Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Up Your Productivity

Welcome to “How to Write FAST.” The intent of this blog is to increase your productivity as a writer, whether you write articles, scripts, short stories, novels or blogs.
There are as many reasons why people want to increase their productivity as there are why people write. Bloggers may want to post frequently enough to attract an audience. Journalists may need to deliver copy on deadline. Genre novelists may need to produce enough to keep editors and agents happy. Academics may be facing “publish or perish.”
I began to learn how to write more quickly when I took a job as a radio producer. I was responsible for three radio programs every week, and the work included research, taped and edited interviews, sound effects, and recording with a voice talent. The stories also had to be cleared by the interviewee, which sometimes meant rewriting. A year into that job, I found that I was writing three times faster than I had been. I didn’t have much choice. If I didn’t write the copy in a timely way, the stations that carried us would have to rerun an old show. (It had happened to my predecessor, and that was one of the reasons I got the job.)
What do you mean by fast? Really, anyone can write quickly. The trick is to write more productively. That is, you don’t want to simply put more words on paper. You want to get more of your manuscript done for each hour of work.
To get faster, I first needed to understand where I slowed (or stopped) myself. The first limit was attitude. All the myths around having just the right setting or being inspired held me back. I’ve heard that Salman Rushdie, before the fatwa the turned him into a fugitive, needed to have everything exactly right before he could sit down and do his day’s writing. If a pencil was out of place, the day was ruined. But as he moved from safe house to safe house, he found he could write in the midst of chaos.
Doesn’t fast mean lousy? It can, if you lower your standards for final copy. So don’t do that.
You’ve heard Voltaire’s “the perfect is the enemy of the good”? He was on to something. Another problem I had as a beginning writer was the concern that I would blemish the page with unworthy prose. I had to get over that. A mentor of mine, Damon Knight, gave the best advice: “It’s not a watercolor.”
Whatever you write can be fixed. It can be made better. But you can only improve something that exists, so you need to get something onto the page. Giving yourself permission to write a paragraph that stinks or a chapter that will be discarded or a novel that requires several revisions is part of becoming more productive. Nothing you write needs to be shared. And, until it is published (or, at least until it is in galleys), you can polish, tune and edit.
So productivity can take a hit before you start writing, as you draft and as you rewrite. No step in the process is immune from obstacles that can slow or even stop your progress.
And no one’s challenges are the same. Some people struggle to put themselves in front of the keyboard, but they sail through rewrites. Some people write every day, but make no progress. And some people can spin off first drafts by the dozen, but they can never quite get their manuscript revised.
This blog will look at each stage and offer advice, tips and exercises to help you improve your productivity. It’s almost a sure bet that you’ll find some posts are more valuable than others because of what you need now and where you are in your writer’s journey. My hope is that, overall, you will build that knowledge and skills you need to reach your productivity goals and achieve the success you desire as a writer.


  1. You're saying all the things that I need to hear. I homeschool a child with special needs, and so often I find it really hard to separate the mindsets needed for both of my "lives." With my son I have to be slow, careful, and considerate about my actions. It's so hard for me to then sit down and crank out pages with wild abandon (even though it seems like I WANT to!). People so often ask me how I can find the time to write. For me, I can MAKE the time, because it's important enough to me. But it's the psychological aspect that is most difficult thing to overcome. I become a perfectionist, and end up making very little progress.

    I can't wait to read your future posts :).

  2. My head always wants to compare what I am writing to the finished products of the people I admire most. That is great for rewriting -- not so good for the draft stage. Moving at "mach" speed can help shut off the inner editor. I'll have some other ideas in future posts. Thanks!

  3. Thanks, Peter. Because of your workshop on Fast Fiction, I wrote A Pirate's Ransom in 4 weeks (it is being published with release date in September), and I am now in the process of writing another novel. This Fast Fiction really works for me. I never thought of applying it to my Blog articles, but now ... I will.

  4. Terrific news, Gerri! I bet it was fun to see those pages fill up.

  5. Wow! Great post, Peter, but I'm blown away by Gerri's results! Congratulations, Gerri! I came here from following questions within the Sisters-in-Crime forum (members only) about Scrivener and was drawn to this post by the title of your blog, plus the fact that you had another blog you stopped writing in 2009 and this one was just started in June 2012, and all the comments you have on Gwen's Scrivener post. You have something here, and when I read this post, I have to say "I am hooked" as I will be reaching all of them to catch up to you. I have written as part of my job as an analyst (reports to clients, procedural handbooks much like the one Gwen's publishing as Scrivener for Dummies, even letters) and you're right on about just diving in and fixing it later. I'm going back to fiction writing now and am starting to see the wisdom of keeping it all to myself until I'm ready to show it, tho I have enjoyed getting feedback and shmoozing with other writers. I know I shouldn't write a long comment, and apologize for that, but I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to do this particular blog, and asking Gwen over, who happened to be able to pull me over to it as well. It's more than a two-fer.

  6. Glad it's helpful, Di. And I am overjoyed that Gwen took a turn as a guest blogger. (I was able to thank her face-to-face at the Anaheim meeting.)
    Thank you for your kind comments.