Hello writers! So, full confession time: I’m not quite at 100% yet. In fact, I might even try for a nap after this post is over. We’ll see how I feel.
But I’ve got to be good enough to deliver today’s Being a Better Writer post! After all, I promised it!
Now, a quick bit of news prior to jumping into writing stuff: We are now just as day before one week away from the Starforge cover reveal! Though I’ve lost a few days to this blasted cold, Rest assured that Starforge is coming, and you’ll see the cover soon enough! If you missed the initial announcement, September 1st is the date you’re looking for!
Okay, with that news out of the way, let’s dive into writing. Today’s topic isn’t actually from the list, because in light of my current status as less-than-100%, I didn’t want to tackle one of the remaining items on the list because they’re fairly complicated concepts that both readily lend themselves to large posts and will likely require more brainpower than I was confident I could deliver for a sustained time.
But this writing topic, plucked from a run through the various feeds I check each morning? This one is straightforward, relatively simple, and easy to cover. If you’re a bit let down by this week’s BaBW covering something so basic, I would remind that remembering the basics is the best way to keep our writing output consistent in its quality and production.
So today we’re discussing a fairly simple but also common question often heard from new writers: How do I improve my writing output?
Hit the jump, and let’s get started.
All right, let’s be clear by what we mean by “improving writing output” first, because there are two different generalizations that might spring up depending on the audience that sees that question and where they are with their writing journey.
Some, probably fairly new writers, think of this in the most straightforward terms: How many words am I producing when I write? Others, who are likely a bit more experienced and comfortable with their writing productivity, may instead be thinking “How do I improve the quality of what I write?”
Both are correct, as both are ways of interpreting “writing output” to their own context. Which means we’ve got two different answers to tackle here.
Let’s start with the first interpretation, then, and work from there. Let’s envision a young writer—young to the process, not their life—who has just started embarking on the grand adventure that is committing a story to written word. They’re trying, they’re working at it, but it just seems that everything is taking so long. They sat down and the first hundred words came easily enough. But there were a hundred more to come after that, and another after that, and their mind, their fingers, or maybe both started to feel exhausted. They finished writing for the day, looked at their total wordcount, and felt good about it being a few hundred words … Until the next day started and they realized both how much was left to write and how little they’d written.
This sort of experience can be daunting, and it’s the stopping point for many new writers. They discover that the next day is about to be the same experience, with hours of work spent for a few hundred words of result … And they find a new hobby.
Of course, this is a writing guide, so stepping away is, we assume, the direction anyone reading this would rather not take. Instead, we’re assuming that these budding young writers look at the results they’ve achieved so far and thought “Surely I can do more, right?”
Assuming that drive to continue, to produce, to craft more of this world they’ve began to build … How can they set about doing that? How can they move from several hours being several hundred words to the outputs of professional authors that produce many thousands of words per day? What’s the path forward to increasing their output?
Well … the answer isn’t as comforting as many of them hope. I’ve been to writing cons and in writing classes, so believe me when I say that there are a lot of young writers who believe in the “silver bullet.” This idea that there’s “just one low-effort thing” that all successful writers and authors do that allows them to produce so much content. And sadly, I have to once again inform those believers that there is no such thing. There is no silver bullet. The only way to improve one’s output is practice and work.
Thankfully, there’s a lot of experience around both of those terms to give some prospective writers advice on how to go about improving their own output. But again, there’s no silver bullet. I’ve seen these techniques offered to young, would-be writers who then rebuffed them because they didn’t want to do the work and believed that there was some secret silver bullet being hidden from them. But there isn’t. It really comes down to practice and work, and everything an author develops comes from those avenues.
So, if you want to improve your writing output, here’s some advice on how to do that. First, make a habit of writing daily. Establish for yourself a rhythm. A pattern. Maybe it’s writing every day of the week that’s a workday. Maybe it’s spending two hours of your Saturday writing at least a set amount of words. Whatever you pick, pick something that can be regular and recognizable by your body as a habit, and make it one.
“But!” some might say. “The big authors and writers just write anywhere and everywhere! Why can’t—?”
I’ll stop them there. They do that because they’ve had a lifetime of working to be good at what they do. It’s like asking how Tony Hawk can just start his routine with some sick tricks: He spent his life practicing from the bottom up, and now he’s a master. So it is with writing and those that can sit down and churn out three or four thousand words a day like clockwork: It’s the result of years and years and years of dedicated practice to build habits that put their minds in a space to write. Repeating any action can make it easier and more familiar, and the action young writers want to get themselves into is making writing a habit.
But that’s not the only way to improve one’s output. For that habitual time to mean anything, there needs to be effort put in and understood. Which means setting and establishing goals with rewards for success.
No writer starts out producing three or four thousand words a day. Even the most prolific of creators don’t hit the ground at a full sprint. They work their way up to it. And part of that work is using goals to encourage themselves to grow and improve.
