Writing Books Faster—Without Compromising Quality

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigfile2341250394382

These days, it seems as though everyone is talking about writing faster.  And there’s definitely a link between the number of books we have available for sale and sales rank…if our books are good.

But that’s the problem.  How do we ensure quality while turning out books as fast as we can?

I could write more or faster than I do now.  But I don’t want to risk compromising my writing.

Instead, I’ve worked on ways to streamline and fine-tune my process to make the most of the writing time I have.  And I’ve become more organized to provide more opportunities to write.

Here are the four big ways I’ve gotten more done with the time that I’ve got (and added a few more minutes, to boot):

1:  By using a mini-outline.  A mini-outline, as I’ve mentioned before, is useful for a couple of different reasons.  One, it keeps me from having to re-read what I wrote the day before, which is time-consuming—I always end writing sessions with a short sentences explaining where I left off. For another, they succinctly tell me what I plan to write that day so I’m not trying to figure out the direction of my story.  I keep these brief and specific and designed for that day’s writing.

2: Thinking about my story before opening up the laptop (priming the pump).  I write first thing in the morning, so I start thinking about my writing plan as I’m getting up, pouring my coffee, and letting the dog out.  It prevents those minutes of staring blankly at a computer screen and helps me get my thoughts in order and get in the writing mode.

3: Outlining the next story in a series when finishing up a book in the same series (described in this post).  This is for everyone who writes multiple series…it’s a real time saver.  Outline the next story in the series as soon as you finish a book in the series and before making the leap to writing a different series.

4: Making my non-writing life more streamlined. Finding other ways to cut corners during my day.  Hello, crockpot.  (A few recipes that are pretty steadily in my rotation with the slow cooker: potato soup, hamburgers, creamy chicken, and easy shredded chicken). Instead of having to run last minute errands, I put everything I need to do each day on my Google calendar—and set Google to email me each morning at 5 a.m. with a daily agenda.  Using a free timer to help me keep track of the time I spend online checking email or Twitter.

5: Making the most of spare time by using it to write.  Even the unexpected bits of small time that accumulate in a day.  I use lists to help me make progress on my manuscript when I get an extra 5-15 minutes.  I upload my manuscript to Google Drive or SkyDrive to make sure I have my book with me at all times (this also functions well as a backup, since it’s on a cloud).

Are you trying to increase output without sacrificing quality?  How are you going about it?

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46 thoughts on “Writing Books Faster—Without Compromising Quality

  1. That’s part of why I started The Story Game — but it backfired because I have fun creating the game and playing and not writing. (Hmmmm.)

    But seriously it’s partly a matter of noting what you do that wastes time and energy. I love to brainstorm and come up with ideas. So every step of any story, I have to stop and decide which idea to use. Dithering eats up all of my energy. So I’m trying the idea of random choices to prevent the dithering. (I’m only doing it with certain kinds of books however.)

    For the most part, what really works is to just pay attention to time at the keyboard.

    1. Julie–And that’s a good point–it’s not for everyone. This is for the writer who wants to put more stuff out there, who is maybe responding to reader demand, who doesn’t want to start screwing up her books…me! Ha! I just don’t want to put a bunch of bad, or even just disappointing, books out to readers.

  2. Elizabeth – I think you have a point that there is pressure to write faster. And as you say, the more of one’s work is out there, the more people can learn about it and get interested. I like your ideas for making the most of one’s time. You can’t necessarily force ideas into being, but you can make the rest of the process more streamlined. Along with your terrific ideas, I also believe in using technology when you’re on the go. When I’m waiting at a doctor’s office or the hair stylist or some such place, I use my Kindle Fire to jot down notes. I use the voice recorder on my ‘phone too. If you label your notes logically, then you can gather them quickly when it’s time to actually write.

  3. I’ve spent the past year and a half immersed in learning the craft of writing a mystery–and learning how to be a novelist. The latter included time management, trusting the process/keeping the faith, picking up where I left off (even after two different minimum-writing periods of two months each when family and health crises completely took over my life), and finding my most sustainable level of focus and output. The second draft was finished a few weeks ago and is now in the hands of the beta readers.

    Your idea about outlining the next book immediately after getting to the end of the first one is so incredibly important, and I’ve started that, along with laying the groundwork to expand my author’s platform and social media efforts. I also kept notes during the past year as I came to understand what worked for me and what didn’t during the process, so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel next time. With any luck, the next book will take much, much less time.

  4. The more I write, the better my writing is. Henry Ford hired efficiency experts a hundred years ago who discovered that the assembly line worked better the faster they moved it. Of course, there was a breaking point. So they kept production just below the breaking point.

    Your idea for the mini-outline is brilliant. I’m putting that one into action today forward. The others I’ve been doing with some exceptions. The biggest problem is staying away from distractions (like reading great posts by ESC when I should be writing :)

    Peace, Seeley

    1. Seeley–I think that’s an apt analogy—we’ve got an assembly line, too. My problem in the past is that I haven’t been able to see exactly where my breaking point is–but now, with more experience under my belt (and a few meltdowns, I now know where that point is!)

      Good luck with the mini-outlines!

  5. Hulloo, Elizabeth! I forgot to sign up for updates when your blog moved, and as a result I haven’t seen you in *weeks*!

