What kind of writer are you? Are you the type who can kick out a book a year, pad it a few short stories, and still manage to keep up on your emails? Maybe you’re a writer who labors meticulously on a single project for the better part of a decade. Do you drift somewhere in the median? There is no wrong answer, but understanding your natural tendencies, methods, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses will help you approach your writing from a more tactful place and help you direct your career into one that not only best suits you, but one that is more rewarding.
The first thing to consider is the rate at which you work. Everyone’s situations, routines, motivations, and abilities are different, but it’s good to understand where you fall on the spectrum of prolificacy. Some writers can dedicate long daily stretches to writing while others wait until their families are tucked into bed before hunkering down and toiling late into quiet nights to pursue their passion projects. Even considering wide schedule disparities, both types of writers could very well end up with a comparable heap of words. No matter the circumstances surrounding your writing, you know better than anyone if you are constantly firing on all cylinders and churning out waves of exceptional prose or whether you meticulously select each word, craft each phrase, and chart the rhythm of each passage to the pace of an unhurried muse. Perhaps you fall somewhere in between. It is even possible that you fluctuate wildly between these poles. None of these approaches is wrong in any way, but it is important to recognize which one is YOU.
If you are feeling insecure about your word count, whether you feel you create too little over long periods, or you find that you overproduce and worry about slipping quality, consider ways in which you might leverage these factors to your advantage. For the slow writer, perhaps you have embarked on your project prematurely. This is more likely the case if you notice a decrease in your regular output. In this situation, it’s best to take a step back, make detailed notes and a thorough outline. If you lean toward visual thinking, draw some diagrams, or perhaps a map, but be careful not to let a tool become a distraction. Let the story you are telling guide you, but always be aware whether it is pulling or you have begun to push. If you’ve got every detail together but can’t seem to find the words to bring them to life, the problem could lie with your routine or your state of mind. Try setting aside a dedicated, uninterrupted block of time at least three days a week depending on the scale of your venture. Take care of all lingering chores and responsibilities and work out an agreement with your family or roommate(s) that will allow you to dig in without distraction. It may help to begin each session with a brief meditation. Still distracted? Many writers turn off their Wi-Fi or surrender their phones so as not to succumb to the pull of constant connectivity. If your work is deeply complex and multi-tiered, make sure you stay organized and keep any notes easily accessible during writing sessions and keep in mind a loose plan of attack when you begin. Avoid falling into research while you are writing, but jot down anything you need to look into and take care of it in advance of your next scheduled production period. Perhaps none of these instances apply to you—fear not! You may just require more time to properly translate your concepts from thought to text. If that is the case, stick with it and be mindful of moments of clarity. Remember how you reached them and use that information to curate an environment conducive to your particular mode of creativity.
If you are writing so much that it feels the story is going off the rails or meandering into too many unnecessary details, you might just need a side project to sate your creative impulse. An ideal option is getting into a freelance writing gig. Whether it is with a local paper or magazine or an online venue, there are paying jobs out there for the productive, timely writer! Start with areas of interest, such as book, album, or film reviews, or perhaps you have journalistic leanings and would like to write about events in your community. This path is not for all writers, but if output is your specialty, it can help you with focus and teach an economy of language that is best learned through experience. If this holds no appeal for you, start a blog! If you’re feeling a little insecure, you can always keep it anonymous, and it doesn’t need to be something you share with everyone, or anyone, for that matter. You have free reign on topics, no deadlines, no, length, style, or format restrictions. This is your chance to exercise all those excess ideas. When the time comes to sit down with the next short story or that novel that’s been wobbling around in your head, your focus will be in the right place. Not interested in blogging? You can also start mapping out your next project. If your writing stays on topic but you’re producing bloated, opaque slabs of text, get comfortable with killing your darlings. The prolific writer must also become the astute editor, or at least know an astute editor who can be trusted to amplify essentials and eradicate excess.
However you write, regardless of genre or format, intimately understanding your approach will provide critical insight on how to decide which ideas to pursue and how to present your completed works. It’s important not to pander to markets just because they are hot, but don’t pass up an opportunity to take advantage when they bend into your sphere. It may be tempting for fast writers to set their sights on churning out the next Game of Thrones, but adding to the noise leads to over-saturation and substandard work, not huge sales and global acclaim. If you’re looking for a mega-hit, remember that Harry Potter and Twilight weren’t riding the coattails of other works, they were exploring ideas that had not fully permeated popular culture. Instead of bandwagon-hopping, take a step back and consider the format and whether your productivity level would be an asset or a hindrance. A long book series is a smart goal for prolific writers, but write what you love, not what you think other people might love based on the popularity of another franchise. Slower writers should note that novellas and short novels have become increasingly popular in recent years and can be an ideal gateway for new readers. This is an exciting development because a novella can be anything you want it to be. Any genre or topic, standalone or series is an opportunity to make a big leap into the literary world without the daunting length of a traditional novel.
This path is yours and yours alone, so be mindful of its many twists, turns, and detours as you embark. Work to understand yourself and your potential; think about what you hope to achieve. Our literary dreams don’t always shake out as envisioned, but having a general direction will help guide you away from the many distractions and pitfalls you’ll encounter in your pursuit!