Guest Blogger Day – Russell Blake on How To Be a Prolific Writer

I am proud to be the one who has Russell Blake explaining how anyone can become a prolific author. Maybe not as good as he is. His Jet Series for example is outstanding, but at least you won’t have to suffer from a perceived writer’s block.

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I was asked to write a blog about how to be prolific. I suppose I’m guilty of putting out a lot of product, so if not an authority on the topic, I can at least speak to it.

First, you need an idea that moves you. Let’s say it’s “Ninja beavers battle land developers.” I’ll sit down and write out a one or two paragraph outline that describes the story – the beginning (set-up, character intro, initiating event), the middle (trials and tribulations, crisis, redemption), and end (resolution). That gives me a roadmap to follow, and enables me to easily see whether I’ve thought the story through. Assuming I have, I then do one sentence summaries of each chapter: “Beavers building dam, crisis, interlopers destroy habitat.”

Then I sit down to write. I’m not particularly fast – maybe 600-700 words an hour – but I dedicate a huge block of time to writing. I’ll set a target word count for the day, and just keep plowing on until I hit it. I don’t bother with a lot of research once I’m writing. Any research I haven’t done in advance, I save until second draft, which is rewrite. I’ll just put in placeholders for things I don’t know or names I want to come back to and to which I want to devote more thought (XXX or YYY), or if it’s a fact I’m unsure of, I’ll just take a stab (Beavers live to be 100) and write CHECK after it. That enables me to hit a rhythm and not get sidetracked as I’m writing.

I’ll write for an hour, then get up and go to the bathroom or get something to drink (wink, wink), stretch my legs for five minutes, then dive back in. I’ve heard of techniques that use a timer, but I’ve never tried that. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work, but I don’t need it. My word count goal is the only thing I need to know, and I don’t give up till I’ve hit it.

I write for 10-12 hours a day when I’m in a novel. I fully understand that’s insane, and I’ve tried writing for two or four or six hours, but I find the flow of the novel is much harder to maintain if I’m not fully immersed. Note I’m not recommending this approach – everyone’s different, and it might not work for you, or your circumstance may be different. But that’s how I roll, and it enables me to get a first draft knocked out in two to three weeks of intense, full-immersion writing. I then back off for rewrite, and work an eight hour day, just like a real job. I think approaching this like a job is one of the keys to being prolific. I write whether I feel inspired or not. I’m a writer. That’s what I do. Some days will suck. Others won’t. But to be a writer means to write, not to evaluate whether I feel like writing. I’m a tough love kind of guy, so I don’t let myself get away with much.

I was recently the page one feature in the Wall St Journal, which focused on my having released 25 books in 30 months. That’s a dizzy pace, but it’s not unheard of. Many romance authors have done as many or more, as have notable authors throughout history. So it can be done. Whether it needs to be done is a different story.

In order to be prolific, you need a good team. An editor and proofreader. Don’t try this without them. Your work will suffer for it. Likewise, don’t occupy your time with tasks that aren’t writing-related. Farm out cover creation, formatting, and proofreading. They’re what I call low-value tasks, in that your writing time is far more valuable than spending your time on those. There are plenty of reasonably priced professionals who can handle those elements. Don’t try to be a jack of all trades. It will seriously diminish your writing productivity.

I advise spending 75% of your time writing, and 25% of it marketing, including advertising, social media, and product development (covers, blurbs, interviews, blogs, etc.). Stick to that and be disciplined about it, and you’ll turn out an impressive body of work. Stray from that and you’ll be mired in a swamp of inertia.

Some tips: Have a quiet space that’s all your own. Stay off the internet once you’re in writing mode – it’s a huge time suck. When you’re writing, you’re writing, not checking Facebook or tweeting or exchanging e-mails. Start each day by mulling over what you plan to achieve with your word count goal that day – how you’re going to advance the story. By having a plan, you won’t be aimless, and that focus will help you pass hours that seem to simply disappear as the words manifest on the page. If for some reason you fall short of your word count goal for the day, make it up the next day. Demand more out of yourself than anyone else reasonably would. If you aspire to a kind of greatness, expect to have to sacrifice to be great.

