November 2nd, 2018

4 Foolproof Methods to Become a Prolific and Successful Writer

by Sarah Cy

Have you ever noticed that many of the world’s most successful writers are also the most prolific?

  • Horror writer, Steven King famously writes 2,000 words a day, and over the course of his career he’s written nearly one hundred books (and counting).
  • Romance writer, Barbara Cartland produced over 720 novels in 75 years, winning a Guinness World Record for most novels written in a single year (23!).
  • And celebrated Sci-Fi writer, Isaac Asimov produced 500 published works in his career, writing in a variety of forms, from books to short stories, screenplays, and more.

What about you? How many books/articles/screenplays have you written so far?

What? Less than 500? Tsk. Tsk.

Just kidding. It’s okay if you feel like you can’t quite compete with King, Cartland, or Asimov. Writing that much, after all, is not easy. And we all have lives to live, families to spend time with, bodies to take care of.

But guess what? So did King, Cartland, and Asimov (and many other writers like them).

You can become a more prolific writer than you are right now, if you follow these four tips:

1) Gather (a Lot of) Ideas

Writers need ideas the way bricklayers need bricks. Without them, we have nothing to write about. But fortunately for us, ideas are everywhere. Here are three great places to find them:

Published content

The most obvious places to look for your next brilliant idea, is previously existing content: books, audiobooks, podcasts, Youtube videos, classes, etc. 

Anytime you are consuming content, turn on your writer brain and keep a notebook to catch the thousands of stray ideas that may be triggered by your reading.

Life stories

Mine your own and others’ stories for valuable material.

People love to talk about themselves, so not only will you collect fascinating ideas for your writing, you’ll be doing them a huge favor if you take the time to listen. Win-win!

Existing feedback

Another place to look for ideas is in the comments and reviews section on Amazon, Goodreads, or writing blogs.

Writing is about serving reader’s needs and answering their questions. So find out what those needs and questions are — straight from the horse’s mouth. 

Your collection system

Don’t forget to use a note-taking system to capture and organize ideas. You need to be able to review and access your raw material quickly and easily when you start writing.

2) Limit Yourself

In one Calvin and Hobbes comic, Hobbes asks Calvin when he will finish writing his story. 

Calvin says, “I’m waiting for inspiration.”

Hobbes asks what that entails. Calvin replies: “Last-minute panic.”

Can you relate? There is something about last-minute panic that brings out the “best” in us.

But why wait for outside deadlines when you can create your own? The following are two practical ways to do just that:

Limit your time and/or word count

Give yourself three months to finish your first draft, set a timer to write two pages in ten minutes, or set a daily minimum word count goal.

The key is to make the limit real. For example: some people post goals on social media, or giving their friend a check to their least favorite charity with instructions to mail it if they don’t hit the goal.

Another way to create constraints is to participate in a program with others. NaNoWriMo and Story A Day  challenge writers to produce a certain quantity of words or stories within a certain time.

If you’re feeling sadistic, you can also try Write or Die, which deletes your work if you stop typing. 

Limit your environment

Get rid of distractions. Clean your physical and virtual spaces. Clear your table, your desktop, and extra internet tabs.

Keeping yourself focused will go a long way toward helping you write more than you thought possible.

3) Work on Multiple Projects

Have you ever watched eating contest competitors consume a beverage or side dish alongside the main item?

It doesn’t make sense, at first — shouldn’t they be trying to conserve stomach space?

But there’s a reason for this: Variety.

Eating a massive amount isn’t easy, but add to that the mind-numbing sameness of one food-type, and it’s enough to make a person throw in the napkin…er, towel.

It’s the same with writing.

If you want to be a prolific writer, you should have a few works-in-progress going at the same time.

That way, when you don’t feel like writing your novel, you can switch to poetry.

When blogging bores you, you can brainstorm songs for your musical.

When editorials make you scream, you can work on your short stories.

It helps if the different projects you are working on are creative in different ways. You can even work on projects in different languages. 

Novelty gives your writing brain a second wind, so use variety to prevent boredom and increase your productivity.

4) The Most Important Tip: Plan Ahead

If you’re serious about writing, you will need to know what writing project you are working on and set aside time to get it done.

According to Hofstadter’s Law, people tend to underestimate the time it takes for them to accomplish large projects (such as novels).

But people also procrastinate to fill time (Parkinson’s Law). Experiment with your writing speed and find out what works for you. 

Consider your health as well: It’s hard to write when you’re sick or tired. So plan to get enough sleep, exercise, and family time to keep your brain running. 

Why Should You be a Prolific Writer? 

Prolificacy is practice. Practice leads to skillful writing, and skillful writing leads to success.

Of course, writing prolifically is not your main goal as a writer. But mastering prolificacy can help you achieve other goals—reaching more readers, earning more money, etc.

Being a prolific writer is a matter of will and skill, and you can be more productive than you currently are, if you so desire.

So what are you waiting for?

The world is looking forward to your next book…and the next…and the next…and the next…

You got this!

Do any of these resonate with you? have you tried any of them?

