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Writing: How To Boost Your Productivity

Computer keyboard with keys saying "power", "sleep" and "wake up"

Time to step up your writing productivity

Could you write 10,000 words a day? Charles Sheehan-Miles, based in Massachusetts, USA, shares top tips for indie authors to boost their writing productivity, drawing on his own experience. So successful was his own strategy to self-publish more books that he now writes full-time.

A couple of years ago, I realized that if I was going to have any success as an indie author, I was going to have to step up my game in a big way. The thing was, I’d been in the indie world for a long time. I self-published my first novel in 2001 (via a vanity press), then later got my rights back and republished it, along with a second novel, in 2007.

It took me five years to write the first book, nearly 10 to write the second, and five years to write my third book. I’d made a total of ten thousand dollars for my entire career. It was either make some changes or consider another career path.

At that point in the time—the summer of 2012—I noticed there was a key factor which was consistently helping indie authors hit the charts, build followings and make careers in their writing. What those key writers had in common was that they were prolific, some of them putting out novels every three or four months.

So I decided it was time to make some changes. I did research. Googled. I looked for advice for upping your writing productivity. I examined dictation, lucid dream-states and self-hypnosis. But the one idea I came across was on the blog of sci-fi author Rachel Aaron, who wrote a blog entry titled “How I went from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words A Day.”

Could You Write 10,000 Words A Day?

Ten thousand words a day? That’s what I managed in a month. My most productive writing sessions ever, up to that point, were 1,000 words, and my typical daily output was closer to 500. This whole concept was impossible. Insane.

In her blog (she later published a book about it which you can find here), Rachel talks about what she says are three core requirements to be able to write quickly: knowledge, enthusiasm, and time.

  • The knowledge component is simple: instead of struggling through, trying to write on the fly, sit down and first and block out your scene. Know what you are going to write before you write it.
  • The second requirement, enthusiasm, is also simple: write what you feel passionately about. If you don’t want to write it, other people probably won’t want to read it.
  • Finally, time: she recommends finding the times of day, locations, etc. where you can write consistently.

My Writing Routine – Before and After

In those days I didn’t get a consistent time to write, except between 4:30 and 5:30 am every day before work. Otherwise it is whenever I could squeeze it in, often after dinner and before bed. The other two requirements, however, I could do something about. And I did.

The first book I wrote after reconsidering my writing process – Just Remember to Breathe – was completed in 14 days. Admittedly it was a short novel: 73,000 words. It has also been, to date, my most successful novel, with over 100,000 copies sold in three languages.

The key question facing me after that book was, could I do it again? Could I write quickly, and still write a decent novel. I wasn’t able to replicate the 14 day experience again, but I’ve been able to consistently write novels in 2 months, followed by a month editing, which means that since 2012 I’ve been publishing full length books every quarter or so.

5 Top Tips for Writing Productivity

So here are a few brief tips on how I’ve been able to consistently manage this kind of pace:

  • Be passionate about your story and your characters.
  • Have a road map. Sometimes the story will go off course, and it’s good to follow your instincts there. But I keep my map handy, and it’s helpful when I need to regroup and figure out where a story went wrong.
  • For me, going to bed thinking about the story is critical. During my most productive periods, the last thing I do before bed is write the first couple of paragraphs of the next scene. That way, when I wake up, I am ready to go.
  • When I’m driving, I listen to my book playlists and think about the story..
  • Finally, and this is the big one, don’t force my way through when I get stuck. Instead, diagnose the problem, move back, fix it, and move on.

So, how has this impacted my career?

The answer is simple. One year ago I quit my job and became a full time writer. I now make a decent living doing what I love, which is telling stories.

Do you have further tips to share? Feel free to add them in the comments!

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17 Responses to Writing: How To Boost Your Productivity

  1. Irene June 15, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    <>

    Yes, yes, YES! Whenever I feel “blocked” I remind myself that apparently, the story refuses to go where I’m taking it. I address the issue because something is obviously wrong. It can be the setting, POV’s motivation, anything. The moment I see how I need to change it, the “block” is miraculously gone.

    Thank you very much!

  2. Deb February 18, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

    Awesome post! Before I read it, I could not ever imagined that 10000 Words a day is possible. But you are great at inspiring others, Charles!

    The other important thing, I believe, it’s keeping the quality of your writing on the high level. Because when you are too wordy, it could hurt the originality and the key thoughts of your work. I found useful plagiarism checker Unplag and StayFocusd Chrome extension for being more focused on important things. Such as writing or my college assignments.

  3. Rebekah O'Neal August 12, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    When I hit the proverbial “writer’s block”, I find it extremely helpful to stop struggling to write new sections and just focus on editing and revision of earlier sections of the manuscript. This not only polishes writing that I’ve already completed, it also usually results in a complete removal of whatever is blocking my thought process and I am able to return to writing. I have found this has made even my times of writer’s block to actually be very productive.

  4. Lisa Cooke July 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    I’ve used Aaron’s techniques and greatly improved my output as well. I wrote my last novel in 12 days ( not counting plotting and revision). I found her system so helpful, that I’m re- reading her book to psyche me up for the sequel. I was writing 500 words/hr before using her techniques and immediately went to 1200 words/hour. Great stuff
    Lisa Cooke

  5. Linda Maye Adams July 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    I’m afraid I can’t work from outlines at all. Planning, in fact, would be a sure fire way to cause me to write to what I “planned” and leave out things like character arc, subplots, etc. I always end up feeling like I get left out of these tips because they assume outlining is for everyone.

