The ABCs of Becoming a Super-Productive Writer

Productivity is often considered evidence of success. A person who is productive appears organized, proficient in his craft or skill. Employees and professors are expected to produce reports and papers to bring validation to their position.

As writers, we’re concerned about being productive. Or, at least we should be. Why? Well, how can we truly call ourselves writers if we aren’t producing anything others can read? We can journal for years, or toy with ideas. We might even pen a novel or two.

But at what point are we really “writers”?

In the professional sense—the career sense—we’re not writers until we’ve published something.

I’d spent more than twenty years writing novels, acquiring literary agents, and submitting my work to publishers. Though I considered myself a writer—because the bulk of my time was spent dedicated to carving out my writing career—I wasn’t yet a professional writer. Not until my books became available to readers.

If we are aspiring to become a “true” writer and publish our books, at some point we have to think about productivity.

Why? Because once we connect with readers and start building a platform and fan base, we don’t want to lose them. You may be content with writing and publishing just one book in your life. And that’s fine. That’s what Harper Lee did (up until the end of her life, when she published her second and last novel). But one book a lifetime is hardly the definition of a productive writer.

 Readers Expect a Steady Flow of Books

 Writers who want to make a career out of writing books have to think about productivity. Readers discover a writer they like, and when they do, they’ll usually read everything the author has written to date. That’s what I do when I find an author whose writing I love. And that’s exciting for an author; those are the kind of fans she wants.

But what happens if readers are waiting for the next book to come out . . . and it doesn’t? While some fans will buy a favorite author’s newest novel whenever it releases, there’s a matter of traction to consider.

Simply said: readers want a steady flow of books from their favorite authors.

And how can an author truly gain traction (grow his fan base and sales) if he doesn’t regularly put out books?

I’ve heard it said by many in the industry, best-selling authors included, that to really be a success (as far as productivity goes), a writer needs to release a book every three to four months.

While that’s not likely to occur if you’re solely on a traditional publishing track (since you are at the mercy of your publisher’s schedule), it is something not only doable but desirable if you’re self-publishing.

This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but the logic is sound. Especially if you’re trying to brand yourself. You may be writing a series or two (or five). Your readers, now that you’ve hooked them with that first novel, are eagerly anticipating book number two. If you wait a year or more to release the next one in the series, and then wait another two years for the subsequent book, that momentum of growing readers may dwindle or fizzle out altogether.

And another consideration: How can you start making a steady (or even terrific) living from your books if you aren’t cranking them out on a regular basis?

What Cranking Is Not

 Maybe the term “cranking it out” has negative connotations to you. I get that. We don’t want to pump out garbage in the form of books just to meet our self-imposed deadline of “a book every three months.” That will bring fresh meaning to the word deadline. Your career will be dead in the water if all you focus on is the productivity and not the quality.

So the challenge for writers is to figure out how to be super productive and not compromise quality or integrity.

I believe writers can learn to “crank it out” in a good way. And while doing so may be easier for some and harder for others, I believe any writer can become super productive, and I’m going to show you how.

It’s not just a matter of attitude, although that plays one part. I believe we need to consider way more than attitude to become super productive.

A New Series on Live Write Thrive

For a number of weeks, to kick off the New Year (and since this is when many of us make resolutions for the year), we’re going to go deep into writer productivity. Not just look at stuff that will help you be organized or get a book written but how to be super productive.

Hundreds of you readers filled out my survey last year, and some key issues pervaded the answers. Writers are struggling with motivation, getting their books finished, finding time to write, and . . . being productive in general. Since I crank out quite a few books a year, as well as 100,000+ words in blog posts, create online courses, teach workshops, and work nearly full-time, I’ve got a good grasp on how to be super productive and still have a balanced and fulfilling life.

I don’t write every day. In fact, I took a sixteen-month break writing fiction until I jumped into penning Colorado Dream this last fall. While I usually put most of my editing jobs on hold, I wasn’t able to do that. But I still found time to crank out that 130,000-word novel, and, while on a writing roll, wrote a long novella as a prequel (and freebie for those joining my Western romance readers’ list), and published both before Christmas.

