That’s the trick, isn’t it? If we write more, we can publish more, and then we can sell more. I publish roughly 2-3 novels per year, plus a couple of short stories, plus anywhere from 9-14 novellas. This year, I will finish up with eight novellas, a couple of short stories, and two novels. Somewhere between 375,000 and 400,000 words of published fiction, plus around 100,000 words of blogging. I don’t count FB posts, but I do count the stuff I write here, because it’s written with intent and forethought, and usually some level of narrative thread. So close to half a million words, or a little more if we take into account the 60K of Black Knight #7 that I trashed, and the 25K of TECH Ops that I’m still working on.
That’s a lot of words. That’s what it takes for me to make a living. I don’t make any kind of extravagant living, but I am the wage-earner for my wife and I. That word count allows me to do that. It also allows me the time to work on Falstaff Books projects, and we will probably end the year producing 20 titles, every one of which I had some level of direct hand in producing.
So the question I get from a lot of writers is “How do you write that much?” Well, here’s how, and I have to give credit where due to Dean Wesley Smith, who wrote some very good blog posts in 2010-11 on a workmanlike approach to writing, and how much you could produce in a year if you just write 1,000 words per day. I shoot for a little more than that, but I also don’t write every single day.
But here’s my basic approach.
- Divide and Conquer – I typically work on two projects at once, one main project and one side project. This lets me have a palette cleanser project that I can fiddle with when I need to let my lizard brain work out a plot problem.
- Break Down the Project – My chapters are almost always 2,000 words long, so I shoot for one chapter per day on my main project. When I’m working a novella, that means that working Monday-Friday for three weeks gets me to 30,000 words. That’s the average length of my novellas, with a couple thousand words for an epilogue. Since I usually get to the last chapter and binge right through to “THE END,” I write a novella in three weeks. That’s a pretty relaxed pace. Then I use the 1K/day on my side projects to do things outside the Bubba or Harker universes, my novels, or work-for-hire stuff. I’m currently working on some work-for-hire serialized stuff for a client, and they want 5K per part. So that’s one week per serialized chunk.
- Don’t Kill Myself – I mentioned that I write 3K per day, and I consider that a pretty relaxed pace. I can do 5K/day, but it’s tiring. I could train myself to write more, and faster, but I’m in this for the long haul, and I have yet to meet more than a couple of people who can do 5K/day for more than a year or two and make it consistently good. That’s pretty important to me – being able to do this for the long term. I’m seven years into my fiction writing career, and 11 years into my professional writing career, so I know what I can do consistently to make the words come out tight and requiring as little polish as possible. I want to turn in clean copy, and about 3-4K/day is my maximum sustainable pace for that. Much faster, and I spend so much time scrapping shit and rewriting that I am better off just writing slower in the first place.
- Let Life Happen – I mentioned above that my output this year wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. I had some months where I didn’t write much, and it was a struggle to get 2K per day. That happens, especially for those of us with depression, anxiety, bipolar (that’s me!) or other mental health issues. Or physical health issues, if you have those. Or family issues. Shit happens, and sometimes you have to deal with that. Hopefully if it shits all over your writing productivity, you either still have a day job, or you have enough of a backlist selling through to carry you. But you can’t freak out about that shit, or you’ll just create a whirlwind of doom and never write anything.
- Hop Around a Little – I write four series currently, or more like 3.5, since the Harker books and the Shadow Council books are so intertwined. But that keeps my ADD appeased, with the occasional bone thrown to my distractions by doing something like Amazing Grace (which is out for preorder now). I would likely make more money if I just hammered out Harker novels as fast as I could. But I’m not in this just for the cash. Yes, this is how I make my living. Yes, I need this income to pay my bills. But as I keep saying, I am in this for the long haul. Amazing Grace could turn into a Hallmark movie series, for all I know. What I know about that book is that while writing it may mean that it takes me two years to finish the Harker plot Quest for Glory, I wrote a book I absolutely love and think is the best thing I’ve ever produced. That will pay me more dividends in the long run than jamming out another Harker novella or novel.
That’s what I do. That’s how I work, and how I make a living in this business. Am I killing it like some of the newer self-published Urban Fantasy authors? No. Am I still going to be here in five years? Yeah. I’ve seen a lot of people flame out in the past seven years, and I’ve found the method that lets me continue to produce at a reasonable pace and not burn myself out. You’ve got to find what works for you, but for me, writing for 3-4 hours each day gets the bills paid, as long as I’m doing all the other stuff that goes into being a full-time writer, more than half of which has nothing to do with actually writing.
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