Tim says: Joe Bunting is an amazing writer and is the man behind the fabulous website, The Write Practice where he helps creative writers that are serious about their writing.
I reached out to Joe because he has helped thousands of writers actually reach their dream of finishing their books so I know he’s an expert at writer productivity.
How do you write more? Or more specifically how do you write enough, enough to finish all the great story ideas and writing projects you dream about but never write?
How do you become a productive writer, the kind who not only actually finishes writing their book, but continues to put out books, year after year?
In this post, I want to describe exactly how I went from a wannabe writer to a productive writer. It won’t be easy, but I think you can become a productive writer, too.
I Wasn’t Always a Productive Writer
I used to despair I would never be a writer because I wasn’t productive enough. Whenever I got a new idea for a book or article, I would try to psyche myself up, “This time it’s going to be different. This time you’re actually going to finish.”
Inevitably, I didn’t. I still have a hard drive collecting dust somewhere with the skeletons of dozens of half-finished or barely-started writing projects.
But after mastering my productivity demons (or at least a few of them), I wrote four books, hundreds of articles, and a writing blog that’s read by millions of people every year.
I had discovered something I should have known from the beginning:
Writing is hard. Really hard. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write as much as Charles Dickens on his best days if you follow a few simple—but challenging to master—best practices.
Note: At First You Will Be a Productive BAD Writer
One thing I want to make clear is that productivity and quality do not arrive at the same time. You may master all of these concepts and become a very productive writer but still not be any good.
I personally believe, though, that quantity can beget quality. As long as you’re actively trying to improve, the more you write, the better you will get.
The biggest obstacle to productive writing is perfectionism. Give yourself the freedom to write sucky and you’ll write more.
Just don’t forget to edit thoroughly afterward!
5 Steps to Become a More Productive Writer
How did I go from a lazy writer to a productive writer, the author of books, magazine articles, and popular blogs? Here’s what changed in my writing process:
1. Systematize Your Writing Habit
A system is defined as:
a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.
Systems make difficult things easier. For writers, a system can also remove the need for a very limited resources: willpower.
The reason you systematize your writing habit is so that when you wake up groggy because you stayed up too late reading the novel Worm and you really don’t want to write, you do it anyway because it’s your system.
In other words, you systematize your writing process to remove out the potential for flakiness. You don’t want to have to choose to write because inevitably you will choose not to write. Instead, you want your writing to be automatic.
Here’s what a writing system contains:
When will you write? What is your writing schedule? Do you have to fit it around your day job and perhaps write during your lunch break or before work?
Where will you write? Location matters. When I was writing my first book, I found that my creative output bombed when I tried to write at home. But when I wrote at my favorite coffee shop, my word count went way up.
What will you write about? Writers often get derailed when their staring at the blank page with no idea what to write. Take the chance for flakiness out, and decide ahead of time. This is where a blog niche/topic for non-fiction writers or a plot outline for fiction writers is especially important.
How much will you write? Word count goals are a bit cheesy, but they’re a tried and true method productive writers use to stay focused over the keyboard. Stephen King has a word count goal—2,000 words a day—and so did Ernest Hemingway—500 to 1,000 depending on the project.
Exercise: use the questions above to write out your ideal writing system. Don’t be overly ambitious creating goals you can’t meet. Instead, create a system that pushes you to get better without being unrealistic.
2. Practice In Public
My friend Jeff Goins has a saying, “Practice in public.”
Here’s what I’ve learned about writers:
We want to be read. We don’t want to work hard to craft an article or a book that will never be published.
And yet, your first writing pieces, even your first books, probably aren’t ready for public consumption.
Publish them anyway.
Why? Because writing in public is what you were meant for. It’s what you want. And if you hide your writing away until it’s “good enough,” you’ll rob all your motivation for finishing it.
If you want to write more, publish more (even if it’s just to your friends and family).
Publishing turns on your creative faucet, giving you the flow you need to keep writing.
When I started practicing in public seven years ago, I quickly went from someone who wanted to be a writer to someone who was actually writing and finishing my writing projects.
3. Get Your Subconscious Working on Your Productivity
Here’s something I learned from Peter Shallard, a therapist for entrepreneurs, who says you can trick your subconscious into making you more productive with a sneaky little technique.
When you’re stuck or don’t feel like writing, ask yourself one the following questions:
How much fun can I have writing this?
How quickly can I finish this writing piece?
How amazing will it feel immediately after writing this chapter?
The idea is that your subconscious will always try to find an answer any question we ask ourselves. Your subconscious will start to solve the problem for you, allowing you to get more work done and have more fun doing it.
Try it. It actually works.
4. Surround Yourself With Other Productive Writers
Peer pressure works, whether you’re a high school kid getting pressured into skipping school or a writer getting pressured to write more.
Use peer pressure to your advantage by surrounding yourself with other productive writers.
Jim Rohn famously said:
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
The people around you can either make you better or make you worse. Get involved in a community of writers who will push you to be your best.
When I started making friends with other successful writers—people like Tim, Jeff Goins, and Allison Vesterfelt—I found that my productivity went up dramatically.
5. Take Advantage of Your Non-Writing Hours
In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin, the chess prodigy depicted in Searching for Bobby Fischer, shares the habits of some of the top performers in the world, from chess stars to martial arts world champions.
The best martial artists, he shares, are as intentional about their time not fighting as they are when actively engaged in a fight. When “off the mat,” they focus on breathing, clearing their minds, and relaxing their bodies. In other words, top performers focus on renewal and mental preparation.
You can’t write all the time. In fact, I’ve found that even the most productive writers can only actively write four to six hours a day.
What you do with the other eighteen to twenty hours a day will have a dramatic impact on the quantity and quality of your writing.
How do you make the most of your non-writing hours?
Sleep. A tired writer is usually a bad writer. Creativity relies on your ability to merge multiple ideas into one, and your brain can’t do this effectively when it’s unrested.
Read. “The hard truth is that books are made from books,” said Cormac McCarthy. If you want to be a “maker of books,” you need to read them. Personally, when I read, it makes me want to write and my writing productivity goes up.
Hang out with other writers. See point #4.
Exercise. I find it’s always easier to write after I take a vigorous walk. Charles Dickens, as prolific a writer as anyone, cemented this into his writing habit, walking around London for three or four hours a day.
Experience life. Benjamin Franklin said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I say do both. What experience feels like an indulgence but makes you feel more creative and inspired? Perhaps you could hold a soirée with a group of your smartest friends, visit an art museum, or even binge watch a television series on Netflix.
How Could Becoming a More Productive Writer Change Your Life?
These steps I’ve outlined above aren’t easy. If you think they are, you probably didn’t read them right.
Honestly, it took me years to work these ideas into my lifestyle. If you’re truly serious about becoming a more productive writer, you should probably print this out, tape it up next to your computer, and go over it again and again.
But think of how your life would be different if you wrote 1,000 or more words every day for the rest of your life?
You would finally finish all the books you want to write.
You would find your own unique voice and develop the techniques it takes to become a successful writer.
You would be able to build a consistent platform.
Most of all, you would feel like a writer.
Would that be worth it to you?
I can’t pressure you into doing any of these five steps, but if you want to finish your books, if you want to become a better writer, if you want to finally feel like a writer, you need to start developing healthy writing habits.
I hope you’ll start today.
How about you? Have you struggled to become a productive writer?
August 13, 2015