Am I just crazy or a fast writer? Well, maybe both.

But that isn’t why I was able to get two novels written and published in a few months. It’s because I learned my ABCs. Meaning, I’ve taken the time, over the years, to analyze my attitudes about writing, my biology, and my choices. This self-examination, which is what this new series will cover, is what will help you hack past the roadblocks you’ve (yes, you) set up that are blocking your way to productivity.

We’re going to take a look at these three key factors to productivity—and I think you’re going to learn some new, fresh ideas on the subject. You might think of them as the “Productivity ABCs”: attitude, biology, and choices.

Most importantly, we’re going to tackle those obstacles to productivity—within and without.

So, I hope you’ll join in here with me and share your thoughts on these posts.

I’d like to know what #1 thing is preventing you from being super productive as a writer. And then I’d like to know what three things you think you can start doing right now to move this obstacle out of the way so you can scootch past it.

Share in the comments! And get ready to change your life! Mondays will be all about writer productivity, so be sure to put your email in the box at the top right of this page to get the posts delivered to your email every week.

In addition, if you’re serious—really serious—about being a super-productive novelist, you need to join my Novel Writing Fast Track group. Thousands are in this group, and they’re benefiting from all the emails sent with tips and helpful advice and resources.

Heart_of_Your_Story_ebook coverWhen you join this group, you get my writing craft book Writing the Heart of Your Story for free. And you’ll get at least one free ebook a month, and can enter the monthly drawing to win a great writing craft book written by one of my favorite writing instructors.

It’s all free! And you can unsubscribe anytime. So make it your choice to be proactive about your writing career right now. Stop procrastinating and making excuses (if that’s what you do) and take advantage of all this free help.

You can join my group by Clicking Here!

And if you are already on my mailing list but not in the Fast Track group, all you have to do is click on the “Update Your Preferences” link at the bottom of any of those emails sent to you. Fill out the form and make sure the JOIN box is checked, so you’ll be added to the Fast Track group.

May 2017 be a year of great productivity!

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  1. My number one problem with being productive is letting distractions get in the way. I’ve managed to carve out a solid two hour block of writing time for myself (that wasn’t exactly easy!) but even then I do get interrupted from time to time. Each interruption makes it a little harder to get back on task.
    I think I can help myself by enforcing limits on how many interruptions I can stand during my time block, and I can plan in time for the interruptions that I simply must allow. Then I won’t feel stressed about missing writing time, since I’ve already allowed for breaks in the writing session.

  2. I think my biggest deterrent is knowing that the likelihood of my writing being published and read is low. I have a hard time getting past the “what’s the point” question. Even though writing is my passion, it’s hard to keep going when you think no one will ever read it but you and your editor. I got a late start at writing in life and I don’t know if I have the time and stamina to be good enough. I know that must sound negative and defeating, but I’m being honest, and I think many writers feel this way. I also think being too detached from other writers and the publishing world has made a dent in my enthusiasm, and I hear other writers say they feel isolated. Conferences are expensive, so I’ve tried to host small get-to-gethers with some writers in my area. Some writers can be productive when isolated, but others need outside encouragement. Just some of my thoughts on the issue. I have a plan for the new year, so hopefully my productivity will get a jump start!

    1. Thanks for those points. Interesting that you feel this isolation when we now have so many ways to connect with writers online and locally. Even if you live in the middle of nowhere, there are online Meetup groups and ways to connect to writers and critique groups, etc. Writing is done mostly in isolation, but back in the day, the only options I had to connect with other writers was by attending a conference or taking a class somewhere. Finding a small group of supportive writers is very helpful and may take time, but it’s worth pursuing. And a good second choice if you can’t afford to hire a writing coach to help you with your work and encourage you.

