The ability to write well is a blessing.
But it can also be a curse.
Making a living as a writer can be tricky. After all, there’s only so many words you can crank out on a daily basis. You can’t keep writing and writing and writing. You need a break from time to time.
Since that’s the case, you can’t really afford to waste time. So how do you make sure that you’re juggling all of your assignments successfully?
There’s an easy answer: You can become a more productive writer by really examining your approach to the craft and making appropriate changes. Need some inspiration for ways you can change? Consider the writing habits of these four literary kings:
Fueled by amphetamine, Kerouac attacked his typewriter, hammering out fast-paced stories while hardly sleeping at all. To keep up with this frenetic pace, Kerouac abandoned traditional paper and wrote on scrolls.
Believe it or not, On the Road was written on a 120-foot scroll. That way, when inspiration struck, ole Jack didn’t have to interrupt himself to put a new leaf of paper in the typewriter. With the scroll, the paper was able to keep up with the speed at which Kerouac pounded the keys.
In other words, Kerouac built his writing environment in a way that would ensure his maximum productivity.
Hemingway has a lot of advice for writers, and that advice is expertly captured in Larry W. Phillips’s Hemingway on Writing.
Some of the highlights:
- To begin, write a sentence that’s true.
- Don’t think about your stories when you’re not writing.
- If you return to a piece after you’ve already started, reread it in order to ensure cohesion.
- You have a point to make. Make it. Don’t beat around the bush.
Hemingway believed that you shouldn’t ever delete what you’ve written, that you should keep moving forward. Then you can make changes when you go back and subsequently reread your work.
In order to boost a writer’s productivity, some word processing tools include a Hemingway Mode that makes it impossible to delete what you’ve just written. Progress at its finest.
Charles Bukowski. Any serious conversation about Hank must include mention of the prolific poet’s penchant for the drink.
For whatever reason, alcohol is a tool many writers over the centuries have used to produce their best works. Alcohol can make writers more honest, shedding all of their inhibitions.
Bukowski, the famous drunk, womanizing bum, is certainly remembered for being a raging alcoholic. While that’s probably not an enviable series of descriptors, you can’t help but be impressed by his collective output.
The German-born writer published six novels during his lifetime. He also published scores of collections of poetry and short fiction.
On top of that, Bukowski has spoken to us often from the grave. More than 15 of his books—poetry, nonfiction and short stories—have been published since his death in 1994.
Though alcohol can certainly take some credit for Bukowski’s output, this is worth repeating: Drink responsibly. You won’t be productive when you’re hammered.
Tom Robbins, known for his zany humor and sharp wit, prefers to tackle his projects in more of an incremental fashion. He writes about 500 words a day.
But he doesn’t write quickly. In fact, the septuagenarian author will construct each sentence with unparalleled intensity. He’ll scan each word as many as 40 times to make sure his sentences are exactly perfect before moving on to the next.
While his process is certainly slow, it’s more productive in the long run because all of the editing and rewriting work is built into it.
OK, so now what?
What worked for Kerouac, Hemingway and Bukowski—and what works for Robbins—might not be the best methods for you. But by becoming familiar with the writing processes of the greats, you’re able to reconsider your own approach. You might even get inspired, realizing you’ve been doing something the wrong way.
You need to find the process that makes the most sense for you. No two writers approach the craft the exact same way. So find out what works best for you and keep on striving to refine your approach to writing.
That’s the path to increased output.