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Being Prolific=Drop in Quality?

Philip Overby

Staff
Article Team
I've decided after years of writing and only publishing two or three short stories a year, I'm going into BEAST WRITER OVERLOAD (yes, that needs to be all caps) and go all out with my writing. I'll be self-publishing one or two fantasy short stories a month from my Splatter-Elf world as well as a couple of other projects I'll weave in and out. I'll be working on novels and novellas in the meantime, which I'll be writing at whatever speed I need to, but hopefully try to get at least two novels done a year, if not more.

My main concern is that I may have a drop in quality since I'm trying to be much more prolific. There's also a concern of over-saturation, but I keep hearing from people who are successful in self-publishing to keep publishing stuff is the best thing you can do. If someone buys one thing from you, they may be looking for another thing from you. If you don't have anything else available, then they don't buy anything else. I've had people tell me they bought all the anthologies I have stories in. Which is certainly cool. But as of now that's only five or six.

I guess the key is to balance quality and output as best as I can. I've always been a hemming and hawing kind of writer. Meaning I don't want to put anything out there that's going to be perceived as sloppy.

So does anyone have any ideas on how to be super prolific and still maintain a decent quality? I'm sort of putting myself in the "new pulp" kind of category. Meaning I'm mostly writing fiction I hope is entertaining and easily consumable.

Thoughts?
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
Whether it hurts your quality or not is usually about how you manage your energy. Super-productive people understand that energy has its types and its rhythms. As an example, if you think too hard, you might take a break from that by having a workout. If you over-extend yourself on a given type of energy, you will either hurt your quality or you will blow out.

So managing a big quantity of projects means making sure that you're balancing the types of energy that you're using, and adding new projects which - for you and your energy levels - count as taking a break from the one before it.

In a nutshell, think of how you feel when you're done with an activity. Do you feel a little more tired than before, or a little more energized? If it's the former, then pushing yourself too far with it will hurt your quality. Go find something energizing if you can before adding too much more of the tiring activity to your schedule. If that energizing thing is another writing project (maybe at a different stage of the writing process), then you're on your way to being prolific.

Also, it's dynamic. An activity that's tiring today might be exciting tomorrow. Managing your energy often means refreshing the excitement you had earlier, or looking forward to the achievement you'll have tomorrow. That's why it's important to track your goals in a way that reminds you of those energy highs.

Also to be clear, I'm not saying you should only write when you have an energy high. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that if you want to write a lot, and not wear yourself and your abilities down, you need to offset those energy lows that you're pushing through as you add new projects.

In more straightforward terms, if you want to keep adding more more work, some of that work needs to be fun for you or eventually you'll go crazy.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I'll go ahead and expand just a little more on the above.

Outside of Mythic Scribes, the blog I read most is Lifehacker, which posts on these kinds of topics. It can be its own sinkhole, so be warned. But that's where my advice is coming from.

In my post above I was just talking about energy highs and lows just in terms of your writing. But you can also zoom out, and look at your energy patterns in your entire lifestyle, and see if there's ways to adjust the way you're spending your energy elsewhere so that you can put more into your writing.

For instance, the key to being more prolific with your writing might be as simple as working out in the morning, playing more games in the evening, going to lunch with your friends, or spending 20 minutes doing a crossword puzzle. Finding ways to seek out deep engagement with something else can be a great way to reset your energy levels for your writing.

Those examples above also represent the different types of energy they typically talk about. But I won't say more about it than that. Believe me, I'm not qualified to be anybody's life coach.

About your writing, though, it sounds like a positive to me that you're talking about writing more with different kinds of works. Splatter Elf doesn't sound at all like the other writing you might be working on, and that's the kind of thing you should be looking for when stretching your writing further. You want things that give you a different experience while you're doing them. Also, planning and writing and editing are all very different, which makes it a great place to start thinking about how you're managing yourself.
 

Caged Maiden

Staff
Article Team
If you're turning out a load of work, consider hiring a private editor, so you can pass off the work and not have to spend your time editing. I know a romance writer who published two books a year with her publisher and then puts out another 2-3 herself. She uses a private professional editor for those she self-pubs, because her publisher doesn't want to put out more than 2 books a year per author.

By hiring an editor, you can wash your hands of a relatively clean first draft and focus on your other work, while still feeling secure you're maintaining the standard of quality you want to produce.

Any reputable editor will do a sample edit of a chapter for free, and they will charge a reasonable rate, either by the word (about .008) or the page (about $2 for content, $1 for technical). It isn't free but it's about $100-200 for a long short story (50 pages) and then you don't have to do the time and work yourself.

If you're seeing purchases on your published material, it may be well worth it.
 
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Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
If you're turning out a load of work, consider hiring a private editor, so you can pass off the work and not have to spend your time editing.

So true. Nevermind the quality, nevermind the time, editing can be an energy vampire that just bites.
 

