What makes a long-term professional writer a long-term professional writer? Carving out the time to do the job and putting in the practice to learn the craft.
People sometimes have an idea that pro writers spring fully formed from the head of Zeus and start pumping out content, but it takes years of practice and commitment to establish a career as a writer. And there are virtually no successful writers who didn’t start out with jobs, families, and an assortment of life challenges demanding their time and attention.
I want to be clear that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, just for fun and when you feel like it. It’s a fantastic pastime and very worthwhile. In this post, however, I’ll be addressing those who aim to embrace writing as a career.
It’s not easy, but if writing is your passion and you want to be a long-term professional, you can find a way to make it happen. This article will give you some effective strategies to employ on the journey.
Writing Productivity Is not a One-and-Done
Keep in mind that the techniques I’m sharing here are designed to help motivate you and boost productivity, but there’s no magic bullet that will last forever. You’ll need to periodically reevaluate and recharge.
You may adopt one strategy and find it works great, but be aware that it’s likely to “wear out” and lose effectiveness at some point. Don’t worry, that’s natural because you’re changing and growing. Take the opportunity to reassess and choose a different method to keep you cruising down the road.
8 Strategies to Write Like a Professional Author
At the end of this article, I’ll share the key that makes it all work. For now, let’s take a look at eight strategies to consider, starting with the foundational element on which all these strategies rest and a major issue that may be standing in your way.
1. Put in the time
Time is not a renewable resource. One way or another, it’s a challenge for everyone. Before we dig into strategy, let me address a major issue with finding time: fear.
A great many people feel like they have at least one book in them they’d like to write someday. But if they ever got around to writing it, then they’d have to show it to someone and lay themselves open to ridicule. If they finished a story, they’d have to send it to an editor and face rejection.
Never finding the time to write is the easiest way to deal with this fear. Putting your work in front of others can be scary, so if fear is holding you back, find a way to deal with that fear. The Write Practice features several articles, like this one and this one, to help you overcome fear of rejection.
2. Carve out the time
Assuming you’ve pushed past the fear factor, let’s talk about carving out the time.
This is Job One and it’s a doozy. Here’s how my mentor, Dean Wesley Smith, suggested I get a handle on my time:
He had me keep a record of how I spent my time for a week, writing down all my activities in fifteen-minute segments then evaluating to see where I could cut activities to gain writing time. He contended that if I could only free up fifteen minutes a day and I could write 250 words in that fifteen-minute period, I’d log over 90,000 words over the course of a year.
And if I could double it to half an hour a day, that’s more than two novels worth of writing annually.
3. Get the support you need
Once you’ve identified where you can carve out the time, get your family on board. Show them your plan and explain how important it is to you. Ask them to help you protect the time you’re setting aside for your writing. They can help you defend that commitment if they’re aware and understand your goals.
Don’t promise riches or bestseller status. Simply explain what you want to do and how you plan to find the time. Family members may not appreciate your intentions at first, but your consistent efforts will help win the day.
There are lots of ways for writers to maximize their time. I once had a marvelous conversation with Kevin J. Anderson about how he hikes near his home in Colorado while dictating stories on a recording device. He also explained how, with practice, he got to the point where he could pick up right where he left off without wasting time, a skill I have yet to master.
You do not need large amounts of time to make a difference in your writing journey. The Write Practice features several articles about how to find time to write. Check them out here, starting with this article on how to steal time to write throughout your busy day.
4. Employ the power of streaks
Next, my mentor told me to use the power of streaks. I’m learning German with Duolingo right now, and the power of streaks is real! It is powerfully motivating to establish a running streak and keep it going, a psychological trick that can be very effective.
When he was just starting out his writing career, Dean entered into a streak challenge with Nina Kiriki Hoffman to produce and submit a new short story every week. If one of them fell down on the deal, they owed the other a steak dinner. Being two just-starting-out-starving-artists, neither could afford a steak dinner, so they each stuck it out—for two and a half years!
That’s a lot of short stories, a lot of practice, and eventually led to two full-blown, successful writing careers.
5. Create deadlines and production schedules
All publishing is deadline oriented. Get used to working to deadlines and let them motivate you. Create a production schedule for your work and stick to it. Deadlines will drive you, but they have to be real, with consequences attached for missing.
I remember Tim Grahl talking about a technique he sometimes uses to ensure he meets an important deadline. He writes a donation check to a political figure he despises, seals it in an envelope, and gives it to a friend with the instruction that if he doesn’t finish by the deadline, the check goes in the mail.
In fact, this is how The Write Practice founder Joe Bunting writes his books. And it’s the foundation of the 100 Day Book program here at The Write Practice. Want a deadline and writing incentive that actually works? Join the next semester of 100 Day Book!
6. Take on a challenge
Challenges are a great way to boost productivity. Think NaNoWriMo.
Connect with other writers on a similar energy level and develop challenges to help elevate the whole group. The Write Practice is a great place to make this happen, and 100 Day Book is designed to do just that.
These things can be great fun and often very satisfying to look back on in years to come. You never know who among your peers might break out to be the next J.K. Rowling.
The definition of sacrifice I subscribe to is “giving up something good now for something better later.” Sleep is good; relaxing is good; playtime is good. But I’m willing to give up some of that in order to invest time in my writing.
There’s a price to be paid for a successful writing career. It involves commitment to practice, willingness to face rejection and ridicule, ability to shoot down the critical voices—within and without. The harder we work, the luckier we get.
8. The Nuclear Option
It’s not the recommended course of action, but in some cases it can be just the ticket. As my mentor puts it: blow up your life.
Move to a cheaper house, get a less time-intensive job, cut expenses, downsize. Simplify and rearrange to clear time for serious application to your writing.
The Key to Writing Productivity
Remember how I said at the end of this article, I’d share the key that makes it all work? Well, this is the end of the article, and here’s the key—give your writing value.
You must believe in yourself, believe that your work, your art form, is worthwhile and valuable.
You are creating intellectual property, and that’s a real thing. Protect that value and decide, “if (fill in the blank) can do it, I can do it!” Behave as if your writing has value and you will attract respect for that.
Writing is a genuine job, the best there is. Give it the consideration it—and you—deserve.
What ways have you found to make time for writing? Share them with us in the comments.
Give your writing value. Take five minutes to think of a story, topic, or idea that’s important to you. What motivates you to write? What’s that thing that you must share with the world?
Now, take ten minutes to write about it. You could write a fictional scene, or tell the story of your own experience. You could write an essay or a blog article or a tweet. The form you choose is less important than the reason why you’re writing.
When you are finished, share your writing in the comments. And be sure to provide feedback for your fellow writers. Their work has value, too!