Have you ever wondered how some successful authors publish a book or more a year? Do they have secret writing skills they could teach you to help you become a successful writer? Are there tools you could use to make you equally productive?
If you want to become a successful writer, you need to first learn how to become a productive writer. But what does it really take to be productive?
In this article we will look at five tools you can use to become a more productive and successful writer—all of which you'll want to place neatly in your writer's toolkit.
This article includes an excerpt from my new book The Write Fast System.
How to Become a Successful Writer: Be Productive
Early in my writing career, I would look at professional writers with awe. How did these bestselling authors get so much done? I often questioned how they put out books every year while still juggling their daily lives. Meanwhile, I couldn't get anything off the ground.
I started a lot of creative writing projects, but nothing ever seemed to get finished.
I made a lot of plans but didn’t follow through. Or rather, I didn’t know how to follow through—because I didn't understand what it really meant, or how to be a productive writer.
The steps from planning my novel to completing it felt unfamiliar and strange, like stepping into a mysterious forest where all the productive writers followed the secret fairy lights to a polished treasure. I couldn't understand why I kept stumbling around blindly, only to end up at the same starting point again. Were there some aspects of writing I was missing that all my favorite authors had mastered?
The truth is, the whole “productivity” goal can feel very mysterious not only for writers, but people in general. It's as if some people are just magically productive with a clear career path and others aren’t. I used to feel this way as well.
I was wrong.
But what does it really take to be a productive writer? And can being productive really help new writers and published veterans earn success?
It can, if writers develop conscious habits that make them productive. And not just in a mysterious, theoretical way, but in a concrete, actionable way.
5 Tools That Will Make You a Productive Writer
People can achieve their goals if they break down a goal into actionable steps. Becoming a productive writer is no different.
It’s easy to give yourself a writing assignment and tell yourself “just be productive.” It's much harder to actually make it happen when you don’t have a proven process to do it.
There are five tools all writers need in their writing toolbox to ensure that they write consistently and productively—and with ease.
Once you become comfortable and familiar with these writing tools, you’ll see that productivity doesn’t have to be tricky or hard. If anything, becoming a productive writer will make your writing journey fun, and, yes, it will give you a game plan and creative process worth your time and attention!
1. A Book Plan
The first tool you’ll need is your book plan.
While we’ll go into greater detail on how to plan a book in future posts, it’s important to recognize right now that a book plan is essential to becoming a productive writer. Remember from my previous post the four key reasons planning a novel helps speed up your writing: (1) planning allows a holistic view of your book, (2) it prevents writer’s block, (3) it ensures that you focus on what is important, and (4) it’s fun to create.
Having a plan for your novel allows you to dive into writing each day without having to figure out what to write. It saves valuable writing time and probably headaches.
But most importantly, a novel plan makes it easier to start. Much like exercise, oftentimes the biggest hindrance to making the most of your writing time is starting. I don't know a single person who hasn't experienced difficulty at some time or another getting started.
Once you overcome that roadblock, momentum will carry you the rest of the way. And you'll feel all the better after your writing session.
To get yourself into the novel planning mindset—and after you finish reading this post—review the following posts on important writing concepts, and consider how each one applies to your story and its structure:
- Six Elements of Plot
- What to Include in a First Draft
- Word Count: How Long Should A Book Be?
- Deep POV
- How to End a Story
2. A Writing Schedule
Writers need a writing schedule (and they need to stick to it) if they want to achieve their goals.
It’s not uncommon for writers to think that they can “find time” to write throughout a day, but then they allow time to slip through their fingers when they become occupied with other tasks and obligations. At the end of the day, they will probably look up and realize they’ve gone another day without writing, at which point they sigh, shrug, and swear they’ll “find time” the next day.
In his book Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield talks about what it means to be a professional. One of the biggest things that differentiates a professional and a non-professional is that a professional shows up.
Imagine what would happen if you didn’t show up to your day job. Can you just wake up one day, decide you can’t “find time” for you job, and not go? Of course not. Your boss wouldn’t like that. Your coworkers wouldn’t like that. Your customers and clients wouldn’t like that. You would likely be fired if you kept up this behavior.