Caged Maiden

Staff
Article Team
I'm a fairly prolific writer and I've found that my quick-written stories often have big flaws, though. Plot is sometimes sticky, characters not as fully-explored as if I'd loved them a little longer in creation, and the world, as well. This is a pretty full plate mentioned above and I think quality is a valid concern. The thing with quality is that if you turn off readers with a few stories that "didn't work" for them, you can lose them as readers. And nothing turns off readers faster than a little sloppiness that could have been avoided by a thorough edit.

If a writer cannot afford an editor, that's completely understandable, but then critique is really valuable. Unfortunately when asking for free advice, you often have to wait to get the work read on someone else's time. Professional editors work for pay, so they have a stake in the fire of getting your work done quickly and to your satisfaction.
 

T.Allen.Smith

Staff
Moderator
The idea that fast writing is poor writing is a myth. And think about it, it doesn't make any sense. The more writing you do, the more practice you're getting and thus the better your writing should be. Unless you're a particularly dense person who doesn't learn anything from practice, which I think we can all agree you're not. :)
I don't entirely agree. This may be the case for some writers, while others, depending on their writing process, may show a dip in quality of they sped things into overdrive.

Quality is a subjective term too. Some might consider straightforward plots and stories low quality, while more complex tales they'd consider of superior quality. The complexity of plot, character, or setting might take much longer to develop and write. Is that quality? Maybe. Depends on the reader's tastes, I suppose.

Some writers take years to write one book, and do it well. Others can produce several in a year. In the end, no one cares how long it took to write. They only care that it's good. I'm not talking about fans clamoring for the next in a series either.

I do agree that one can't equate fast writing to a poor quality product.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
There's a difference between fast writing and rushed writing. Writing faster is part of that great big bundle of writing skills you can learn just like any other. If you head over to Lumosity, the intelligence training website, there's even a game designed to help you learn how to pull up words faster. It's a thing. There's some research on it.

It's not necessarily the same as pushing through a story when you haven't done enough to figure out the characters and the plot yet. I would call that rushed. It's skipping steps. Well, again, depending on the needs of the story and the author.

But if the question is whether or not you can learn over time to write a lot faster without sacrificing your writer's voice, the answer is definitely yes.

I did have some issues with the article Mythopoet posted, but nothing worth getting into.

All that said, I get the impression Phil is talking about more than that. It sounds like he's at a place in his life where a bunch of factors are lining up for him, giving him an opportunity to kick his writing output up a few notches, and he wants to take advantage of it.

That's about more than speed. It's energy. It's discipline. It's priorities. It's schedules. It's ideas. It's life pacing.

I wish him luck!
 

T.Allen.Smith

Staff
Moderator
But if the question is whether or not you can learn over time to write a lot faster without sacrificing your writer's voice, the answer is definitely yes.
I can accept that.

However, there's a lot more to writing, for some, than just the writing (I know you've acknowledged this point). Some stories I can pump out a week or two after idea conception. Others, I have to stew in for awhile, months even. The complexities of interaction, and plot intrigue, improve with time.

In that light, quality may take more time, at least for me.
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
I've been thinking about doing the same thing. I definitely need to give myself a kick in the arse. My production over the last couple of years has fallen off, in part due to health problems, but also due to falling out of my groove.

Being prolific can mean a drop in quality, but it can also mean a increase in quality too. The more you write, the better you'll get at it. The easier it will be to get revved up and in gear every day for your writing session. For a period of about three years, I was writing three times a day, morning, noon and night. During that time words flowed more smoothly, and I found that a lot more material from the first draft got kept, and it felt like I was thinking of story telling on a higher level. It wasn't about words any more, because those were taking care of themselves. It was about the big picture story, and I was seeing that more clearly.

Now that I'm only writing once a day--sometimes a little less--it feels like I have to work a little more at keeping the big picture in focus and finding the right words.

When I was in my groove, instead of taking 3-7 days to get that first draft to a short story down, it wasn't uncommon for me to get the first draft to a 5k+ short story done in a day. For 4 months straight I was producing 40k+, and I would and could write anywhere. And I still managed to fit in everything else in my life in, because if I didn't have a continuous block of time to write, like an hour or two, I would be able to fit a few minutes in here or there and it all added up to the same amount of time spent.

Doing that is hard for me now. Getting revved up takes more time, and I just can't seem to grab a hold of those time fragments to make up for lost blocks of time any more. But then again, I think part of the reason for my health problems was in order to write so much, I was neglecting exercise. I went from exercising three times a week to one or less. So Devor's point about finding balance has a lot of weight to it.

Any way.

Some of the things I found to be the most helpful in increasing productivity was planning ahead. Not full outlines, but just jotting down notes as to what I wanted to do with a story or scene, of what I needed to do in a story or scene, and it helped quite a lot. Another thing I found helpful was don't think too much. Just sit down, glance at your notes, and start typing. Try to put any and all distractions aside. Easier said than done, but that was my mental frame of mind.

And finally, understanding where I was in the story at any given moment helped too. What I mean by that is understanding if I was in the first act, the second, where I was relative to the transitions from act one to two and from two to three. How far I was from the mid-point climax, etc. This helped me focus in on what I needed to do with the current scenes and the scenes coming up.

my 2 cents
 
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Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
Some stories I can pump out a week or two after idea conception. Others, I have to stew in for awhile, months even. The complexities of interaction, and plot intrigue, improve with time.

