Whether you’re a full-time writer or a newbie working on your first novel, the issue of speed – how fast you’re creating that opus – has probably come up for you. I’ve tweaked a few things this year and my productivity has improved, but I’ll continue to search for ways to crank out really good plots at a faster rate. Here are a few things that work for me:
1. Start, already.
Overthinking is one of my personal issues. If I did it this way, would the end result be better? No, wait, if I approach the project from that aspect, would my time be spent more effectively? Phooey. Over-planning is not a results-oriented strategy. Sometimes you just need to start and figure out a strategy or plan through trial and error along the way.
2. Define what you write.
That means genre, word count, type of protagonist, etc. Consider this your “elevator speech.” It’s not so much a formula as a path, and when you know the path you want to take, it makes it easier to define subsequent books. It takes out a lot of the guesswork. If you haven’t yet defined your work, it’s time. Here’s mine:
I write women’s fiction /mystery novels set in in Northern California that feature strong, independent female characters who are professional and/or amateur sleuths. My stories are both character and plot-driven, include both friend and romantic relationship elements but no graphic sex or gore, and run 72K -75K words in length. My protagonists are flawed and smart and imperfect but manage to improve, both personally and professionally, in some way, through every story line.
3. Think “series.”
Writing a series provides automatic fodder for subsequent books. You can stretch your characters’ personal lives out through the series and have them tackle new things and get into lots of fun and trouble. Their “issues” will help introduce sub-plots through the series, and since you’re familiar with your main characters, you don’t have to “get to know” new people every time. Many successful authors say that starting with a series helps sales across all titles. Also, Per Smashwords 2015 survey, “series books outsell standalone books.”
4. Write at your most productive time of day.
We all have a certain time when we feel most creative, focused, and productive. For me, that’s first thing in the morning. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to arrange my schedule so I can sit down with coffee at my laptop from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. If you can, figure out your ideal writing time and dash off a few thousand words during your peak hours.
5. Know what you’re going to write before you write it.
One of the secrets to speeding up output is to formulate the scene in your mind before you sit down to write it. And one of the best ways to know about the scene is to pre-plot (or at least semi-pre-plot) the book. It’s the old panster vs. plotter conundrum, but hands down, there is no argument: if you know what you’re going to write about before you begin, you won’t be spending time formulating the scene. You can just dive in and let the words flow.
6. Have more than one project going at once.
Every author has days when they just don’t feel the creative juices flowing for any particular project. Rather than giving up and not writing at all, you can work on plotting the next book, work on thinking up titles for future books, write blog posts and guest posts, and/or create book blurbs. Always have something else to turn to. It will keep motivation high and make you feel as though you’ve accomplished something.
7. Create simple systems, methods, and formulas.
I’m a formula person. I like to create systems that work well, then repeat them over and over. Whether you use Scrivener, a Word doc system, or whatever, establish systems – for writing, editing, and checking your mss for errors – and use them. Organization cuts down on lots of messing around, and less messing around = higher productivity. Here’s my method for writing a new book:
I set up a plot outline in Excel and use separate columns to track the key elements of each chapter, the progression of time, and chapter length, then use Excel’s Autosum function to track total word count as I write. I write each chapter in a separate Word doc file, and save these individual file names with the number of the chapter + the key elements of the scene. That way I don’t have to scroll through a massive single document and I can easily move chapters around if I need to. Compiling the final doc is simple: Open a new Word doc, go to Insert > “text from file,” highlight all the chapters, and Word will do it for you (if your chaps are numbered chronologically).
I also have a standardized manuscript proof checklist that I run through prior to every edit. Long story short, the process I use is familiar, it’s in place, and it works really well for me. All that makes the actual writing go faster.
8. Establish goals – have a plan.
This is basic. You must have a good idea where you want to go before you can get there. You need to plot your course, from daily or weekly word counts to how many books you want to write in a given year.
9. Minimize distractions while you write.
Turn off your phone, the TV, email, the Wifi, and arrange play dates for the kids. My friend and fellow author Laura Zera rented a small office close to her house for $100.00 a month that didn’t have WiFi – or anything but a serene view – so she could complete her memoir. If you’re serious, you need to identify your biggest distraction(s) and find a way to neutralize them so you can get your work done. Unplug. Write offline as much as possible.
10. Schedule brainstorming sessions.
I brainstorm blog titles, book titles, book cover images, and research potential plots a LOT. I take advantage of walks, drive time, and quiet moments for this, scribble or record notes, and file them away. I like to start with the book title and a cover image – it often sets my mind whirring through potential plots and subplots and plot twists. And you know what would be great? To have a handful of friends you could sit around and brainstorm plots with.
11. Don’t stop working between books.
As soon as you send one WIP off to your editor or beta-readers, start thinking about the next book right away. If you need a break from writing and editing, so be it. But there are lots of other things you can do to move your projects forward, such as plotting the next book, brainstorming titles, etc. See #6 and #10 above.
12. Don’t sally forth without tablet, notebook, or tape recorder.
You never know where inspiration will strike. That clerk at the check-out counter might be a great personality for your protagonist’s sidekick. You might hear a quick piece on the news while you’re driving that inspires a plot idea. As I said above, I use drive time as the perfect distraction-free environment for plot development, and I keep a small digital recorder in my glove box so I never have to pull over to the side of the road and take notes. I love this method!
13. Learn to say “no.”
This has always been easy for me, but I know other folks struggle with it. It harks back to having a plan, goals, and priorities. If someone asks you to guest post, you should always try to figure out if it’s an opportunity or a distraction in disguise. If it won’t move your goals forward in some way, consider declining.
14. Use time blocking effectively.
Also called “batching,” time blocking is grouping similar tasks – phone calls, errands, writing, social media time. Grouping similar tasks can help you save time overall, and that means increased productivity.
15. Work on shortcuts, skills and craft.
Simple things can also help ramp up productivity, such as increasing your typing speed. I know, interesting idea, right? If you already type 60 wpm, then this one’s for me. Another productivity-enhancer is to use Dropbox, so you can access your WIP from anywhere. And a great resource for writing faster is Rachel Aaron’s book, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. It’s a must-read for dedicated authors and a steal at .99 cents. What else can you think of?
Readers, I bet you have lots of things you can add. Won’t you please leave a comment and share?
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