How I Write Over Half A Million Words A Year
Half a million words is, perhaps, not as much as it sounds. The thing is, I’m pretty consistent with this, and have been for the last decade or so, meaning I’ve produced several million words, and I have the systems in place to continue to do so. It’s around 10,000 words a week, or 2,000 words a day if I take the weekend off (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t).
That enables me to work full-time as a writer, earn a decent living, and do what I love doing, most of the time. (But not all the time — I work for clients as well as myself, so sometimes I have to write to a brief I find boring as hell. That’s just part of making a living as a writer, for me.)
If this is something you’d like to aim for, here are my tips. If you’re already doing this, or do a lot better, feel free to drop your own tips in the comment section.
Scheduling and prioritizing
Most of us fill our schedule with stuff, and then prioritize it. For me, effective time management works the other way around. I decide on my priorities, and then put them on my schedule.
What your ‘schedule’ actually looks like, will depend on you, of course. It can be an old-fashioned diary, an app, or a digital planner. It can be a wall calendar, or personal organizer, or a notebook you stole from your child’s school supplies.
Whatever your schedule looks like, find a regular time slot in it and label it ‘writing time’. You’ll still have to make an effort to actually stick to the schedule, of course, but getting that writing time on it is the first step. What gets written down tends to get done.
Looking at your schedule will be a reality check too. We all think we can just ‘slot in’ a little writing time here and there. The reality is, often we can’t. Sometimes, we have to do something drastic like getting up an hour earlier or missing a TV show we like.
Looking at your schedule closely will show you when and if you have time to write, and inspire you to claim time back from some other non-essential activity if you don’t.
Managing Your Energy
Sometimes when we feel like we’re not getting enough done in the time available, it’s a lack of energy that’s the problem, not a lack of time. When we’re feeling energetic, we can open a new document and knock out 1000 words in half an hour. When we have no energy it’s easier to open up our work in progress, move some commas around, check on TikTok and eat some chocolate.
The book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal says this better (and in considerably more detail) than I could. If you feel you have a low energy problem manifesting itself as a time management problem, I highly recommend that you read it, but the essential message is simple.
Get some energy. Manage it well. Keep replenishing it.
Only you know what gives you energy. If you’re not sure, try a combination of eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, exercising, spending time in the fresh air, hanging out with funny, positive friends (if you don’t have any, try your local writing group — writers can be very funny and positive), and listening to upbeat music.
When you identify something that gives you energy, insert more of it in your life.
If life is crazy busy, start small
Allocating some time to your writing is better than none, even if it’s only ten minutes. You can write 200 words in ten minutes, which is 200 more than if you’d allocated zero minutes. Here are some other things you can do in ten minutes.
- Outline an article, blog post or a chapter of a book.
- Jot down the basic idea for a short story, or even a novel.
- Draw a mind map around a topic you want to write about.
- Read a couple of blog posts about writing or publishing.
- Read a few pages of a book about writing or publishing.
- Do some online research. Bookmark or save the content you find.
- Find (and save) some online writers’ guidelines for markets you’d like to pitch.
- Read an article in a magazine you’d like to pitch.
- Read one or two writing related newsletters/ezines.
- Do a quick edit of the first draft of a short article or blog post.
- Do a final proofread of a very short article or blog post.
- Send an email, or make a phone call that relates to your writing business.
- Start a blog. Yes, you can do that in ten minutes — give or take a few.
You can’t achieve a huge amount in ten minutes but you can achieve something. With the help of tablets, phones and laptops we can often achieve these things while on the go.
You can be somewhat productive while waiting for the kids to finish sports practice, or even in the supermarket line. Use those ten minute time slots.
Make writing a habit
Habits can be hard to break, even the good ones. So form a writing habit, but prepare for the fact that good habits are harder to form than bad ones. The best advice I ever heard about habits, is that you can’t really break a habit or create a habit. You have to change a habit.
If you want to get in shape it’s not enough to say “I will stop lying on the couch eating chips in the evening” you have to say, “I’ll go for a walk/a run/a workout in the evening instead of lying on the couch eating chips.”
It’s the same with writing. You can’t just say “I’m going to write every day.” You have to say “I’m going to write instead of watching TV/scrolling through TikTok/lying on the couch eating chips.”
Ultimately, habits are just things we do routinely, without really thinking about them too much. Once you’re used to writing every day at a regular time it really will be as natural as lying on the couch eating chips once was. It just takes a while to get there.
To take it a step further, get into the habit of doing other writing related tasks at a regular time too. Having weekly and monthly tasks that you do at a set time in a set way (or, even better in some cases, automate to be done at a set time) can have a major impact on your productivity and efficiency.
You can make sending out writing invoices with your monthly bills a habit. You can make rationalising your social media contacts or sending out your weekly newsletter on a Sunday afternoon a habit. You can make updating your writers’ website with the turning of each season a habit. Try to make a habit of any writing related task you need to do on a regular basis.
Need free tools to help you get your freelance career started? Check out my Kindle book Free Tools For Writers, Bloggers and Solopreneurs.
This article was originally published on Medium.