      Thing is, our attitudes are our biggest obstacles, for sure. If we feel negative about our writing and worry about publishing someday, it’s going to affect our joy and enthusiasm. I’ll be talking a lot about attitude adjustment and also sharing a lot of great hacks or workarounds to get past your own roadblocks. So stayed tuned and be ready for a fresh infusion of excitement over your writing!

  3. My biggest issue is time. I write about an hour to two hours a day, and more on my half day off on a Friday – but I (like a lot of us) also have a nearly full time job and child. Apart from my lunch breaks, midnight and that for day morning, my time is spoken for. I get so frustrated at having to stop when I’m on a roll, or acknowledge that this week I have to choose between progress on the book OR a blog post, or my own reading and learning.

    I’ve run out of things to give up to make time for writing. I’m doing Ok but progress, at perhaps 15 hours a week, is soooo slow!

    1. Hi Sef, your situation is similar to many other writers. Time is a big problem since we have so many things demanding our attention. And there is so much more to writing than, well, writing. Research and learning takes a whole lot of time too. I think you are doing a great job carving out time to write. And that many hours is plenty to get a lot done. So if you can’t find or make more time (wake up an hour earlier, for example, without suffering from it), the key is to optimize your writing time to be more productive. And I’ll be talking about that a lot in this series!

  4. Thank you Susanne (love spelling of your name)for action on productivity. Probably a trillion writers have made the 2017 resolution to produce, produce. It’s so mind boggling to know your main problem in writing is lack of getting in your chair and getting to know yourself. Why the heck is this such a problem? Why do so may things call you away? Seems like a cannon ball war raging all the time. There has to be so much buried so deeply in us that keeps pushing to come forth or we’d simply have a burning session in the backyard and take up painting or something. I’ve finally arrived at a fork in the road and have decided for me the answer is COURAGE. Do I really have the courage to say: I am a writer and by damn I’m going to prove it. Let the chores stack. Let the dust bunnies play. Find shortcuts for all things that conflict with me finding out if I have the COURAGE to know myself, to peel off doubt layers, to pull out the dark war cannon ball by cannon ball.

    So Susanne my production goal on this 2nd day of 2017, is: Send you a 50-page critique of my first revision of my first fictional draft IN TRUTH’S TIME on April 12. That’s a good stretch of time, but I have a war to win.

    1. I love your attitude! And so interesting you mentioned courage because that is one thing I’m going to be talking about! I look forward to helping you on your novel!

  5. My big thing is darn insecurity. I don’t just want to write a book, I want to write an excellent book. So I doubt
    and I freeze and I rewrite and I doubt some more. I’ve written two books and feel almost apologetic about them.
    Need to keep going.

    1. Hey, Gabe. What you’re dealing with is shared by many! It’s hard to write a great novel, and we are going to fail in a lot of aspects as we go along and learn, then improve. It can really help to get professional feedback and specific direction. Having a writing coach is like having a trainer for an athlete. With help to work on the weak areas, you can move ahead confidently and see progress. Without the help, it’s easy to flounder and freeze up. Think about getting an outline or partial manuscript critique and see what your strengths and weaknesses are.

  6. My biggest problem is a lack of faith in my ability to write well. I am in a writers’ group with top notch talent. I bring my current writing to the group to find lots to correct and rewrite. Others submit their work and are praised for its content and delivery. I’m not asking for praise or great raves, but a bit of positive input would go a long way. I love these people and they are the salt of the earth, but I need to re-create my idea of what to expect when others critique my writing and not take it so personal. This makes me feel as if I am swimming upstream and going no where in my writing. I love words and the writing of a story is thrilling, but when others tear it to shreds, it produces doubt that I should continue as it takes loads of time and energy.

