How to Become a Prolific Writer
What would your writing career look like if you’d published 500 posts by now?
Do you dream about having your writing read widely?
Are you anxious to build an audience of people who love your work?
Are you still stuck in the starting gate without getting the traction you want?
Becoming a prolific writer could be the answer to your problems.
A Twist on a Common Cliche
People often say “quality over quantity.”
The prolific writer thinks quantity leads to quality.
A lot of writers — maybe you — suffer from something called Hemingway syndrome.
People with Hemingway syndrome are obsessed with creating the next Great American Novel. They toil away at their work in obscurity with the hopes that they’ll one day release their work to the world and readers will shower them with praise.
Often, this doesn’t happen. Instead, their perfectionism leads to “paralysis of analysis.” Their need for approval and hesitation cripples their productivity.
The prolific writer realizes creating more work leads to better work.
In his post on writing, bestselling author Mark Manson says you need to write 100 posts just to find your writing voice. He’s right. It’s better to write poorly first and hit the publish button than it is to wait until you’re an amazing writer before you put anything out there.
I look at the posts I wrote years ago and they make me cringe. I’ll have the same reaction to this post a year from now. This is called growth.
Had I waited until I was “ready” I’d still be in the same spot — zero audience and zero confidence in the future of my writing career.
This isn’t where you want to be.
Think of the path to great writing going through bad writing.
This mental switch is necessary to avoid procrastinating for the rest of your life.
On top of mindset, there are some tips, tricks, and techniques you can use to produce more work.
A Prolific Writer Feeds Their Brain
You can’t become a great writer without becoming a great reader.
Reading opens up the adjacent possible. Think of the adjacent possible like a new door opening in your brain — the house. Each time you read something new, you can make new connections in your writing.
Reading good writing also helps you become a better writer yourself.
When you read, take notes. Imagine the authors state of mind and thought process while you read the book.
Here’s an example of the notes I use to write books and articles:
I’m constantly collecting information, quotes, and anecdotes I can use for my writing.
Read whatever excites you and stimulates your intellectual curiosity. Fiction or non-fiction — it doesn’t matter.
Some people give the advice to create instead of consume The prolific writer creates and consumes.
They make time in their day to foster creativity because they realize inspiration is for suckers.
You can’t wait until you feel inspired and creative to write. Make inspiration and creativity part of your routine by making a commitment to doing the work.
Do This One Little Thing to 10x Your Writing Productivity (Seriously)
“I Only Write When Inspiration Strikes. Fortunately, It Strikes at Nine Every Morning” – the original quote author is up for debate.
I won’t bury the lede here.
Pick a time to write, block it out, and write at that same time every day.
It’s such a simple concept that not enough writers adopt, accept, and practice.
This all ties into the same theme — get off your pedestal and be a professional about your work. I don’t know what it is about writing that makes people have these whimsical fantasies about casually showing up and making great work.
No. Being a prolific writer requires a lunchpail and steel-toed boots kind of attitude.
If you really want to make a career out of your writing (which you do because…duh) treat it like a career.
You don’t arbitrarily decide when you want to show up and your real job, right?
You don’t think about whether or not you’re going to go. It’s your job and you need that check. You go.
Your writing should be no different. There are tangible financial outcomes to be had from writing, but they, um, require you to write.
If you block out even one hour per day you’ll be amazed how much you can get done.
The key here — have your ideas and structure ready to go before you pen a word.
Lay the Ground Work So You Never Run Out of Ideas and Follow This Process After
Every morning, I write down 10 headline ideas. Maybe 2-3 of them will be good, so I move them to a document called my “headline bank.”
On Sundays, I go through my headline bank and choose the ideas I want to write about for the week.
I decide which day I’m going to write each post and start thinking about the content that will go in each.
Then, as I sit down to write each post each day, I use this simple 6 step process for each post.
Write the Headline 10x Again
Your headline can make or break the success of your post. Also, the headline sets the frame for the entire post.
I’ll re-write the headline ten times until I find one that looks really good.
Mind-Map Ideas for the Post
A mind-map is a brainstorming technique you can use to come up with ideas for your writing.
You take a piece of paper, put the headline in the middle, and create branches of ideas for sub-topics.
Then, you create branches of sub-ideas for your sub-topics.
Here’s the mind-map I created for this post:
Once you have all your ideas out of your head, you can piece them together into an outline to guide your writing
Outline Your Work
Outlines make writing 10 times easier.
I can hear the Hemingways in the peanut gallery.
“Writing should just flow. It’s art. Let your soul pour.”
