Monday, January 3, 2011

Author Productivity

My latest obsession is productivity for authors, specifically speed. I know I’ve mentioned this one way or another on my own blog as well as the Indie Reader blog, but right now it’s pretty much the main thing on my mind.

I’m doing another one of those sabbatical/radio silence things because all or nothing works best with me when it comes to staying off the Internet and getting work done. When I’m going all over the Internet making super long posts on people’s blogs, it tends to drain the crap out of me. Then I get cranky and stop getting writing done. If I don’t totally disengage I go to emo-crazy level and it *might* be mildly entertaining to watch, but it’s not fun to experience.

But I won’t slack on the commitments I already made, so... here I am. And now I get to share my obsession some more. Yay.

So this speed thing... it really fascinates me. And I guess it’s because I’ve had many experiences where I had one view and then suddenly I realized my view was completely wrong. And it was like reality just sort of shifted. It’s a surreal moment. So when I figured out I was conflating writing speed with consistency, it really threw me for a second.

I think most writers have a speed of writing that they are comfortable with, and a certain word count they can do in a day and then after that it starts getting a lot more difficult. For me that writing speed is about 1,000 words in a day, though I’ve done more in a day, it’s usually uncomfortable. On a really good day, where everything is just flowing and I know exactly what I want to write that day, I’m done in 30 minutes, and that’s awesome. Most of the time it takes closer to an hour, but it very rarely takes me longer than that.

The problem was that I wasn’t writing every day. Nothing close to it. I would go months at a time where I wasn’t writing anything new at all because I was editing or focusing on some other part of writing/publishing that didn’t involve putting new words on the page. Then this idea sort of crawled into my brain and wouldn’t go away... what if I could be consistent? What if I could write 1k words a day? In a year that would be 365,000 words. For most people that’s 3 or 4 books, depending on what length they write at. For those who write novellas or really short novels, it’s more.

In writer-world, laziness is rewarded in some sense. Writers who are very prolific and turn out a lot of work in a short amount of time are looked on with suspicion. That work must suck. We’re trained to believe that at MOST a writer should be doing one book a year. There was a time when I thought producing one book a year was a “treadmill.” And I think it was less about how long it takes to actually write a book, and more about the fact that most people seemed to think 2 books a year was “cranking it out” and unreasonable.

And for some, it is. I have an indie author friend who has three jobs. I don’t know how the hell she writes anything at all. I don’t think I’d have the energy for it. But I think when you get to the point where writing is your job, and that’s all you’re doing, you should be able to consistently write SOMETHING every day. Or at the very least 5 days a week.

The more you write, the stronger your writing gets. The stronger your writing gets, the less editing you have to do. If you hate editing, that’s a real motivator to write every day. Because the better you get, the less of that you’ll have to do.

When you’re still in the early learning stages of your craft, yes, a book a year seems insane. And it’s because of just how much work it tends to take to get an early book into publishable quality (and sometimes it’s just impossible... it’s like polishing a turd.) You just have to keep practicing and writing and get those million words under your belt.

Once you get those million words written, the concept of writing faster shouldn’t be as scary. If I'm not to a million, I'm pretty close. I'm not saying I don't have a lot of growing to do as a writer. I think we should always be looking to improve. What I'm saying is... I've written enough that I'm no longer a total noob. And I've written many novels I will never publish because they were just too rough.

I don’t think we should look on authors who “crank out” too many books as just churning out crap simply because they’ve got a strong work ethic. This isn’t to say that writers who write slower or less consistently are “lazy” in the larger sense. Many writers work very hard on editing and promo and etc. I think for some reason, though, a lot of writers seem to want to do anything they can to avoid actually writing. But those who have sat down and done the math and know how long various word counts take (though it does vary from person to person, I’ll admit), know that putting out a book a year or two books a year, just isn’t that taxing at all. Exceptions of course for those who have full-time careers in some other area taking up all their energy. Then it's naturally significantly more difficult.

If I can produce 4 books in a year (in rough draft form, not saying they’d be “ready” then), by writing just 1 hour a day consistently... you gotta wonder... what are writers doing with the other 23 hours?

Also, you can write, AND edit something else or plan something else at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

I realize some writers will completely balk at that. They either HAVE to be writing OR editing. They can’t do both. I understand, we all have different methods. Each writer’s comfortable working method will vary. Some people can’t bring themselves to work on more than one project simultaneously. Though I think that attitude ends, at least for traditionally published writers, once they get published. Because they have deadlines and have to produce the next book while dealing with edits from their publisher for the currently submitted book, as well as proofreading the galleys.

In traditional publishing, you just can’t wait until one book is totally finished and out the door to start working on the next one. I think for indie authors who would like to eventually have a career doing this, where they’re making a living... it would be a good idea to figure out how to raise productivity and work around these various “I can’t” obstacles. When backlist is king, anything that slows the process down unnecessarily should be eliminated.


  1. I love writing one book and editing another. It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing more:-).

  2. You're absolutely right Zoe. It's amazing what one can do if you actually carve out the time. Great post and good luck during your radio silence. Happy writing! (and editing)

  3. Exactly. I write less per day than you do (500-800 words, 6 days per week), and still people seem to think I'm some sort of "machine". It's not magic or anything, just a focused hour (or 1/2 hour if I'm cruisin') on a daily basis. We just have to get over ourselves and make the time.

    Happy sabbatical...and many words to you. :-)

  4. Thank you for this post. It's amazingly put things in perspective on writing time and planning. I now have a solid game plan and no reason not to complete it (if you can't find an hour to write 1k words a day...well, now I feel guilty.)

    Not surprising your insight, I've found the same in your book on self publishing. Thank you!

  5. Author Productivity will show you how to clear your inner clutter and create a pathway to success!