Today on Twitter @actualhog asked me via DM, "How do I write more volume?"
This is a good question since writing more = writing better and also having more work to market eventually. @visakanv likes to talk about this a lot.
Here are my tips on how to cultivate the skill. The easiest answer to this question is "you just have to write a lot and you'll write even more with time", but that's not very helpful when you're already struggling to produce volume.
This is a skill like running, lifting, etc. It's a self-reinforcing cycle. As you get better at writing and can do it faster with higher quality, it feels good to build mastery over the skill and you'll find yourself wanting to do it more and able to go even faster. Relevant thread:
Liminal Warmth: A lot of the enjoyment from performing an activity comes from developing some level of competence or mastery with that activity.
261:37 PM - Feb 3, 2020
It also helps to understand WHY you want to produce volume because goals keep you motivated and it will help you build the right skills. Are you trying to communicate more clearly? Make money? Make interesting fiction? Your reasons matter.
@regancodes: "could you mention some of those past values and goals? & taking time to fix things you dont like about yourself strikes me as very self-aware."
LW: "So I’ve mentioned a few times on here that I’m going through kind of a big life shift right now. I quit a very lucrative job that was making me very unhappy and also ended an almost decade long relationship (partially) because we realized our values and goals were misaligned."
Let's assume you want to build skill at writing volume because you want to make a living off your writing and sell your work. This is a good and common goal even if not explicitly stated.
A lot of people get hung up on the quality of their work because they're good enough to recognize that their early work is bad but not good enough to know how to fix it. They quit or spend a lot of time trying to revise their work to be better.
This is a trap. Before you have the necessary skill to revise your work into being good, it will still be, at best, marginally better. This is why there are many novelists who spend 30 years working on a first book which ends up being pretty bad.
So forget about quality when you're trying to produce more and write faster. It doesn't matter. Remember what your goals really are: Producing amazing work is a side effect of persistence, consistency, and focus on a craft, not an end goal to aspire to. You need to embrace the suck and just write as fast as you reasonably can without caring whether people will think it's bad or judging it yourself.
You're always learning. People will always critique your work. Even top performers have their critics in every field. But that's also not enough direction if you've already accepted that your early work is fine just as it is whether or not some people like it and you still feel like you can't write fast enough.
Here are some specific tactics you can try to speed yourself up.
- Set aside blocks of time for JUST WRITING and record how many words you produce in a spreadsheet. If you have large blocks of time, I recommend breaking this into 25 minute blocks using the pomodoro method. This was something I did early in my career to improve speed.
- This is helpful because you have an objective measure of progress over time of how you're improving which can self-reinforce your motivation even if you don't feel like you're improving much at first. You'll be shocked what a month of this can do. I write about 1000 words an hour of fiction when I'm in a flow state and it's pretty easy to do. When I'm really cranking I can get out 2000-3000 words an hour. But when I started, I was lucky to do 100-200.
- As you get more comfortable letting go and letting your ideas flow through the keyboard (or pen), you can worry less about the mechanics and more about the ideas. This is the skill you need to cultivate.
- Jeff Bezos is famous for saying he wanted the Kindle to disappear in his reader's hands just like a book did. That's what you need to do with your tools when you write. If you're focused on spelling, grammar, or your laptop keys, you're not letting go enough. That means that you shouldn't be stopping every sentence to worry about whether your plot makes sense or whether your ideas are coherent right now. Just keep going. Put down the next thing that feels right. Don't stop until your timer beeps. (use pomodoro. use pomodoro.)
- You can always edit later and with practice you'll get to the point where you don't need to go back and fix things as much like plot holes or idea fragments. Just go with your instinctive flow. Your mind should always be spinning on "And then..." It's like improv.
- You should also read a lot. It will inspire you to write more and give you a sense for proper form that will cause you to think less about the mechanics. Here, flip my previous advice and pay attention to the mechanics of what other writers do. This is where you study.
- Force yourself to write even if you don't feel like it. I often procrastinate way too much on writing and then after two sentences fall into a flow state and knock out thousands of words. Write every day, even just one sentence. It's a cliche for a reason. You have to make it a habit to get better at it. I don't write fiction every day, but I do write SOMETHING every day, even if it's just twitter threads.
- Share your writing a lot but don't let the feedback get you down and don't let it stop you from writing more and don't get discouraged if no one reads it. Criticism is a gift and the people who DO read it will give you lots to think about. Take it all and keep going.
- Vary the kinds of writing you do to master the skill of getting ideas down instead of adhering to a specific form. Write blog posts, tweets, short stories, long stories. Focus on the speed and quantity instead of whether any of it is good. With time and consistency, you'll find you can 2x-10x the amount of work you produce shockingly quickly.
If you have questions about specific issues you're having go ahead and ask.