I wasn’t a fast writer when I started writing seriously for publication.
I was slower than most writers, in fact. I fooled around with writing stories from an early age, but didn’t take it seriously until I was in my thirties. By then, life had a grip on my throat – single mother, two kids, low (low!) income… Multiple challenges that needed my full attention most days.
Plus, I was still figuring out how to write for an audience and not just me. I was trying to make my stories come out like the stories I (re)read and loved, and it was painfully slow.
So not only was I not being consistent about my writing hours, I was not very fast even when I sat in front of the keyboard.
One of my primary influences right around that time was Isaac Asimov. His interstitial essays in Opus 200 were an ode to prolificacy. Although it wasn’t a conscious decision for me, it was around then I must have settled on the ambition to become prolific.
That was 1993 and I’ve had a whole lot of practice and tweaking and training since. Now I know I’m prolific. Because of that reinforcement, I tend to write quickly and well enough to tell a story readers want to read, adding further impetus to the self-fulfilling cycle.
But I had to get myself into the cycle to begin and if I can do it, so can you. It’s part mental state, part practice, part belief and a matter of developing a few habits – or breaking some.
Change your mindset
I’ve mentioned this before. If you truly believe something then you naturally begin to behave in ways that conform with your belief.
To start, you may have to convince yourself that it is possible for a writer to learn to write more quickly than they used to. Speed isn’t an out-of-the-box setting. It’s adjustable, and can be influenced by all sorts of things, which this post (and this entire blog) covers.
Once you’re convinced that prolificacy is a learnable skill, then you must convince yourself that you ARE prolific.
The NLP experts explain that you can’t phrase such beliefs in the future tense. You can’t tell yourself you “will be prolific”, because that implies becoming prolific lies somewhere in the future, which is where it will stay.
On the other hand, if you tell yourself you are prolific, your subconscious works to bring that about.
Even if you’re violently opposed to NLP and positive reinforcement techniques, merely telling yourself you are (or can be) prolific will remove some of the mental barriers that are currently keeping you geared-down.
If you want to ignore the woo-woo stuff, then look at it from a mathematical standpoint.
- If you spend more time writing, you will write more.
- If you spend more time writing, the practice will ensure your speed increases, too.
- If you write more per hour, as well, then you will be prolific.
If you focus on those two mechanical adjustments: Figuring out how to writing faster, and spending more time writing, then you will absolutely become prolific.
Here’s more mathematics that prove that becoming prolific isn’t terribly difficult.
In traditional publishing, writing more than one book a year is considered amazing. (I’m shaking my head over this—and I do, every time I think of it.) Even in the traditional romance industry, where multiple books a year are the norm, more than three or four books a year is also considered to be a staggering output.
The indie fiction industry generally considers four books a year the absolute bottom rung of output, the minimum by which you can sustain your career. A book a month would be the top end.
So the bottom of the scale is one book a year. The top of the scale is 12 books a year. For the sake of the mathematics, we’ll agree that a book = 50,000 words.
At one book a year, that’s 137 words a day, which is laughably minuscule. It’s just over half a standard manuscript page.
At 12 books a year, that’s 1,644 words a day.
Even 1,644 words a day isn’t a long reach. If you’re writing 1,000 words an hour (that’s four standard manuscript pages), then you’re done for the day in just over 90 minutes.
That’s all. That’s it. Write six-and-a-half pages every day, and you will be in the top tier of the prolific indies.
Write just a little bit faster than 1,000 words an hour (which is easily achievable), and your rate increases almost exponentially – well, it will feel exponential, even though it’s still simple, straight forward math.
Add an extra 30 minutes to your writing schedule per day, and the same thing happens.
Improve either time or rate, and you’ll be writing faster than the most prolific authors out there, all in under two hours a day.
Still think prolificacy is a special gift bestowed upon only a few?
It won’t happen overnight.
You can jump from writing 800 words an hour to 1,200 words an hour overnight. All it takes is to change your mindset, and try a few speed-enhancing techniques like sprints, etc, and you’ll improve.
Also, finding more time to write will also immediately add to the increases.
However, to see the cumulative results of these small improvements takes time. It’s like compound interest. At first, it seems insignificant. Then, you start to see the wordage and books pile up…
Writing faster and for longer periods of time also takes physical and mental training, which you achieve simply through doing. Keep working at your consistency and supportive habits. Keep records.
Keep watch and wait for the magic to happen.
You also need a highly efficient schedule…
In order to maximize the amount of time you write, while still taking care of business and having a life, you have to do some creative thinking and rearranging of your life. In order to be prolific, everything else in your life has to support that ambition, or at the very least not get in the way of it.
You need dedicated writing time, as much of it as your life will allow. Build that time into your schedule by giving up those things that impede your writing and rearranging everything else. You will never “find” time. You have to make it.
…that you stick with most of the time
The other side of having an efficient schedule is teaching yourself to stick to it more often than not. This is a key factor that will heavily impact your ability to write more books quickly, and you will spend your entire career tweaking and re-dedicating yourself to your schedule.
If you read my work log posts, you’ll see that even I still struggle with consistent effort. Life rolls, and the three year old in my brain often trip me up. But I work at it and come back to my schedule over and over.
You haven’t failed until you quit.
Keeping records of your word rate and word count over time does two things:
- As per Pearson, above, the simple act of measuring your rates will improve them. Measuring and recording them means you’re not shoving the idea of writing faster into the back of your brain. It stays in the forefront, and you’ll begin to challenge yourself to write just a little bit faster…
- It is impossible to tell if you’re getting any faster, if you don’t have a baseline to compare your current rate against. Keeping records of your words per hour and your words per day are simple key performance indicators.
- Bonus: Bragging rights. It’s there in black and white!
As I suspected, I’m already overextended on this post. I’ll finish (hopefully) next week—when I look at schedules and tactics and how to inspire yourself (if this part of the post didn’t do that already!).