Look, no fitness coach would tell a prospective weightlifter to walk into the gym, set all the machines to the weight they one day want to life, and then struggle against that for a half hour before going home without lifting anything. Writing is the same way. So you spent an afternoon and wrote a few hundred words? Now you have a starting goal. Set up your habit time, and make it a goal to produce those few hundred words again. Make it a daily goal. Then establish yourself a reward. Maybe if you make your daily goal every day for say two weeks, you’ll buy yourself a treat from the dollar store. Or see that movie you want to see.
I don’t know. Rewards are pretty personal. But if you don’t achieve the goals, don’t reward yourself anyway. Reevaluate. Maybe tighten your goals up.
But here’s the really important bit: Once you reach a point where you’re regularly meeting your goal … Up it. Just as with weightlifting, increase the amount of writing output your goals require. Make for yourself a new goal and stretch just a little bit. Keep your habit, and you’ll hit it. Then you’ll increase it again.
Step by step, bit by bit, your productivity will improve. You will produce more writing than ever before.
Now, a quick side note: You cannot do this infinitely. Once again going back to our weightlifting analogy, eventually the lifter will reach an upper limit.
This is fine. It’s how the world is. Eventually you’ll reach a goal you’ve set, keep it for a while, and realize “This is too much.” You’ll have hit your maximum.
I did this. I built up my daily output over years of writing until I was writing, regularly, five to six thousand words a day.
And you know what? It was too much. My hands were killing me, and I was feeling tired and starting to make slips. So I reduced my goal back to three to four thousand words a day, and have held that for years. I worked up from five hundred words a day to six-eight times that, and realized that was where my limits were. Occasionally I’ll still have a day where I’ll write twelve thousand because I’m finishing off a book or a big chapter, but those are rare and I take care of myself afterward.
Now, there’s one last bit to this before we move on. I want to talk about removing distractions. This is for some very hard to do. I’ve known people who really wanted to be writers but could not stop watching Youtube, playing video games, chatting or browsing on social media, whatever, when they were supposed to be writing. Some would even talk about how “hard” they’d worked that day at the end, while having no actual writing to show for it, just a long queue of youtube videos in their history.
As you might guess, this is not conducive to writing. If you’re serious about writing and want to improve your output, pay attention to what sort of distractions you allow yourself to be pulled away by. Then, remove those distractions. Don’t let them take away from your writing.
Some balk at this. They claim they need the “unwind” of Youtube or some other distraction. Well, if that’s the case, then go unwind, but recognize it is not writing. Keep them separate. If you’re serious about writing, you’ll find the time and the drive to cut out the distractions and keep yourself focused.
So … that’s one form of output. But what about the other I mentioned? No, I didn’t forget about it. So let’s talk about this other form of improving your output. Let’s talk about guidance for basic improvements to your craft.
In other words, you’ve started producing your goal, be that a story a week, three thousand words a month, whatever it happens to be, and you’re happy with it. But what about the quality of that output? How do you go about improving that?
Now, in fairness, we must recognize that everything we produce will be edited later. Trying to “perfect” something before it’s finished only leads to the death spiral. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve our raw output. The question then is “How do we do that?”
Well, there are a lot of specific ways, but we’re not going to talk about that. It’d be overwhelming, and I might as well say “Hey, here’s a link to every BaBW article ever, just do this.
Not helpful. That’s too much at once. No, the trick to improving the quality of your output lies in a similar method to improving your output in other ways: setting small, measurable goals.
Say you decide you have a weakness of using only “said” as a dialogue tag. Now, you don’t want the opposite problem of going out of your way to avoid said to be noticeable either, but you’ve got to start somewhere?
What do you do? You make a small goal. More of a reminder, really. It could take the form of a post-it note on the side of your monitor, or a reminder ping from your phone. Regardless it says “Use said less.”
That’s it! That’s all. Just a gentle reminder to get your mind moving in the right direction while you work.
See, think of your writing like a ship that’s set a course. We don’t want the course to make an abrupt right angle, tipping people out of bunks and heading in a completely new heading that may be just as “wrong” as the old one. And we don’t want to stop the ship because it takes a lot of energy to start and stop. What we want is incremental change. Adjusting the heading by degrees, not massive swings.
Yes, this means your writing won’t go from “needs work” to “100% perfect” at one moment. It means that you’ll have to go back and edit the course charted that wasn’t so spot on … But it also means avoiding that death spiral in its many forms, as well as allowing yourself to continue to produce content while getting better and better.
Once you’ve reached a point with whatever improvement you’ve chosen where you’re satisfied with your improvement, you can find another. And another. All the time tightening the course you’re charting by tiny increments, making your output more and more high-quality with each passing day.
And there we have it! A common question answered. Remember, a key component to both of these methods to improving your output is small but continual change. Set goals, work toward them, and day by day, your craft will improve.
Good luck. Now get writing.
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