NaNoWriMo—Two More Writing Productivity Tips

Reposting a series of tips I published for last year’s NaNoWriMo—


This one works best for people with ADD, or low boredom thresholds!  (And it doesn’t work for everybody.)

Each writing project has many phases: research, plotting, writing the first draft, doing the rough edit, polishing the final edit, copyediting, proofreading, and the marketing and business.  Since some of these tasks are more onerous than others, I keep several different projects on the creative burner at all times at different stages.  Personally, I love the creative explosion of plotting the story from scratch and writing the first draft, but the first major edit or the last proofread both seem like a lot of drudgery to me.

However, if I have several novels or stories at different stages of completion, I can switch from one process to another, while charging along at full-steam.  The variety also makes the tedious parts more palatable. 

 I can research a new novel for an hour, then write a draft chapter of a different story, then proofread galleys of another novel, answer questions in an interview for yet another novel, then maybe go back to tweak an outline, or do some more research.

Okay, I admit I’m a restless Type-A person.  Hopscotching among projects is like a guy with a TV remote bouncing from channel to channel.  But this method keeps me fully productive at all times.  If I chose only one book, devoted my entire creative time to a lockstep start-to-finish march of taking the kernel of an idea through research, writing, editing, and proofreading, I would feel claustrophobic and stifled.

When I grow weary of one type of work (say, proofreading) I can switch to another (outlining, or first-draft writing). I find that after working on the same project for a while, it begins to lose its freshness and becomes more tedious.  And when I’m not enjoying myself, the process of writing becomes a chore instead of a joy. I try not to let that happen, because I love writing.

So far, I haven’t gotten any of my stories mixed up.

Writing Productivity Tip #4—DARE TO BE BAD (AT FIRST)…THEN FIX IT

This tip comes from prolific and bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith, and the more I’ve pondered it, I’ve come to believe it’s one of the most important pieces of advice any struggling writer can hear.

Repeat after me:  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be finished.

It’s easier to FIX existing prose than it is to write perfect prose in the first place.  The crucial step is to get it down on paper!

Your draft words or descriptions might be redundant.  So what?  They can be fixed later. 

 You might make grammatical mistakes.  So what?  Promise yourself you’ll fix them later—after you’ve got the story written.

A few years ago, I wrote my award-winning, #1 bestselling X-Files novel Ground Zero in six weeks, start-to-finish:  300 published pages, 90,000 words.  The publisher had already scheduled it for a breakneck production pace, and everyone was counting on me to deliver the manuscript.  I could not be late.  I absolutely positively had to turn in an acceptable novel on time.  The only way I could do this was just to tell my story, get it down on the page, and trust my writing skills.

I managed to write 25–30 pages a day on that book, seven days a week, until the draft was finished.  Although this isn’t an exercise I recommend for most writers, the sheer, intense concentration did increase my writing speed and, I believe, my writing quality as well.  By writing straight through, one scene after another after another without wandering back to earlier chapters to tweak the prose, I built up a “story momentum” that propelled the book along at a breakneck pace.

As soon as the first draft was done, I had allocated as much time as possible to polish the words, editing the manuscript again and again until the last second.  (Keep reading—I’ll devote an entire upcoming tip to this subject.)  Surprisingly, when I went back to the initial pages, fully intending to spend weeks on major editing and rewriting, I found that the constant, intense practice had taught me to produce crisp, fast-paced writing as compelling as if I’d spent hours agonizing over each page. 
 Giving yourself permission to be “bad, then fix it” frees your mind just to create.  For the first draft, don’t worry about how good it is or how you can revise it.  Just do the writing.

You may also be interested in attending our Superstars Writing Seminar, an intensive three-day seminar on the business of writing and publishing, how to build your career, taught by six international bestselling writers and heads of major publishing houses. February 6–8 in Colorado Springs, CO