aaron, who wrote a blog entry titled “How I went from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words A Day.”

. . . .

In her blog (she later published a book about it which you can find here), Rachel talks about what she says are three core requirements to be able to write quickly: knowledge, enthusiasm, and time.

  • The knowledge component is simple: instead of struggling through, trying to write on the fly, sit down and first and block out your scene. Know what you are going to write before you write it.
  • The second requirement, enthusiasm, is also simple: write what you feel passionately about. If you don’t want to write it, other people probably won’t want to read it.
  • Finally, time: she recommends finding the times of day, locations, etc. where you can write consistently.

. . . .

The first book I wrote after reconsidering my writing process – Just Remember to Breathe – was completed in 14 days. Admittedly it was a short novel: 73,000 words. It has also been, to date, my most successful novel, with over 100,000 copies sold in three languages.

. . . .

So here are a few brief tips on how I’ve been able to consistently manage this kind of pace:

  • Be passionate about your story and your characters.
  • Have a road map. Sometimes the story will go off course, and it’s good to follow your instincts there. But I keep my map handy, and it’s helpful when I need to regroup and figure out where a story went wrong.
  • For me, going to bed thinking about the story is critical. During my most productive periods, the last thing I do before bed is write the first couple of paragraphs of the next scene. That way, when I wake up, I am ready to go.
  • When I’m driving, I listen to my book playlists and think about the story..
  • Finally, and this is the big one, don’t force my way through when I get stuck. Instead, diagnose the problem, move back, fix it, and move on.

Link to the rest at ALLi

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31 Comments to “Writing: How To Boost Your Productivity”

  1. Hello PassiveGuy! Thanks for featuring my process on your blog through ALLi. For any of you who are interested in 2k to 10k, you can find the original “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day” blog post here -> http://bit.ly/1guYVdS

    There’s also a link to the full writing book (which is also available through Kindle Universe)on the blog if you like what you read. 🙂

    Thank you and I hope you find my fast writing process helpful!

    – Rachel

    • Excellent advise, Rachel. I was on the brink of abandoning my organically growing stories as I wrote them to something similar to what you described. Thanks for the info.

    • Rachel, I recently read your 2,000 – 10,000 book as I’m moving into the genre of romance, where building a fan base often depends on prolific-ness, and wanted some good tips for increasing my word output.

      I found your discussion of tracking your output and testing your output in various environments really useful! That has already helped me identify my most productive writing locations.

      It’s a good book with some great tricks for anybody who wants to up their word count!

      I had a 10,000-word day yesterday on my new romance title, and should hit about 8,000 today (but I had to do a lot of non-writing work this morning, so that’s to be expected.)

      Rachel’s advice is excellent! Jump on it!

    • I got that book about a year ago, I believe. I have to say, it really helped me increase my productivity.

    • Sold. You had me at 10,000 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Rachel.

  2. +1 for Rachel Aaron’s book. It’s the best book on writing I’ve ever read.

  3. The author’s books seem to be romance. That works quite differently from other types of novels plotwise. Much of it is predictable.

    However, clearly the more books you give your readers the better. That way you have their attention and they don’t drift off.

    • I’m not the biggest fan of romance novels, but let’s not be genre-phobic. All genre’s follow formulas (including literary fiction) and even when you don’t you’re following a formula to deliberately be unpredictable. All art involves some imitation. Aristotle pointed that out with the concept of mimesis thousands of years ago.

      There are good and bad romance novels like there are good and bad novels of any type. Predictable can be good or bad depending on the quality of the writing. Sometimes it can be very enjoyable to have a story evolve the way you hope it will. And crazy plot twists can’t cover up bad story telling.

      The interesting thing I hear from many writers is they feel they write better when they write faster, and more importantly, readers seem to appreciate it. Many writers say their better selling works are the one’s that were created quickly.

      Of course, I wouldn’t know because I’m still three years into my first unfinished novel.

    • Rachel Aaron mostly writes fantasy, not romance. Her Rachel Bach pen name mostly does sci-fi. (Though I think the author of this blog, who references Rachel Aaron’s book, does write romance.)

      The advice in her book is not only applicable to romance. I finished the second half of Tidewater, 80,000 words (the second half, that is — the total wordcount for that book is 160K) in 25 days — which isn’t even very fast. That’s only about 3000 words per day, and for somebody who’s writing full-time, that’s LAZY. 😉

    • The classic definition of a novel is a story that focuses on character, not plot. In a shorter definition: movies focus on plot, novels focus on character. Plot is therefore a secondary consideration not only in romance, but in just about any other novel category. That includes science fiction, which has evolved past the coil-winder boyfic of the 1920s, to technothrillers that now feature romance subplots. Nobody necessarily wants a predictable plot, but it’s preferably to a boring character. How many books have you read more than once? If you’re reading solely for plot, why would you read a book more than once? But if, as is true for most readers, you’re captivated by the character, then you really may not care how Holmes and Watson solve the mystery: you’re there for Holmes and Watson.

