On Being Prolific

Let’s talk about goals, shall we? My biggest goal for 2018 is to release three novels. And while I’m not yet sure that I’ll make it, setting that goal has lit a fire under me. Big goals are helpful in that way. Once you remove the question of is that possible? your brain switches to a better question: How do I make that happen?

I’ve heard that fast writers are bad writers. And while some are, I wouldn’t say it’s the norm. I’ve observed prolific writers, and I’ve read some of their novels. They publish often and tell well-crafted stories. I admire them! Here’s what I’ve learned from my research thus far:

Fast writers know how many words they need to write each day.
Fast writers schedule their writing time and stick to it.
Fast writers learn what works for them, and then they do it.

None of this stuff sounds sexy, I know. But a career in the arts seems to benefit from good old-fashioned skill development, time management, and discipline. That’s good news, as far as I’m concerned. I may not know much about being prolific, but I know how to squeeze productivity out of my schedule. Perhaps my business-skills will translate?

Getting Faster
There’s still a part of me that fears my goal. After all, it took me six years to write my first book, three to write my second, and eighteen months to write my third. But there are signs I’m moving in the right direction.

For the first time ever, I finished the first draft of a novel in a month. Thirty days! Boom! I felt so proud. And I’ve been developing writing processes to minimize time spent flailing around. Techniques like editing via outline, fast-drafting scenes on paper, and using an Excel-based word tracker. Lately, when I’m in the zone, I can hit 5000 words a day written, or 8000 words edited. That’s a big leap from when I struggled to finish 1500 words in a day.

Finishing a 75,000-word novel has begun to look like a math problem. So many days written, so many days worked per week. Then the editing passes also take time. And so does the proofreading. Each step is different, but there’s a rhythm to writing days that makes a good pace possible. That’s why I sit down with a numerical goal each morning.
Write 5000 words of this draft.
Edit 7000 words of this manuscript.
And so on…

A Mindset Shift
In his book On Writing, Stephen King compared writing to laying bricks. He talked about writing as a blue-collar work ethic, and books as objects built by hand and toil. I understood the metaphor at the time, but it’s only recently that I’ve experienced that sense of forward momentum and accomplishment. As a hobbyist writer I stared at my bricks, and I shuffled them, but rarely did I sit down and say “Yup, today we need to finish the living room wall. Tomorrow we build the hallway. No time for dithering…”

I guess needed to shift my mindset? That took time, because the shift required several steps.

Decide to publish 3 books in a year.
Prove to myself it’s possible. (Others are doing it!)
Ask the “how” question. How do I become prolific?
Establish processes. (I copied the habits of other prolific writers, then tweaked them.)
Put my ass in the chair and zoom-zoom-zoom.
Repeat until books happen.

Three Books in a Year
We’ve released just one book so far in 2018. My corporate murder-mystery Death by Team Building went out at the end of March. And my next book will be ready for beta readers soon. By my calculations, I’m working at a one-novel-per-five-months pace, which is a big improvement over one book every eighteen months. It’s not quite where I want to be. But I’m getting faster, for sure.

What I’m learning is that writing faster can be easier than writing slowly. When you work smoothly and continuously, you’re less likely to lose the thread of your story. Your subconscious and conscious minds begin working together as a team, with the delightful-yet-eerie sensation of waking up every morning knowing what’s going to happen next in your story. Like the book-fairy has been whispering in your ear while you sleep.

Thanks, book fairy!

Writing fast is fun, in other words. And I’m on my way to making a living as an author! Speaking of which…
Back to work! Enough blogging for today. I’ve got plans, friends. Lots to do. Goals! Better get to it.