Getting to Prolific
Prolific writers: How do they do it?
- Some write quickly. Stephenie Meyer literally dreamt a great plot, then sat down and wrote a complete draft in three short months. The result was her wildly successful book, Twilight.
- Some find ways to free up more time for their writing.
- Some excel at plotting and planning. When these writers start writing, they know exactly what they need to do.
- And some writers get help. In his New York Times article, Charles McGrath describes how famed novelist, James Patterson, can churn out so many novels. Patterson uses collaborators, giving each a detailed plot and character outline, which may run to 60 pages. The collaborator prepares the draft, then Patterson develops into yet another bestseller.
Although we may never be super-prolific writers, we can become more productive. But if we define productive writing solely in terms of quantity, we are using a deficit model: I don’t have enough time/creativity/ideas/support to produce a lot.
Synonyms for the word productive include these: inventive, fertile, rich, rewarding. Instead of thinking of deficits, we can focus on the assets we bring to our writing: My mind is inventive and fertile, my imagination rich, and I find it rewarding to write.
Characteristics of productive writers
In his article, Living the Prolific Life: A how-to guide, Clay Collins suggests that prolific artists share seven characteristics. I picked the three that I believe are essential for writers. Here’s my take on the big three.
- Productive people accept their artistic identity and are happy to tell the world. They do not have a problem calling themselves writers. An unpublished writer may sometimes feel more comfortable using the term emerging or beginning writer. But let’s get rid of derogatory descriptors for the unpublished, such as wannabee, aspiring or would-be writer. Published or not, people who identify themselves as writers honour the activity of writing, give it a firm, central place in their lives, and see themselves as serious writers. They do not waste energy worrying if others think they are a ‘real’ writer or not.
- Productive people establish the habit of writing as their work. A writing habit is a routine or groove, which helps writers reach their goals. For some writers, the routine is to produce so many words each day. For others, the habit is to write at a specific time and location. Creating a workable, productive routine helps trigger your mind to start producing. But remember, you want to develop a groove, not a rut. If the routine stops being productive for you, try something else.
- Productive writers are intrinsically motivated. Productive writers write primarily because they love writing. They will keep writing, in some form, even if the external rewards are slow to arrive—or never eventuate.
Becoming more productive
You may never be a writer who can churn out zillions of words, but you can be a more productive one. Collins has four suggestions. Which works for you?
- Generate more to get more. Collect ideas frequently—daily if possible. How? Search newspapers or magazines for items that catch your interest and write down your ideas. Carry a small notebook to record information, e.g., descriptions, topics, conversations, and then write in response.
Not much of this material will end up in your finished work. The value is in the process, creating a way to stay attentive to writing possibilities and keep your writerly senses sharp.
- Strengthen creativity by demanding small, frequent outputs from it. Keep priming your creative brain by undertaking short freewriting exercises, perhaps using writing prompts found on the Web.
- Reduce variables and stresses. Jettison commitments that are unimportant but time-consuming. Reduce whatever you find a distraction. Steer away from negative people or stressful situations.Even when life gets hectic, you can duck the stress temporarily if you can keep an inviolable time for writing. One successful author writes during the one afternoon each week when her toddler is in daycare. Another takes the train into the city twice a week in order to write in a rented studio. And another writer I know writes on the train, during her long daily commute.
- Find other writers, who do what you want to do. It doesn’t make sense to talk too much about your writing with people who do not write and who cannot help you. Look for people who have the knowledge, skill and passion for writing, reading, and editing. There’s always serendipity, such as discovering that the person on the treadmill next to you in your gym is an agent looking for just what you’re writing. But while waiting for such rare luck, find people who can help and encourage you as a writer.