I’m at a writing conference today attending a workshop given by acclaimed literary agent Donald Maass who has published several thoughtful and insightful books on writing (if you haven’t read his work, you should). As a result my mind is hyper-focused on craft, so guess what we’ll be talking about today? Writing! I bet you didn’t see that coming! I snuck right up on you didn’t I? No? Well it’s a good thing I’m working to hone my craft then.
Are you a writer? Do you write fast or slow? Do you write one story until it’s done or do you have a baker’s dozen going all at once? Do you want to be more productive?
(While the answers to most of those questions vary from writer to writer, I bet 100% of writers say yes to that last question.)
The questions of how you work as a writer and how you can achieve optimal production are important ones and I’ve been pondering them both for several months now. See, I am a slow writer. Forget the turtle, I’m the zombie snail doomed to shuffle the race course for eternity, never reaching the finish line in time. The more exciting and dynamic turtle and hare have left me in the dust and I’m hungry. I want a bite of what they have and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get it.
Productivity is important because publishing is not an industry that favors a slow writer. There are exceptions, of course, but, as a general rule, profitable writers are faster than a zombie snail. The ability to write quality stories faster is always better. Any improvement in speed is more money in the bank.
In my quest to improve my writing speed/productivity, I identified three constraints holding me back:
1. Time. I still have a little one underfoot and until they start summer camp and then kindergarten later this year, I am more mommy than writer. I just don’t have lots of uninterrupted time to write. Right now I might have maybe 6 hours a week where I can reliably write.(In case you’re not a writer, it’s the equivalent of trying to do 40+ hours of work in less than a full work day) It’s not all bad, I do have time to do non-creative tasks like organize cross promotion among my peers as well as soak up every little tidbit of advice I can find. That has been beneficial, but it isn’t writing.
Summer camp starts June 10th and I’m practically drooling with anticipation. I’ll finally be able to start transitioning into a more full-time writing schedule. This will definitely increase productivity.
2. Muse. Some writers, the lucky bastards, have characters who just show up ready to go. They then sit and write and voila! They have a novel in a week. Then they do it the next week and the one after that. Meanwhile I’m still trying to figure out what my characters are going to do next for one story.
I mentally gnaw on my stories like a dog with a bone. I take long walks and ponder back story or plot points. It sometimes seems like I spend more time thinking about a story than writing it. I even get headaches from all the thinking! Some of this is just part of my process, some of it feeds into number three down below.
Because of all this ‘thinking time’ I’ve come to rely on the productivity hack of having more than one story going at a time. This allows me to switch projects when I’m worn out on a story. The result of this method is that, while I may not finish a story in a month, if I have three of them going I will have three stories to publish in subsequent months. I’ve then written myself a cushion of three months for the next books I want to write.
Last fall I ended up with four stories ready to publish within a week of each other. It’s definitely nice to have a backlog of stories ready to be published as opposed to the more common backlog of stories to be finished.
The other productivity hack I’ve stumbled on is writing first thing in the morning and then again later in the day. Why does it work? In the morning I’m groggy and less critical. In other words, I just write and there’s no internal critic (the lazy slob sleeps in, go figure). In between sessions, I chew on the plot and figure out what comes next. This split schedule has been surprisingly productive and it’s easy for me to hit 5,000 words a day with this method.
3. Craft. Slow writing can be a symptom of craft issues. I am much faster at this writing thing than when I first started. Years ago, as a beginning writer, it took me months to finish one short story. I almost never knew what happened next. Now, if the concept is strong, I can bang out the rough draft in a week. This is because I have a better grasp of story structure and I’ve done enough writing to work out some of the craft kinks holding me back.
That doesn’t mean I’m dong learning though. For 2013, I have some ambitious goals set and need to be at the top of my game. Part of my current strategy includes re-reading my craft books and seeking out conferences (like the one I’m attending today) to address any lingering weaknesses I may have. I’ve also grown as a writer within the past year and want to be sure I prune anything that shouldn’t be there.
The key to increasing productivity for me has been taking a step back and assessing how I work best, where the bottlenecks are in my process and what solutions are available to rectify them. I don’t just drop my butt in a chair and expect magic to happen. That may work for a while, but unless you are a naturally fast writer, it won’t take you too far.
Have you assessed your writing process for optimum productivity? How has your writing changed over time? Are you faster or slower and why? What’s keeping you from being the Speedy Gonzalez of writing?