 *  *  *  *  *  *

Sarah Cy is a blogger, copywriter and writing coach. Her mission is to inspire readers and writers through succinct, sincere, (and sometimes silly) writing. Get her free Write Purpose Manifesto to learn about writing to change lives--including your own!

31 responses to “4 Foolproof Methods to Become a Prolific and Successful Writer”

  1. Julie Glover says:

    Great tips here! One of the things I'm also learning for myself is my need to vary my setting. If I'm starting to struggle with getting words written or edited, sometimes it helps just to move myself—to the local coffee shop, my library, another room in the house, the back patio. Just somewhere that feels like a reset for my brain. Guess it's working so far, after my one day of NaNoWriMo, in which I knocked out 3k words. 🙂

  2. LucciaGray says:

    Great advice. I agree with everything you say. I was surprised about your third tip. I always work on multiple projects, and multiple languages (I write mostly in English, but also in Spanish), although one project is usually in the forefront, at least for a time!

    • Hi Luccia! It sounds like you are doing the third tip already. Have you found it helping? That's what I do too--have one main project in the foreground, but several in the back that I'm simultaneously feeding, waiting for their turn in the spotlight. I am primarily an English writer, but I would love to hone my foreign language skills so that I can write well in them one day!

      • LucciaGray says:

        Sometimes it helps and others I just feel overwhelmed!

        • Hi Luccia,
          That is true! I've been playing with the idea of 3-month cycles, where one writing project is predominant while the others take a backseat, and then rotate. Don't know if that might help 🙂

          • LucciaGray says:

            That sounds like a good idea. It does help, and I do something similar unconsciously, but perhaps it's a good idea to set ( loose) time limits and be more aware of the rotation process as a positive/necessary aspect of my writing process. It's encouraging to know I'm not alone in this!

  3. Laura Drake says:

    My best tip for longevity? Keep Breathing. Just kidding.

    I have a word goal every day. On good days it can take 2 hours. on a bad day, 12.

    I really think if you don't set goals for yourself, days, weeks, months go by with no pages.

    • Hi Laura!
      Agreed. Goal setting is an important skill for writers in particular. It can be really easy to procrastinate longer than you intend to if you don't have some kind of goal to shoot for.

  4. jeribronson says:

    I like the advice about variety people are always saying you can only work on one at a time, but I write 2 genres that are opposite so I like hopping out of my books. I do struggle with trying to edit. I can't seem to stay focused. I guess because I don't like it lol!

    • Laura Drake says:

      Jeri - you and me both! I'd rather write on 3 projects at a time than edit one! Yuk.

    • Hi Jeri! What two genres do you focus on? I like to vary writing types. My main writing for now is fiction (in the form of novels and short stories) and blogging. But I have been known to dabble in songwriting and poetry in the past, and I still do for variety 🙂

  5. Terry Odell says:

    Other than my blog, I can't work on more than one project at a time. I'll start a new project while my first is with my editor, but when she sends it back, I have to set the new one aside. I need to be immersed in my story, characters, etc. I've found myself putting the wrong characters into projects if I'm working on more than one.
    I've found a comfortable level of productivity -- minimum 1000 words/day. I have 4 series, 27 total publications, and am working on novel #21, which is fine by me.

    • Laura Drake says:

      That's it, Teri - the tortoise method works! (although your daily word count is higher than mine.) I've found that consistency will get you to the finish line as fast as the hares. Write on!

    • Hi Terry! I agree with Laura. Every writer is different, and it sounds like you've found the process that works best for you. Thank you for sharing! It may give other writers good ideas for their own process!

  6. I'm doing NaNo. I'm going to check out Story a Day and see what that's all about. I do the timer method. I find timers work great. 25 mins in the chair, 25 mins of work, work. Doing this sent my word count a day from 1,000 a day to 1,800 a day. Like Stephen, my goal is to be a 2k a day writer.

    • Laura Drake says:

      And you're almost there, Maggie! Our own Jenny swears by a timer, too. And I think she's doing NaNo, too. You two should team up!

    • Hi Maggie! Story A Day is like NaNo for story writers, but more frequent and the group is smaller. It is run by one writer, Julie Duffy. I discovered it this year and have done it twice. It's great for working on your storytelling chops 🙂

  7. Terrific ideas! I do have several WIP's in the bin; but they are all the same genre and setting. To change it up I post on the blog or game...that's my changeup. I love Nano and the time limit since I'm the queen of procrastination! Hold yourself accountable for those words per day, they do add up.

  8. Fae Rowen says:

    This gives me a whole new spin on being a prolific writer. I know that with each book, my writing improves. It's just that there are a lot of other things I love doing, too!

    • Laura Drake says:

      Yet another advantage of self-pubbing, Fae, flexible deadlines. But they come with a downside...
      flexible deadlines.

    • Hi Fae! That's true. I believe it was Ryan Holiday who once said the best way to keep older books top of mind is to write the next book. And continuing to write is good not just for staying visible, but as you said, you really do improve as you continue. 🙂

  9. dholcomb1 says:

    Have to careful with number 3, it can be overwhelming at times.

    denise

  10. […] In addition, Pascale Kavanagh suggests meditation to improve writer creativity, and Sarah Cy lists 4 foolproof methods to become a prolific and successful writer. […]

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