    I am very much in “write faster” mode. I’m using all your concepts, except instead of the daily schedule, I have a clone.

    Okay, it’s my wife, but when it comes to running the family business, it’s the same thing. Yeah, I’m spoiled rotten. But your idea is the next best thing: put your schedule together when you’re not under pressure (this is the 7 Habits “Quadrant 2” time we should all be striving for: important, but not urgent.)

    One tool I’ve created for myself, based on great stuff I’ve learned from the incomparable Larry Brooks, is drafting the 9 sentences which tell me the entire story:


    Printing out my note sheets, with the prompt at the top for what each of the 9 vital waypoints should accomplish, helps me envision the entire story. I can work on the next book’s 9 sentences while writing the current book.

    This conversation about speed versus quality comes up once a year for me, as a member of February Album Writing Month (http://februaryalbumwritingmonth.com)

    Each of us writes 14 songs in 28 days. Yeah, as my buddy Phil Norman says, you do that many laps, you spend some time in the shallow end of the pool, but when you get in that zone, focused on songwriting for 4 solid weeks, it changes how you think. I’m still performing songs I wrote in, literally, minutes, almost a decade ago.

    When your brain is primed for certain activities, the pathways get coated with a cool greasy fat called myelin, and the more you work ’em, the more myelin you get, and the more myelin you get, the better they work.

    So, quantity, if you do it right, will become quality. It’s just that most folks go with the common misconception that you can’t have both, and as a result, they never do.

    1. Hi Joel! Thanks so much for coming over. I know, this is the bad thing about moving a blog, right? Glad you subscribed again–thank you!

      See….I *am* the wife, so that’s part of my problem…ha! So I’m basically my husband’s secretary, but it’s the only way to get him to the doctor and dentist. :) What I think I need is my own wife! And I have the “7 Habits” book in hardback (that’s how old it is) and I think I need to re-read it. It sure made a lot of sense when I first read it. And thanks for the Brooks link–I like the way that guy thinks.

      That’s a lot of songs….but what a cool creative brainstorm. I’d love to be able to compose. I like hearing the science behind the success of the process…like anything in life, I guess, the more you practice the better you get.

  6. I can write quickly but it’s the rewriting that’s hard! I need to figure out how to make my brain work with an outline! Working on it but mostly not successfully :)

    1. Jemi–Maybe just expand the amount that you’re outlining each day? Or throw out what you *think* an outline is (and, as a teacher, I know you’ve got a set definition in your head), and just brainstorm on paper…”and then THIS happened, and then THAT happened…” until you reach the end of the story. Let it be haphazard, let it be disorganized, let it have dialogue in there…just pretend you’re telling yourself a story and stick it on paper.

  7. Thanks Elizabeth – what I love about these tips on writing productivity is that they focus not on an overarching plan, but on-the-ground practices. I don’t loose productivity because I don’t have a plan or the time to be productive – I loose productivity 10 minutes to a half-hour at a time.

  8. Hi Elizabeth
    Good ideas here, thanks. I think streamlining your day is the one many people struggle with, just really focusing on where they spend every minute, and finding those times you can compress certain things, or leave the inessential stuff, and grab some writing time instead.
    I’ve taken to writing a couple of sentences at the end of where I finish one day, just to remind myself what’s happening next. Unfortunately, I don’t always understand my own short hand, so I’ll open it the next day and spend the first few minutes trying to decipher what I’ve written! :)

  9. There’s something to be said about writing quickly! I once spent so long on a novel that the idea of re-writing it just made my head explode and I eventually had to shelve the first draft (I had many formative, developing writing years within that draft and chapter one was so vastly different from chapter ten, I couldn’t imagine doing the editing process). I’m working on a potential project now and I really like the character (and for me that means even more than a plot line or anything else). If I like the character, I’m less likely to break up, and this means, that the book will be easier to finish. I’m definitely planning on taking even less time on this novel than ever before.

  10. Honesty, I don’t think speed has anything to do with quality. Some of the best writing I’ve done is because I’ve written it fast. I’m a pantser, and if I trust my process and my ability to tell a story, it’ll come out the way it needs to be. It’s when I write slower and think about what the story is about that I run into trouble. That’s usually when I start second guessing the direction of the story.

    1. Linda– There’s definitely a danger of overthinking our plots…and editing them to death, too! When we start obsessing over all the different directions a story could go in…yes, that’s a nightmare. Been there and done that!

  11. Really love this blog post, Elizabeth! Juggling kids and work means that I’m always looking for advice on how to accomplish goals in short periods of time. Your blog has been one of the best resources I have found. The idea of working on a novel, and then editing and revising, can be so daunting that it is helpful to have advice on how to tackle the task in small bits of time.

  12. Seeing what other writers do to be efficient is so helpful to me! While at work, I can easily see colleagues’ best practices. While writing alone, we may think we are doing well, and being efficient, but how can we really know if not learning the best practices of other successful writers? I have to say I am pleased that I do many of the items on your list!

    If I may say so, Jami Gold’s workshop on ‘pantsing’ offers, what I think is one of the perfect mini-outline tools available. It’s helping me to regularly pump out a rough draft in 1.5 months.

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