Finally, have an annual schedule of releases. Let that release schedule determine what you work on each month. Stick to it. Treat your writing like a career, not a hobby, and have a definite plan for what needs to happen each month. Then execute.

Hope that helps. No magic or rocket science here. Just discipline, dedication and drive. And a burning desire to tell a story in a way nobody else could.

Or not?

Keep your eyes open for there will soon be more of this prolific, and I dare say worth reading author to come on this blog, because I’ve managed to get him to take a break from his writing regime and answer some of my questions.

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19 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Day – Russell Blake on How To Be a Prolific Writer

  1. You just touched on the number one thing that keeps me from achieving my daily word count: fact checking/research. I’m working on a story where two women are ten-years-old in 1954. I want to keep writing but I find myself continually stopping to research things about that era. It’s ruining my momentum. I will try your approach and see if that helps. I can always spend a day going through my notes and filling those details in later.

  2. I like it. To the point and no nonsense. I’m going to print this out and get on with it. I’ve been faffing around for years and this matter of fact blog post is one of the most helpful things I’ve read. Thanks for sharing your experience Russell and thanks Lucy for arranging this in the first place.

  3. A peek into the secrets of a successful writer, thank you for sharing this! I can’t wait to get to the next book and try out some of Russell’s suggestions! Especially the part about outlining, and not stopping every page to go look things up, but put in a note to do it later so that you can get the main story out.

  4. Thanks, all.

    To expand on my point about avoiding research while in draft mode, note that I’m not suggesting eliminating research. I’m saying not to do it until you’ve hit your word count for the day. I’ll generally spend a week researching, say, Cambodia if I’m setting a novel there. Then I start writing. When I’m done for the day, I’ll go back and look at the five or ten things that I put placeholders in for, and research them then. I’m pretty dogmatic about the 25%/75% rule, and I lump research into that 25% that isn’t actively writing. Now, in something like historical novels, I could see where you’d have to adjust that to reflect the heavier research required, but for my genre, I’ve found it works well.

    An important caveat is to not start writing until you’ve sufficiently researched your topic to feel confident you’re not making assumptions that will change the story once thoroughly researched. In other words, don’t start writing about Victorian England without having done any research, or you might find yourself having to chuck it all once you actually do it. Seems obvious, but you never know…

    • You give great advice and are an example to follow. Your success is a clear sign you know what you’re talking about so it would be foolish not to read and learn from one who’s done the research and shows the system works.
      Again, thanks for this great article and I am looking forward to hosting the interview in which the readers get to see a bit more of the person behind the author.

  5. Pingback: Russell Blake » Big News – Page One of the Wall St Journal!

  6. Reblogged this on WordDreams… and commented:
    Russell Blake–recently featured on page one of Wall Street Journal for his world-class writing prolifics. I know from experience that the more books you have out there, the more you sell (what a concept). Rulless takes this to the extreme.
    Good post!

  7. Pingback: Guest Blogger Day – Russell Blake on How To Be a Prolific Writer | Charles Ray's Ramblings

  8. I find so many new authors have a really hard time turning off the Internet – those social media notifications are a killer. I know a number of professional authors who have 2 computers – the one they write on doesn’t have Internet access & they turn the cell phone off when writing. The urge to fix every misspelled word or edit as you go along is another killer for many – one that keeps them from ever finishing a book as eventually they get bored/fed up with the book and move on to another project, rinse & repeat. If you can take Russell’s advice you can get passed some of the hardest steps in writing for newbies in our “always plugged in” world. Not that we all can put out 25 novels in 30 months but you can be surprised how much you can get done when you treat your 1st draft as a draft & don’t worry about everything being “just right”.

    Fantastic advice as always Russell. If you get bored writing you could always become a writing coach. 😉

  9. Pingback: Words on a page

  10. I wish I could write twelve hours a day. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option for students, so I am reduced to writing in snatches of time rather than blocks–and that’s not my style at all. I would much rather have a six-hour writing stint than write in between classes for ten minutes at a time. One day, though. One day…

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