Musings On Productivity

I just read an article about Nora Roberts. Aside from the author’s awe that Nora still lives in the same house she’s lived in since she was married at 19, one of the other impressive facts reported is that it takes Nora about 45 days to write a book.

I’d heard that Nora often wrote between 4 – 6 books a year, but I’d never done the math.  6×45=270 days working/year. That means she writes all week and some weekends too, producing a minimum of eight pages a day (2000 words x 45 = 90K). Plus editing, don’t forget.

I know other authors who write fast. John Vornholt and Mike Stackpole come to mind. Dean Wesley Smith is also a proponent of how fast writing can also be good writing. He says most people who make a living at writing are prolific, writing much more than one or two books a year.

Okay, so we know there are people who write like demons and produce gazillions of books, blog posts, and articles every year. Their stuff is good, not dreck.This is one of the oft stated keys to self-publishing success: high productivity. And generally speaking, the more you write, the better you get.

Given her success, this is true for Nora as well. Just like any athlete who trains daily to perfect their reflexes and skill, Nora writes all day, everyday. Because she does, her brain is trained to develop character and story structure. Writing isn’t something she struggles to squeeze in between other things. On the contrary, it’s the other things she squeezes in, like developing craft stores and bed & breakfasts.

Can we become like these authors who write volumes? As much as I like the advice that we must each be true to our own process, if my process is a slow one, shouldn’t I try to speed it up? I know very well that the choices I make about what I spend my time doing affect my productivity. Instead of reading email, blogging, and reading others’ blogs, I could be writing my next novel. I do think that “refilling the well” is important. I enjoy finding out what’s going on “out there.” I enjoy reading others’ books. (That is what inspired most of us to write isn’t it? Our love of reading?) What’s the right balance for productivity and refilling? And does it change as we become better writers?

Chris Guillebeau wrote in his book The Art of Non-Conformity, that it was only when the discomfort of remaining in his old apartment became greater than the pain of moving that he altered his circumstance. I think that’s true of most of us. We have to get to a place where we can no longer ignore the discomfort of not getting the work done, before we can say, “I’m going to change the way I work.”  There’s a saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve already got.” If you’re satisfied with your productivity, then keep doing what you’re doing. If not, change it up.



Filed under writing

11 responses to “Musings On Productivity

  1. Awesome post Frankie. I torture myself on a regular basis for not writing “fast enough”. And really, I can write an entire novel in a month, it’s the plotting up front that takes time. I have to have the “what” of the story before I write. I leave the “how” up to the actual writing process. Once I have that clear in my head, it’s full steam ahead.

    Still it’s frustrating. And you’re right, when you have to squeeze in writing while working full time and taking care of your family, it’s hard to develop that “muscle”. As to Nora, I used to imagine, she was like Michaelangelo with a room full of apprentices (or Nora cloned ten times over) all typing away. I am truly in awe of her ability and hard work!

  2. Frankie,

    Great post, especially the last paragraph. i’m a big believer that you don’t change your actions until you can no longer stand the pain or discomfort of one’s current situation. That said, for any author at Nora Robert’s level it is likely that he/she is supported by a team – someone to do research, someone to help with the edits, (Inot to mention the house cleaning and yard work) , all the things that any of us on this blog would need to do ourselves. I’m not taking anything away from the incredible success of a Nora Roberts or an Elmore Leonard, but I have to remember not to compare our own output with theirs.


    • Tara, I agree. I use Nora and others like her as a reminder to stretch myself, not as flagellation. I’m in awe of writers who hold full-time jobs, raise children, remodel houses, and still get the work done.

  3. I make myself write 1000 words a day before I do any email, FB, blogs, or twitter.

  4. yagritty

    Really great post that gives perspective. I attempt 5 pages a day (excluding weekends) but I’ve learned I have to stop beating up myself if a day goes by and I haven’t written – usually I’m editing/working or dealing with my 4 kids. The only boss for my writing is me, so that helps.

  5. Great article. I forwarded the URL to Writing Tips at googlegroups.

    The last few days I’ve been pushing myself. Found out that I write best in the late evening. I keep track of how much I’ve been writing daily, to keep myself accountable. I was doing NaNo this month, and might do the 50k.

    Again, thanis!

  6. Like Pepper, I keep track of what I write and when and i do best in the late evening. I’ve also discovered that I’m much better sitting down to write a book than I am editing that same book. OOPS.

    I heard Nora talk (in fact several times) and she says she doesn’t have writing help. no researchers, no secretary etc etc, simply because it’s in doing the research that she figures out what she’s doing and where she’s going with a book. she said she doesn’t like other people around – they destroy her concentration. I think she writes and writes and writes. Hats off to her. Even when I didn’t work full time, I couldn’t write full time. My brain shuts down after 8 to 10 pages a day. Now that I’m working again, I’m good for 4 or 5 and that’s about it.

    thanks for a thought provoking post

    • Louise, I’m not surprised that Nora does it all herself. My own experience is that those funny details I stumble upon looking for something else often inspire me and enrich my story in ways I hadn’t expected.

      My writing routine has been so disrupted lately that I no longer know when I write best. Time to rediscover that!

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