    One of the biggest things that few people mention is that the writer has to make writing a priority. Commit to doing it every day, even if you don’t do much. Usually when people complain about a lack of progress, it’s because they’ve let days go by without doing anything at all. To get things done, you have to write.

    For the organic writer: I have a lot of trouble getting the five senses into the story. So before I write a scene wtih a new setting, I do paragraphs listing what I might see, hear, smell, taste, and touch for this setting. It’s nothing fancy. I’m not trying to create fancy sentences for use in the story. I’m just trying to have something so I won’t get hung on description of the setting.

    After that, I just start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be at the beginning of the scene, and there will places that are hard that I skip over. Because of the organic nature of my writing, I use strikethroughs instead of deleting stuff that evolves out as I finish the scene. Because the scene can change a lot as I write it, I can end up writing quite a bit, but end up showing a negative word count. And sometimes I end up needing what’s in the strikethroughs, but maybe not in this scene. So when I’m cleaning up the scene, I cut those out and paste them into another document.

    I also write in small bursts, rather than sit at a desk all day and stare at the computer (which I can’t do anyway, since I have a day job). I can generally do these at any time, except in the morning. It might not sound like a lot, but it’s important to simply get writing done.

  6. Shannon L. Brown July 13, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    Thank you for this. Your system of working from scene to scene is excellent. I start a book that way but haven’t continued the same way. It just never occurred to me.

    • Charles Sheehan-Miles July 15, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

      It’s not really mine, that was the number one suggestion Rachel Aaron made in her blog posts. The five minutes invested at the beginning of a chapter saves me -hours- of time sitting at a blank screen.

  7. M.M. Justus July 11, 2014 at 4:29 am #

    This just points out that I *really* need to learn how to plan my books. Writing on the fly really slows me down. But I can’t seem to make my brain work that way. It’s not so much that if I know what’s going to happen I lose interest. It’s that I can’t seem to *learn* how to plan. Any good suggestions for that? I’ve read a lot of books on how to plot a book, but it’s sort of like playing tennis — I can study all the technique I like, but when those balls start heading towards me, all I can do is flail about doing the best I can not to be hit.

    • Charles Sheehan-Miles July 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

      M.M. I usually only have the broadest outline of the entire book. I can’t work from tight outlines.

      Where it really helps for me is blocking out specific chapters or scenes before I begin writing it. I’ve got a broad outline in my head–the book will end at a specific point. I’ve got not very detailed picture of how I’m going to get there. But then I sit down *before I start writing* each scene and I daydream it, then write broad outlines of how it will work. Here’s an example of how I outlined a chapter I wrote the other day:

      “Carrie’s POV. This will be a complicated scene. The setup:

      Carrie and Alexandra to the embassy. Our dinner guests will be:

      GP
      Jane
      Carrie
      Andrea

      Dylan
      Alexandra

      Dylan and Alex are going to slip off almost immediately. Focus in one Carrie’s distrust, her feelings of betrayal and shock. There are going to be reporters camped out in front of the embassy, but she won’t have to deal with them. The reporters however will see her, get photos, and there will be later fallout. ”

      I ended up changing some things and leaving out some things here. But it gave me the broad outlines so I could just *write* instead of sitting there thinking “What comes next?”

  8. Karl July 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    I assume by “book playlist” you mean a playlist of songs that you habitually listen to while working on a particular book? You might have spelled that out — not everyone writes to music like that, or is likely to know off the top of their heads what you’re referring to.

    But just so these comments don’t get too critical, allow me to counteract Jeff’s complaint above. I think your use of “impacted” is just fine. It means “had an impact on” which is what you meant.

    Anyway, an interesting article, perhaps more notable for its inspirational value than it’s specific tips. It’s a profound and, um, impactful datapoint just to know that some people are able to write that much, that quickly.

    • Charles Sheehan-Miles July 12, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

      Good point. I -always- write with music specific to the characters and scenes I’m writing. That’s what works for me.

      • Leena September 7, 2015 at 7:32 am #

        I’m also one who likes to write to music… Classical music, Enya… The music seems to block the analytical mind away so the writing flows better.

  9. Jeff Shear July 10, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    I enjoyed your solutions because I bought in to your honesty.

    One thing. A tiny thing. Please don’t use the word impacted (as, in “impacted my career) when you really mean “influenced” or “changed” or “affected.” 🙂 If you’re talking about a tooth, that’s another matter. An impacted tooth requires a dental visit. Impact, usually hurts, think of collisions. Or dentists.

    That aside, I found your piece challenging, in the sense that it’s caused me to rethink my writing process. I, too, am a 500-word-day writer. And that has to change.

    Question. One which you raised. If the requirement of successful Indie writing is production rather than quality literate creation, is there something wrong with the argument that “the number of books you write that delivers success”? I’m thinking of your work, “Just Remember to Breathe.” Isn’t real success creating a great book, and not how much your earn?

    Cheers, Jeff

    • Charles Sheehan-Miles July 12, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

      Hi Jeff, thanks for your comments. Passing by the “impacted” discussion, I wanted to address one thing. I definitely did not say a requirement is production *rather than* quality literate creation. I believe in writing and publishing quality literature that…um… impacts people’s lives. In short, I think indie writers can create great books -and- earn a living.

  10. Glynis Smy July 10, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    An inspiring post. Well done and thanks. I am now full-time carer, and my day is accounted for so writing time is precious. Your advice about mapping is shouting at me. I cannot afford to waste time and need to rethink my writing habits if novel four is to see the light.

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