Monday, December 14, 2015

The Secret to Writing Prolifically

By: Ann S. Hill  

We all want to be prolific writers. What kinds of barriers do we face, and how do we overcome them?

That was the topic at August’s Write Brain. If you missed it, refer to Hillary Rettig’s website She promises you’ll find the information there to complete the brief overview I will present. In addition, I’d like to address the flip side of the coin: how to prevent an obsessive early focus on detail from producing overall unsatisfactory results.

First, among other helpful points, Hillary addresses the following causes for our dastardly affliction with disappointing productivity: procrastination, perfectionism or fear of writing poorly, the sensation of being overwhelmed, and the attempt to “force the writing in a direction it doesn’t want to go.”

To conquer procrastination, the writer must remove distractions, give himself rewards for certain levels of achievement, and avoid the rationalization that necessary research prevented production.

To silence that nasty perfectionistic voice, the writer must accept a terrible first draft as a starting point. One needs a lattice from which to begin transforming embarrassingly poor writing into artistic prose. Thank goodness for the cut and paste and delete buttons.

To control the overwhelming sensation that discourages us from getting out of the gate, Retting refers us to Anne Lamott’s “one inch picture frame” technique. Tackle one chapter or scene and build from there. Start where you are motivated to begin even if that means writing the ending first and revising it later.

Finally, to unblock creativity, consider that you might be forcing your characters in a direction they wouldn’t choose to go. Hillary suggests interviewing story characters. Ask why they are resisting the plot direction. Those characters will likely set their creator on the proper course.

What about the opposite side of the problem? Are many of you driven to write and revise until you are stricken with painful neck cramps and blurred vision? Your persistence is not producing the intended outcome? We can create balance to gain more fruitful results.

First, creativity requires episodes of rest. After writing a scene and being forced to stop for a scheduled yoga class or tennis match that is too expensive to skip (or I might have), I’ll drive to the match or warm up on the yoga mat and receive a sudden insight. That’s what is missing in that scene. Had I remained at my computer, I would have made plenty of revisions, but not the essential one. There is something about stepping away from the work that relaxes the mind and allows the light-bulb moment. That sudden inspiration may produce an elusive adjective, reveal a line that cries for development, or expose the need to delete an inadequate scene or chapter.

Secondly, once preoccupied with a writing deadline, one may find it difficult to make time for pleasure reading. Resist that inclination. When our writing seems to have lost its sizzle, a chapter or two of an admired author’s work can serve as surprising inspiration.

Thirdly, review those “how to” writer’s books on your office shelf. There may be a concept that refreshes your awareness and impacts your direction. You’ve read it before, but most advice isn’t totally absorbed in one reading. Not for most of us. You may find some forgotten guidance you hadn’t been implementing. Amazingly, that new recognition breathes life into the process.

Finally, remember that while word count is a goal, revision counts, too. It matters not how many words you’ve written if they are not publishable. Revising sentences isn’t busywork. The process teaches the writer to create better structure on the first draft. Oh, and don’t expect your critique partners to do it for you. We hate that.

Whether your problem is spending too little or too much time with your writing, the goal is to make progress rather than spinning those proverbial wheels. When frustrated with flailing efforts, take a break to mow that neglected lawn, take a walk or attend that aerobics class. The diversion may be just what your weary mind craves to redirect that misguided plot or to develop that inadequate scene. Even the ultimate creator, Almighty God, recognized the need for recuperation. He rested on the seventh day.

About the Writer: After hearing the call to write in her thirties, Ann set the ambition aside while life happened. Now that she has retired from her career as a dentist and her children are adults, she is seriously attacking that parked ambition. She spends significant time on her true passion and has recently completed her first novel, Wait for Me. She has written several short stories and is currently working on a concept for her second novel. In the meantime, she remains a voracious reader and film aficionado.


  1. Ann, thank you for mentioning "pleasure reading." With so many writing projects in progress, sometimes I find it hard to step away from the screen. But you're absolutely right, a chapter from a favorite book never fails to reset my mind.

    1. Mine, too, Ataska! I just love the pull quote about stepping away from the work... the moment I do that my muse engages. Great recap and article, Ann.

    2. Nice to hear from you. Keep writing your excellent words!

  2. Thanks, Donnell. And thanks for your support for my writing!


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