I'm a dreadfully slow writer and I love to plan extravagant things - I was just . . . . drawing the line of nuance, let's call it?

But you make a great point that gets us back to Phil's question. He wants to be more prolific and write more kinds of things. Some of getting that to work might be finding the type of story he can kick out without all the planning work (say, the Splatter Elf short stories?), while saving that higher level of complexity for his main baby. Having that kind of distinction would be right in line with the principles of energy management.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Hmmm...

With me...

I spend 1-3 hours a day actually writing. And fairly often, life intervenes.

The typical 'Challenge' stories (Iron Pen and others, usually on the order of 2000 - 5000 words) take me about a week from conception to post. First draft, second draft, edit pass (and when I skimp on the edit pass, it shows). To get them truly publishable...another day or three of intense editing/rewrites.

My novelette length stuff - call it 7000 - 14,000 words - takes a good couple weeks to get in acceptable shape. Editing and rewriting on those can tack another week or two onto that easy.

Novella's - up to around 40,000 words. Only have a few of these. Call it four to six weeks from idea to acceptable working draft...and weeks more before being anywhere close to publishable.

Longer than that? Well, I've been mucking around with 'Labyrinth' for years, and as novels go, it'll be in the 70,000 - 80,000 word range when finished. I find spending more than a couple months on any given project turns that project into chore, and my output drops way, way down.

For me, at least, there is also a seasonal element: I finished a challenge story January of last year, and turned my attention to a rewrite/edit of a novella. I figured it would take a month, maybe six weeks. Instead, at the end of six weeks, about all I'd accomplished was to turn a messy rough draft into an even bigger mess.

But, last April - June, I cranked out a pile of short stories and novelettes, and made serious headway rewriting/editing another project.

From what I can recollect, this trend holds true for my past works as well - the longer ones that were any good were generally written early spring to mid summer, and sometimes late fall/early winter. At the moment, I am rewriting the novella I made a hash of last year, and am progressing at a steady chapter a day (1000 - 3000 words deleted, tweaked, or added).
 
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In some regards, I think writing more improves quality, because your brain is more engaged and more consistently engaged with the project, and therefore turning out better linkages and material. In periods when I've been too busy to write a lot, what I have managed to write has been scrappy, disjointed, and often not as smooth as other material in the book. In one case, I had to trash three months of slow, painstaking work because I'd gone in completely the wrong direction, purely because I didn't have enough brain-engagement on the task.

That said, when trying to increase production, it's important to remember that you need time and activities to put water back into the creative well. You can't just pull out bucket after bucket and expect everything to remain great.
 

Philip Overby

Staff
Article Team
Thanks everyone! Some great points and advice here. I'm hoping to mostly do everything "in shop" meaning if I'm putting out short stories, I'm looking to do most of the work myself. Meaning writing the draft, editing, and even cover art (gasp!). I know doing cover art can be especially tricky, but I'm looking only to pay out money for bigger projects. I may use a minimalist style for the cover art for shorter work. Since most of my work is on the silly or weird side, I can think I can get away with not having super awesome epic cover art. Of course I still want it to be good, but I'm thinking of ways I can produce something nice using the skills I have. I do have an artist friend who I think can work something out with that won't break my bank.

Editing will be more of a concern. I often seem to miss basic things these days, but I'm hoping critique partners can help me with that. That may slow me down in some regards, but at this venture, I can't see paying hundreds of dollars for editing. I understand I may have to spend money to make money. I've always felt my strength has been dialogue and imagination. The technical aspects are something I need to work on a lot more.

But I like the crux of what most of you are saying. Practice should, in theory, make me get better and better. And I feel like if putting my work out there at least moves me to the next stage as a writer (meaning producing work and selling it) then I'll be satisfied with the direction I'm going.

I got some great advice recently about pulling the trigger. He said if virtually no one knows you, you can screw up a lot more than if everybody knows you. So obscurity in a way allows you more chances than if you have dozens of books out that fans have expectations towards. That's one exciting thing about putting your work out there, from my experience with anthologies anyway. Most people when they read your work may be seeing it for the first time. They have no expectations. Hopefully, they walk away thinking, "Cool, I want to read more from that writer."
 

pmmg

Vala
:zombie:

Just looking at this one, I would say I have not increased my writing speed, that still seems pretty slow, but I have improved my consistency, which means I write a little everyday. I would say writing consistently and slow beats writing fast and irregularly. I do think the ability to write well improves with doing, and writing consistently may lead to greater word counts per day, but I find I am lingering around 700 a day. But...I will take 700 a day vs a few thousand every few months.

I am pretty dedicated. If I am writing a story, I dont shift and write a different one. If I have energy, it goes into the story I am currently writing. I am looking forward to finishing this one though. I have stuff to read, and tools to make. I have all of them on hold for the job of getting the words on paper.
 
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