Could you write 30 novels a year? According to author Dean Wesley Smith, this is the pace some writers kept to make a living in the early 20th Century. These pulp writers churned out a book every two weeks for a penny a word.
How was it humanly possible for these authors to keep up such a breakneck pace? It was simply what they had to do to earn a living. That’s something that pulp and indie writers have in common. If you continuously fail to meet your daily word count over and over again, then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make a living from your writing.
Authors of today have a few more distractions than their turn of the century counterparts, but many of them are the same: bills to pay, families to feed, health issues, etc. To write even a quarter of the output of these extreme pulp writers, you’ll need to streamline your system to give your productivity the boost it needs. Here are five ways to dramatically increase your writing productivity:
1. Get The Right Equipment
It can be tempting to run your laptop into the ground. When you have a machine that takes five minutes to start up, another five to load your word processor program, and an additional 10 when it crashes, you probably need to find something more effective. Get a computer with enough memory or RAM to handle the writing programs you typically use. If you can’t afford such a machine, think outside the box to get your writing down on the page.
Take a tour through eBay and look for old products developed by AlphaSmart or Renaissance Learning. The discontinued AlphaSmart 3000, Neo, and Neo2 devices are electronic keyboards that will allow you to write without distractions. The machines, which resemble a mix between a graphing calculator and a desktop keyboard, display a few lines of electronic text and have no ability to connect to the Internet. They’re also lightweight and you can use them during plane, train, and car trips. With a price tag of under $200, the 400-hour battery life may be just the cost-saving device you’re looking for.
If you need to keep your old clunker computer and pass up the electronic keyboard, then there’s nothing wrong with doing most of your work on pen and paper. Unlike an ancient laptop, your writing pad won’t crash. Collect enough pens, pencils, and paper to ensure you never run out of supplies. Type up your notes every day or several times a week to ensure you don’t lose much in case of an accident.
2. Spend Time Planning Your Project
Stephen King’s book On Writing may have launched hundreds of writing careers, but it also may have caused many others to go astray. King is a pantser, a type of writer who flies by the seat of his pants without the help of notes or an outline. As one of the most successful authors in the world, one might think his way of doing things is a replicable formula. Like most advice you’ll find that’s divvied out by the top writers, this method of creation should come stamped with a big “it depends.”
Beginning writers may find the pantsing style freeing, but many use that freedom to write themselves into a plot abyss from which they’ll never return. Others take the plotting approach, which involves creating an outline before they start on the first draft. One way isn’t better than the other, but plotting may allow you to becoming more organized, which is a helpful trait to have when you’re just starting out.
Create an outline of your work. Start with a broad one or two sentence description of what happens in each chapter. Once you’re finished that, make a deeper outline that gives you six to eight bullet points per chapter. Place the outline in a stand or on the wall in front of you when you begin writing the first draft.
Beyond planning the actual content of your book, it’s helpful to schedule every aspect of your project. Use a wall calendar to pencil in dates when you’d like to complete the outline, first draft, second draft, third draft, and final manuscript. Use the calendar to add in dates for promotional activities as well, such as sending out review copies, contacting blogs or podcasts, and connecting with other authors for group events. Keeping track of all those dates can feel overwhelming, but it’s better than trying to keep up with everything on the fly.
3. Make Your Writing Schedule Consistent
Setting deadlines for your project is only the first step. It’s up to you to build up the habits you need to reach those goals. In most cases, this involves setting yourself a daily word count or chapter goal. When you divide the number of total words by the number of days you have available between now and your goal, you’ll come up with the number of words you need to average per day.
It’s good to set ambitious goals, but it’s also important to know yourself. If you’ve never written 2,000 words in a day, then you probably shouldn’t plan to write 5,000 words a day for 20 straight days. Figure out an average or slightly below average word count per session or hour. Block out that number of hours between now and your due date with a small amount of buffer room just in case.
Many authors find that they write more effectively when they write at the same time every single day. If your schedule allows, pick a block of hours in which you can always write. Whether it be early in the morning, late at night, or during your lunch break, make the time consistent from day to day. As you continue to work, you’ll get into the routine of putting words on the page until it gets a little bit easier. Not all days will be a cakewalk, but the more you practice your routine, the more effective it’ll become.
4. Find a Sacred Writing Space
Setting aside the writing time is still only part of the battle. It’s equally important to choose a location in which you’ll do nothing but write. Some authors refer to this as their “sacred space.”
Picking a central location for your creative output will further help you get into the routine of consistent writing. The human brain likes to make associations. When one location is connected with constantly checking your phone or watching TV, it’s difficult to keep yourself from doing either in that particular place. When a certain space is connected with dedicated creative work, it may give you the added boost you need to do your work without delay.
There are dozens of locations that can serve as your sacred space. Public buildings like libraries and coffee shops can be a respite to a busy home life. Shared office and co-op writing spaces come with a fee, but they’re filled with hardworking people who are all dedicated toward the same purpose. If you have to stay at home, then it’s best to find a room with a door you can close that the members of your family will respectfully keep shut.
5. Set a Record and Break It
If you’ve ever stared in awe at the speed and power of an Olympic athlete, then you’ve seen the success of progressive training in action. These fitness fiends didn’t come out of the womb that incredible. They had to train themselves to reach a certain goal. Once they hit that mark, they put in the hard work necessary to get better. Authors should apply the same methods to improving their own productivity.
Set a goal for yourself. It can be a daily word count or a number of consecutive writing days. You can test yourself for writing speed or the amount of times it takes you to turn a rough draft into a polished and publishable book. Either hold yourself accountable or find a partner or group that will push you to improve.
It’s OK if you fail. The only thing you can’t do is give up. Keep working hard to try to achieve your goals over several years or decades, and your writing will take a massive leap forward over time.
Don’t Beat Yourself to a Pulp
It’s easy to get discouraged when you have trouble in any of these areas. You see a Dean Wesley Smith or a Sean Platt putting out thousands of words of polished content per day, and you wonder why you haven’t been able to reach those heights. Perhaps you never will, but that’s all right. All you have to worry about is doing the best that you can do, and then progressively improving what your best can be.
It won’t be easy. It’s doubtful it was easy for the amazing pulp writers of the early 1900s either. Don’t look at their numbers and beat yourself up. Marvel at what’s humanly possible, and remind yourself that with enough planning and hard work, you’ll be able to write the number of books you need to turn writing from a dream into a career.
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