So if you’re serious about writing, why wouldn’t you treat it the same way?
Remember, no one will take your writing seriously if you don’t care about and prioritize your writing time first. A professional’s job has a set schedule, one that is the same every day (or at least every work day). They show up during those hours, and they do their job.
This isn scary, but try taking an honest audit of your day, hour by hour. It may seem tedious, but it’s not as hard as it sounds and once you start, you’ll realize it actually doesn’t take very long. Simply complete the following steps.
4 Steps to Audit Your Day
- Pick one workday (a day where you must show up to a day job or school) and one non-work day (a day without day job or school).
- List out an average day hour by hour, starting with a reasonable time to get out of bed and a reasonable time to go to sleep (be honest; if you’re not honest about your daily schedule, this won’t work).
- In each hour block, log the activities you completed at that time (again, honesty is important).
- Review each block and ask yourself: “Is this block a good use of my time?” Consider if it can be combined with another block. Or, maybe question if it is something that absolutely needs to get done.
Chances are you will find at least a block or two on both workdays and non-work days that you aren’t efficiently using your time.
I went through this process myself and discovered that I wasted an hour between dinner and putting the kids to bed. More often than not, while the kids watched TV or played on a tablet, I sat mindlessly scrolling on my phone, waiting to put them to bed. Not only that, I was doing this five times a week. Those five hours are now put toward writing, editing, and whatever else that needs to be done.
Of course, everyone has different schedules and obligations. Some people can only find time on a weekday or weekend or vice versa. The key is to identify what works for you writing schedule, and stick to it.
Be it five nights a week, seven mornings, or just two afternoons, once you find what works for you on a regular basis, your productivity will increase massively and immediately.
And when you use your time efficiently, you won't look back feeling regret or disappointment. You'll have added to your book's rough draft, and that's a wonderful feeling.
3. A Word Count Goal
Just writing is not enough. After all, you will never win the race if there’s no finish line. Defining a writing goal is very important.
Goals come in many forms, and it may be different for everyone.
- It could be a word count goal in the style of NaNoWriMo: fifty thousand words in one month.
- It could be a habit goal: write a certain number of words per day for a defined number of days.
- It could be a project-oriented goal: finish a certain piece of writing, beginning to end.
If you've followed this blog series on How to Write Faster, you know that our purpose is twofold. It is both:
- Project-oriented (finish a first draft), and
- Time-oriented (in six weeks).
The most important part to note here is that in that time, you must finish your book.
It doesn’t matter if the story is poorly written, or disjointed, or if you couldn’t find a way to fill a major plothole. You need to finish your story's rough draft even if you have to slap an ending on just to finish it.
Why is that? Why do you need to force this goal?
After you’ve written intensely for several weeks, you will most likely want a break.
Stepping away from a book after working on it intensely will likely break your thought train, and you could easily lose track of your original intention for your story, the mood you’ve established, and a number of other story threads that you’ve established while writing it.
You can avoid this problem to some degree with a good book plan, but it still increases the chance that your book will lose a certain amount of tightness and coherence that is more easily established if you finish it all at once.
To set a goal, start by choosing a word count that is appropriate for your book genre and realistic for you to finish in six weeks.
I usually set a goal of 80K to 85K for a first draft. This is a good length for a first draft of a commercial fiction book, and is doable in six weeks. It also gives me an adequate amount of material to work with for future drafts.
For a YA book, you may want to decrease your word count to 60K. For high fantasy, maybe up to 100K. However, it's also important to keep in mind that the length of your first draft doesn’t necessarily dictate your future drafts' word count.
Keep it realistic, doable, and with enough room to cover the whole story.
4. A Writing Software Tool
Having the correct tool to write with is important. There are a number of ways to write. Some people prefer fancier tools like Scrivner and some prefer simple, like Word. I’ve seen people type stories out on notes apps on iPads and phones. The Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin even use to write parts of his scripts on bar napkins.
Personally, I write in Google Docs, which is easily accessible both at home and at work. Even after the pandemic set in, I continued to use it because it has just the right amount of features I need and not a thing more.