Ok, Sylvia Plath. Have fun with that.
Outlines and writing formulas aren’t robotic, they help you create better art. When you crystallize the main points of your piece, it keeps you on track when you’re writing. You can tell when someone just started firing away at the keyboard and it usually doesn’t look good.
Ryan Holiday said it best in this quote:
It’s [easy] to vomit words on the page, it’s harder to spit out polished prose.”
Some writers take the crappy first draft approach to it’s extreme and the results show it.
Create a simple outline for your work. Something like this:
- Subsection A
- Subsection B
- Subsection C
- Subsection A
- Subsection B
- Subsection C
- Subsection A
- Subsection B
- Subsection C
Then you’re off to the writing.
Write Your Post
“Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.”
I like to keep my outline as a reference while I’m writing. I’ll refer to it when I get stuck, but otherwise, I go mostly from memory. The act of creating a mind-map and outline serves the purpose of getting my head right.
They help me make sure my mindset and writing aren’t disjointed while I’m doing the act.
This should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway.
Write without distractions. No open tabs. No T.V. in the background.
Here’s a little trick. When I want to reference a quote, statistic, or idea that I can’t think of that very second, I make a note like this [xxxxx] and highlight it in red. That tells me to come back and revise it on the second pass.
You must focus while you write and fight through the discomfort of not knowing what to say. If you’re feeling stuck, literally write “I’m feeling stuck” and keep writing until good words emerge. Then, you can delete the gibberish you wrote prior.
Focus, quite literally, on moving your fingers across the keyboard.
Then, when you get into the groove, you’ll enter a flow state – that in the zone feeling where time disappears. That’s where great writing comes from — deep work, deliberate practice, and a lack of belly-aching.
Do me a favor. Today. Write a blog post. Stop reading articles like this until you’ve written your next post.
All the marketing techniques, hacks, formulas, strategies, and everything else under the sun come second to writing. I don’t know how else to put this — you’re not writing enough!
Are we on the same page? Ok good. Let’s move on.
Edit Your Post
Go back through your post and fill in any of the ideas you left out.
I won’t write a full treatise on editing, but here are some useful tips:
- Remove redundant sentences
- Read the post from start to finish to make sure there’s a logical structure
- Use an editing tool like Grammarly for spelling errors and insights on your grammar
- Edit once for post structure and context and edit one more time for “fine tuning”
Publish the Damn Thing (and Do it Over and Over and Over Again)
Publishing is the hardest part of building your writing career, not the writing itself.
When you publish your work, you’re making yourself vulnerable to the world (in your mind at least). You open yourself up to criticism. You’ll be putting work out there that may not be your “best possible” work and you’ll hesitate because of that fact.
But publishing gives you the prolific writer mindset you need. The act of putting yourself out there repeatedly creates the professional attitude you need to make a real career from writing. It also lessens the mental blow each time you do it.
When I work with new students, they often have a ton of unpublished work — journal notes, blog post drafts, the whole nine.
99 percent of my job is getting them to publish. They’re the ones with the skills and potential, but the potential doesn’t become kinetic until they share their work with others.
You won’t realize the dividends of publishing until much later.
Now, I can look back at hundreds of posts, which gives me the confidence to never quit.
Those posts have led to financial gain and helped me reach most of my dreams.
But even now, after a million words or more under my belt, I’m just getting started.
Why work so hard still? Because I owe you.
Stop Being Selfish
If you don’t write often enough…
…you’re being selfish.
I used to think aspiring writers didn’t write because of fear. This is partly true. The other part of the equation, though, is arrogance.
You’re arrogant because you believe the world is watching you. It’s not. Nobody knows who you are yet, meaning it’s the best time to practice your skills in public.
Without an audience to serve, you only think about yourself and your precious feelings instead of the impact you can have on other people.
You have all these ideas in your head, but you’re hoarding them. Why?
Because you think the universe revolves around you and your emotions.
If you’re going to place yourself at the center of the story, at least be the hero.
Becoming a prolific writer is an act of generosity. We need more writers to add to life’s catalog. The conversation always has room to push forward.
No complaining about your writing career until you’ve published consistently for 24 months or have published 100 articles, whichever comes first.
I know you either have or are tempted to give up because you think you’ve put in effort that hasn’t bore fruit.
Incorrect — you haven’t done nearly enough. You’re not in the same solar system of having done the work yet.
Harsh? Yes. But true? Hell yes.
Publish a bunch of pieces and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
There is only one real piece of writing advice — do it as often as possible.