  7. My problem is procrastination. I feel ashamed when I hear of others that have a full-time job and children and still carve out time to write. I am disabled and I am home all the time, so I have the time. The problem is I don’t always have the health. I am tired all the time and it is one of the side effects of my illness, so I can’t do much about it. I have some days that are better than others, but it seems like I am sporadic in actual sit down time working on it. I have a difficult time with plotting, and I’m working on that. I do get discouraged easily. I can’t afford conferences and the writing group is hard for me to get to, so I am stuck at home. Hopefully, I will be able to find an online group. I am resolved to at least get a rough draft of my WIP done, and hopefully some editing. I am in your Fast Track program and enjoying it. I hope to be much more productive this year than the last. Thanks for your help! Everything that you are involved in sounds exhausting! How do you do it? 🙂

    1. Hi Rebecca, everyone’s situation, biology, and attitude differs. So this exploration is about helping you (and all writers) assess your own individual situation so you can make the best of your writing time. You have a big challenge, and so comparing your productivity to someone else isn’t, well, productive! Right? If you have little time to write, and when you do you struggle and feel unproductive, and then you feel discouraged, it becomes a negative experience to sit down and try to write. So I hope this series and my book on the topic will help you a lot! But I can say this right off: don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and don’t be hard on yourself. If “you” were standing in front of you, and you knew all your circumstances, wouldn’t you give “yourself” a pep talk and be encouraging? Sure you would!

      1. Thanks so much, Susanne! I may get discouraged but I am persistent, so I will find a way to work through this. I have dreamed all of my life of writing and in particular, of being a novelist. Maybe I have set myself up out of fear of failure? I’m not sure, but I am going to do it. On my good days, I will just have to work harder! I am reading your books. They are a great help!

        1. If you understand that all writers, even super successful ones, have many days feeling like a failure, worrying their books suck, their careers are down the toilet, it may help. I mean, this all comes with the entrance ticket. Maybe if we keep that in mind, we won’t feel so alone or different. Being creative comes with self-doubt, second-guessing, and days when it just doesn’t happen. This is why positive self-talk is so important, and I’ll be getting into it. I spent many years full of days of depression, crying, and giving up. I didn’t get published for 23 years, and back then, you had to get picked up by a publisher to be published. And the chances were near impossible. But now, we writers can write and publish as much as we like! Maybe that’s why I’m so productive now. I feel as if the chains have been broken, and I get excited putting my books out for sale to readers. I think if a writer gets the coaching and help needed to have the confidence their work is excellent, that’s 90% of the game. I feel it’s when a writer is unsure if her work really is ready to publish that causes a lot of the doubt, and if she publishes and her book doesn’t sell, it’s easy to label it failure, and blame it on bad writing.

  8. My number one distraction from writing books is the necessity of writing for someone else so I can pay my bills. I have a chronic illness and limited energy/ability in the day, and most of it goes to the writing I do for other people. Not quite sure how to get around that one, but it’s one of my primary goals for this year.

    1. Writing things we don’t like or have to can drain our creativity, to be sure. If there’s a way to find joy and some measure of fulfillment in that endeavor, that would help. If you can’t, having a good attitude (proud that you are paying your bills and not having to work at McDonald’s) can go a long way. I’ll be talking a lot about attitude and gratitude. For me, every day I think about the millions in the world who don’t have food to eat or clean water to drink. I think about those homeless and in war-torn countries. Maybe this is because I’m a baby boomer who was raised being reminded daily about “the starving children in India” and taught to save aluminum foil (a leftover wartime habit) and turn off lights to conserve energy. Just knowing I can sit and write pretty much anything I want without being thrown in jail (some of my clients in other countries don’t have that luxury) motivates me to write. Grateful that I’m not distracted by a hungry belly that doesn’t know where the next meal might come from also makes me grateful. These are motivation hacks for me, and I’ll be teaching you all about hacks and how to come up with the ones that work for you (to help you get past yourself). While illness is nothing to discount, being hard on yourself because of your health isn’t a good thing. I do believe, though, you will be able to find small pockets of time to write and enjoy writing that will help fulfill your creative needs. Whether that ends up producing a book a year or one in your lifetime, it’s the joy in the process and feeling like you’re accomplishing something that matters.

  9. For me, it’s clear: when I see that my books aren’t selling well, it cuts down my motivation. When I read the reviews, it increases my motivation.

