How to be a productive writer

I’m a highly productive writer. Since I started self-publishing I’ve written and published 15 novels (between my two author names: Jayne Castel and Sam J. Charlton).

I started self-publishing in 2012, but had published my first Epic Fantasy novel (The Children of Isador) in 2007.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a few people tell me I’m ‘a machine’ … as if I sit there at the computer for 12 hours a day, churning out stories.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For one thing, I have a day job. I run my own copy-writing business, so a large chunk of my day is taken up with that. Plus, I have a life and hobbies. I’m getting married soon, am learning French, and am planning to spend 6-months working in the UK next year. I love reading, cooking and going for long walks.

And, these days (unless I’m on a tight-deadline) I don’t write fiction at the weekends.

I published three novels last year, and am on schedule for publishing four this year. They’re all full-length novels … and one of this year’s novels in a 112,000 word Epic Fantasy! My Historicals aren’t short either, usually ranging between 70,000-80,000 words.

So when do I fit in my writing?

“There was a girl called Sam, and she always had a plan.” My sister once wrote this in a birthday card for me. I laughed at the time, and I still smile when I remember it … because it’s true! I’m not a perfectionist personality type … I just like to fit a lot in! There’s so much do and enjoy in life, I don’t want to waste a moment of it.

It takes practice … creating a writing plan and sticking to it. I’ve had periods where I write loads and then end up exhausted and burned out. Then, I’ve had other periods where life keeps interrupting.

But recently, I’ve hit upon a method that really works for me. All it requires is you to sit down with a cup of coffee, a notepad, pen and your diary (paper or electronic).

The reason why this approach works is that there’s nothing extreme about it. It’s about breaking down a book into bite-sized chunks.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Decide on the length of your novel. Let’s say you want to finish a 80,000 word manuscript (a pretty decent length for most genres).
  2. Break this down into eight 10,000 word chunks. This means you have 8 weeks to write this. You goal is 10,000 words per week.
  3. Break those 10,000 words down to a daily goal. Let’s say you’re not writing at weekends, so divide 10,000 by 5.
  4. That’s a goal of 2,000 words per day.
  5. Now, if you write around 1,000 words per hour (as I do … I’m not that fast, many authors write much faster than this), that means you just need 2 hours free to write per day.
  6. Give yourself some wriggle room. You probably aren’t going to write solidly for 2 hours. You’ll want to read yesterday’s chapter, do some planning, or go grab something to drink half-way through. So give yourself three hours.
  7. I write every afternoon from 2-5pm. My day-job takes up my mornings, and then I exercise, have lunch and chat with my fiance. Realistically, it’s around 2pm before I actually get down to writing.
  8. Go into your diary and mark out the weeks you will be writing. Take into account any holidays you’ve got coming up, any commitments that mean you won’t be able to make your word count. Go ahead and mark out the times you will be writing. If you don’t write it down, you won’t stick to it!
  9. Following this method, you can successfully complete a full manuscript in just two months. The important thing is to stop when you reach your daily or weekly word count. You might feel like you could write forever one day, and punch out 2,000 words in an hour. Great. Stop there and go and walk your dog. This is an important aspect of this method. It’s so easy (I’ve done it) to burn yourself out writing. Better to stop when you could keep going, so that you can’t wait to write again the next day.
  10. There you have it. Each week, you tick off another 10,000 words, and inch a little bit further toward your goal. This method makes you focus on the little bit of road before you. You move ahead, one step at a time, and don’t get discouraged about how much more you’ve got to write.

Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint!

Using this method, I’ve currently got three manuscripts on the go! The first, a Historical Romance set in 7th Century Northumbria, is scheduled to have the first draft done by early November. The second, another Historical Romance set in 4th Century Scotland, will have the first draft done by Christmas. The third project, Book #2 in my Epic Fantasy Romance will have 40,000 words written by the end of this year (a good start on a 100,000 word manuscript). I know all of this, because I’ve planned it out … and I’m sticking to the schedule.

Now I can hear your objections already.

You’re lucky, Sam, you have the afternoons off to write. I don’t! I work 9-5pm. I hear you … but I haven’t always worked freelance … and when I had a full-time job I would write on the train, squeeze in half an hour at lunch-time, set aside an hour after dinner, and do some writing at the weekends. If you’ve got a full-time job, try and do a little bit over seven days: that’s 1,428 words per day (which even with a bit of wriggle room you should be able to do in 2 hours).

Still say you don’t have time?

I can’t carve it out for you. The reality is that sitting down and actually writing a novel is HARD WORK. You’ve really got to have the inner core of motivation that drives you. You’re going to have to sacrifice some time you’d use for other things. However, that said, all of us have ‘dead time’ during our day. Time when we vege-out in front of the TV or mindlessly surf the internet and social media. Seek out ‘dead time’ in your day and use it for writing. It all adds up!

Before you know it, you’ll have that first draft done!

What about you … do you have any tips on how to get more productive with your writing. Please share in the comments below!

 

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