      • “movies focus on plot, novels focus on character.”
        I must say, that’s a new one for me. Easy to find lots of exceptions to this particular rule!

        • It’s a truism in Hollywood. *shrug* Hollywood isn’t always right, but that’s their rule of thumb.

  4. I think Rachel’s method works just fine. My problem is my sometimes inability to be able to plot out several scenes ahead like that on a consistent basis. Too much mental stew time needed.

    It’s a lot like getting all the logs lined up in a big pile prior to splitting. It you can line them all up tidily, then you can power thru the task. If you haven’t got enough logs yet, or they aren’t lining up tidily, you lose a lot of that efficiency.

    So for me it’s a matter of identifying the upstream bottlenecks. The more I can clean that up, the better her process works.

  5. I have the book, and found it useful. However, when I do have a 10k day (anything over 6k, really) I spend the next two days iced up and eating ibuprofen, wondering if or hoping that my hands will fall completely off.

    • Yup. Six-seven thousand words/day is my physical limit.

    • I know how you feel. I’ve done up to 13k in a day, but then I just get super paranoid that I’m going to suck for the rest of the week after that so I don’t actually try for 13k days very often.

    • I’ve used Dragon Naturally Speaking since 2007 for this very reason. It’s helped tremendously!! Sure, it takes a while to adjust to speaking a sentence instead of typing it, and you have to go back and verify that the program got your words right, but it’s been a life saver! 🙂

      And it’s saved my hands.

  6. Wow, thanks for all the awesome support, ya’ll! I really appreciate it!

    For those who are wondering, I write Fantasy, Science Fiction (for Hachette), and now Urban Fantasy as an Indie. I do not write Romance (though not for lack of trying. I have HUGE respect for the genre and there is a romantic subplot in my SF). None of my stuff is formulaic. Kind of the opposite, actually. I can’t ever seem to write the same sort of book twice.

    If you doubt the method (or think writing fast is just for hacks) please give the original blog post a look and judge for yourself 🙂 – http://bit.ly/1guYVdS

    Again, thank you all so much for the support, and for those who bought, I hope you enjoy 2k to 10k!

    <3
    Rachel

    • Ignore Ingrid, Rachel. She’s our resident curmedgeon. In her case (to paraphrase Mike Myers and Patrick Stewart’s SNL skit), if it’s not Japanese historical detectives stories, it’s crap.

  7. Unfortunately, I’m not in the 10k-day-camp, though there have been some infrequent 5-6k days. Generally, if I get 2k words on paper in one day/evening, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I once did 12k and was in terrible shape for days.

    I’ve read Rachel’s book and while not all her tips pertain to me and my style of writing I’ve embraced, I have been able to utilize most of the concept. (Her blog is just plain awesome but it’s been a while since I’ve been there, so need to check in.)

    As for ALLi, it’s like you crawled into my head and pulled out the top words of wisdom I’ve frequently told others.

    I’ve found that this one is especially helpful. Even if I don’t actually write it, I figure out and mentally note where I want to begin in the morning:

    For me, going to bed thinking about the story is critical. During my most productive periods, the last thing I do before bed is write the first couple of paragraphs of the next scene. That way, when I wake up, I have a direction to go in mind.

    Great article!

  8. I’m right now trying to work out a writing schedule by keeping track of my time and word count in a journal. I can do over 1000 words in a hour but would like to double that. I’m not a plotter of any kind. The word gives me hives. I like writing into the dark. Editing is another thing. I’m keeping track of my editing in a little book as well. That is something I want to get better at and more efficient. She is right about finding the best place to write and to stay away from the internet. Good post.

  9. Phyllis Humphrey

    I like the idea but I choked at “a short book, only 73,000 words.” I thought the trend is “short is the new long” and readers “want to read on their phones.” In other words, 73,000 words, in my opinion, is Looooong.

  10. I seize up if I try to block out scenes (or even write plot outlines), and when I do write from a blueprint, I’m never happy with the result and scrap it anyway. Organic writing does sometimes go down a wrong path and I end up having to excise whole chapters, but I actually love doing this: it’s time spent immersed in the characters, which benefits the final story regardless.

    Writing blind, I’ve produced seven complete manuscripts over about fifteen months. I offered the first three to a trad press (they were accepted) and was going to send more when I realised locking the books into their publication schedule, effectively freezing them until years into the future, wasn’t perhaps the wisest move…

    • I don’t quite “block out” scenes, but I’m using Rachel’s method of spending 5+ minutes before a session thinking about what I’m going to write next. I write it out free-form, sort of talking to myself. It gets me excited about the actual writing and shifts my brain into creation mode.

      The idea of outlining makes me want to run away. But this works.

  11. I’ve recommended Rachel’s book to many people. Like any writing advice, take what’s useful to you and leave the rest. Many people won’t try writing a different way, and thus they won’t know if something would have worked for them.

    Plot or don’t. Write fast or don’t. Self publish or don’t. Write one genre and not another. Do whatever you like, and works for your career. And let’s not diss another writer for doing something different from us.

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