  10. I am really looking forward to this blog series and the book that will follow.

    My greatest problem is being motivated, focused and productive during the short amount of time that I have to devote to my writing. I usually only have snippets of time throughout the day, so it is really hard to make those snippets productive. If I can get an hour of dedicated time, that would be a great day. But to do that, I have to get up very early, and I have a hard time getting my brain awake and focused. Then my energy levels suffer throughout the rest of the day. It ends up being less than productive. And that’s discouraging.

    Thank you, Susanne!

    1. Amber, this is probably the most ubiquitous of all the issues. I’ll be talking about this a lot: how to get more bang from your writing time, especially when you only have snippets of time to write. I’m one of those who can’t write unless I have large blocks of hours. But I can do a lot of prep work to help those hours be super productive. Thanks for sharing that.

  11. Legitimate distractions keep my productivity lower. But from January through March is my best writing time. I feel like I need to be involved in the life of the church and volunteer often. I also help my daughter with 4 young children often because she is frequently overwhelmed. The positive side is that I am interacting with people and problems and circumstances that power my creativity! I have also just started working on Jerry Jenkins Website as well as here. I feel I have a LOT to learn before I embark on a second project.

    1. You make a good point about certain months of the year, and I hadn’t thought about that. Because I also aim to get a lot of writing done in specific months for various reasons. That’s part of a larger strategic planning (and my free strategic planning book for writers can really help with that!). Yes, and being “around” those who are very productive is also inspiring. Like the Bible says “Iron sharpens iron.” We can spur each other on!

  12. The “snippets of time” comment is what I hear so, so often! I’ve heard it called time confetti, and boy, is that ever appropriate. I worked very hard to create my time blocks out of my day (I can get two hours on average per day if I’m aggressive) but it is such an issue for several members of my writers’ group. Last time we got together for just a Christmas thing, I think that’s about all we talked about. That and trying to consolidate those snippets. Easier said than done.

  13. My biggest obstacle to being productive seems to be a lack of a “coach” or “mentor” or writer friend who I can bounce quick ideas off of when I’m stuck. Or someone who keeps me accountable and on track and helps me through roadblocks in the story. Apparently I need my own personal daily cheerleader. LOL. I never want to bother anyone I know, and I always think I need to do this all on my own because so many others have…

    1. I think many writers feel the way you do. Sometimes it’s hard to find a good support or critique group, and often those members aren’t experienced enough to give the “right” advice. If you can afford paying for help, that’s great, but many can’t. I do a lot of coaching with writers via critiques, and working at the outline stage is something I feel is a great way to tighten up a story, regardless of how much has been written on it to date.

  14. My main obstacle to writing productivity is procrastination and distractions. Ok, that’s two obstacles, but they overlap, because I allow myself to be distracted as a form of procrastination.

    Three things I can can start to move this obstacle out of the way? Hmm, not start, since I’ve already started them long ago, but refresh.

    1. Schedule writing time (1-hour slots work best) allowing myself to indulge in some of the distractions after the hour is done. I can usually resist the urge to do other stuff for an hour.

    2. Write first thing in the morning. If I write at least one chapter as one of the first things I do that day, then I have at least a chapter written daily. If I wait until later in the day, I may never get it done.

    3. Hold myself accountable to someone. I’ve found it useful to tell my online writer’s group “I’m starting to write now, and I will write at least x number words (or x number chapters or x number hours.” Then I check in when that is done, reporting how much I’ve achieved. I ask them to kick my butt if I’ve slacked. But I rarely slack if I’m accountable to them.

    I’ve done these things and they’ve worked really well. Alas, I’ve neglected them! So your post was a much-needed reminder.

  15. I have the usual problems–procrastination, distractions, excuses not to get at it–but I think my main problem is a lack of self-confidence, that all the hard work will be worth it.

    1. That’s a great point. If we doubt ourselves and second-guess, we’ll self-sabotage. I’ll be sure to get into that whole issue! Thanks for mentioning that.

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