The choices of writing software tools are endless. In the end, you need to choose the right tool to write with hinges on a few important factors. Consider the following when choosing your tool.
3 Essentials for Your Best Book Writing Software
- Accessibility. If you write in different places, such as at the office and at home, you should be able to access your writing tool in both places. If you write during your commute, is there Wi-Fi, or will you need to have a saved copy? It’s important to ensure that you can use your choice of writing tool whenever and wherever you want to write.
- Editing Features. Not everyone edits the same way, but you should make sure that your tool has the features you need. Some people may require things like change tracking or note making. Others may only need basic bolding and italicizing. No matter what you need, make sure your tool has it so you’re not missing it in the middle of writing.
- Safe Storage. Where is your book stored? A lot of us know the pain of losing hours of work due to technology failure. Is the app you’re writing in secure? Does it auto save? Can you revert to previous versions or create backup copies? The last thing you want in the middle of a six-week writing marathon is to lose a critical piece of the story because something crashed.
Choose your writing software wisely and refer to our book writing software guide if you're not sure which will be best for your process. Worst case scenario, you try one way, and if it doesn't work, you switch. Just pick one at a time, and start writing. See what happens.
Does it add to your productivity? By how much? Take notice.
5. A Support Team
I cannot overemphasize the importance of support. We are not islands or silos. Having support makes everything easier. It’s vital to let the people in your life know that you are taking on a major project for six weeks and that during this period, you need extra support and help.
Some people may be fortunate enough not to require additional help. However, many of us have obligations outside of writing.
I frequently ask my husband to spend a little extra time with the kids or take over the bedtime routine, so I can catch up on writing. Once in a while I take a day off work to get ahead on writing projects. My friends are my biggest cheerleaders and they keep me believing in myself. The writing community shares in my struggles, hard days, and roadblocks and reminds me I’m not alone.
We all have a point where we’re afraid to tell people that we’re writing a book with intention. It makes it a little too real, a little like an obligation. But trust me, we all need this project to feel real. We need to be able to say it out loud to other people, “I am writing a book.”
Not only does this allow us to draw support from others, but it also increases our accountability, both to others and to ourselves.
How can you become a successful writer? Tell someone what you're doing. Go on, you won’t regret it.
Flexibility Is Important, Too
It’s worth mentioning that there’s more than one way to use these five tools that will make you a more productive and successful writer. In fact, there are several ways to make the best use of it.
3 Ways to Use These Tools
- Before you start a book, take out the list above and look at each item. Ask yourself if you have each one in place, or if you don’t, think about how you can either put the missing piece in place or work around it.
- When you’re having a hard time getting a book or story written, check the list. Is there a piece of the puzzle missing? What exactly is hindering you from getting the book done? Find that missing factor and get yourself back on track.
- Maybe you’re doing great and you’re wondering if you can get ahead and finish ahead of schedule. Maybe you’re running behind because frankly, let’s face it, life has a habit of getting in the way of our creative endeavors. Either way, these tools can give you a boost.
There's no perfect way to use these five productivity tools—but a successful writer will use them. So, figure out how to use them best for your writing life, and work them into your writing process today.
What writing tools do you use to be productive? Let us know in the comments.
For today's practice, take a look at the five tools you can use to become a a successful writer—by becoming a productive one! Are there any you don't use? Are there others you rely on like your life depended on it?
Spend fifteen minutes creating a checklist of these items and describing how you use them in your writing process. If you don't, come up with a plan for how you're going to implement it into your writing life.
Once you’re done, share your plans with the writing community. Write Practice Pro members can share in the practice workshop. Not a member yet? Come join us and begin practicing with a great group of supportive writers.
If you're stuck, ask for help in the comments! Support other writers by giving advice on how they can change a missing tool into a productive one.
J. D. Edwin is a daydreamer and writer of fiction both long and short, usually in soft sci-fi or urban fantasy. Sign up for her newsletter for free articles on the writer life and updates on her novel, find her on Facebook and Twitter (@JDEdwinAuthor), or read one of her many short stories on Short Fiction Break literary magazine.