Two Questions for Better Writing Productivity

Parkinson’s Law says: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Give someone twenty-four hours to complete a project and watch them use their time efficiently and wisely. Give them a week and suddenly the project is perceived as complex and they spend half the week messing around. 

Don’t believe me?

Why does the average person work eight hours a day and forty hours a week?  Nothing is magical about these numbers. Do people actually need that many hours to complete their assigned tasks? Maybe. What if you gave them thirty hours to do their work? Would they complete these tasks and have ten hours to spare? Most likely. Parkinson’s Law.

 What does this have to do with writing?

Many writers live under the illusion that if they had more time to write they'd have more success. The full-time writer is where it’s at. But what about Parkinson’s Law?

If you had eight hours to write would you spend that time wisely? Not likely according to Parkinson’s Law. You'd mess around on social and playing games instead of doing the work. If you only have two hours to write you can use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage. 

Tim Ferris in his book The 4-Hour Work Week asks some hard questions about our productivity.   Actually you only have to ask two questions:

1. Am I being productive or just being active?

2. Am I inventing things to avoid the important?

Am I being productive or just being active? 

Busyness for the sake of busyness is laziness. Endless outlines, research, and tweaking your website and social media profile is not productivity. These aren’t bad things and might be necessary sometimes. 

But are we just doing things to do things? Living by the adage: look busy in case the boss is watching. 

Activity doesn’t always equal productivity.

Here’s a question: did your activity lead to more words on the page? Are you moving your writing project forward or not? 

If no, you’re active and not productive.

Am I inventing things to avoid the important? 

Wow, a hard one. How often do I mess around doing mindless things instead of engaging the hard thing? If I had a dollar for every time, I said: one more episode on Netflix before I work on my book. 

The invention of tasks to avoid the most important projects is the sly tactic of the Resistance-Demon.  That still small voice that says: yeah, create a new website, instead of work on your book. You should watch another Ted Talk instead of meditate or call a friend. 

Parkinson’s Law is alive and well. I’m going to invent all kinds of tasks to avoid doing the most important tasks. The important work. 

But here’s the deal and don’t lose heart. When we invent stuff to keep us busy and avoid the hard thing. Listen to your life.

The hard thing that we're avoiding is what we have to work on. It’s the most important thing. 

Whatever is scary or hard is most likely what needs our undivided attention. If our writing project is easy and breezy, it’s probably not pushing us enough. 

If we have an idea that keeps us up at night and scares us to death… we know what we have to do next.

So, ask some hard questions and take inventory. What am I doing that's just busy work? Stuff that gets more words on the page? Does it move the project forward?

What am I inventing that’s a replacement for doing the hard thing? Whatever you’re avoiding is exactly the thing you need to work on next. 

Hope this helps. 

*originally published on

TPW 100: Ella Barnard on Fighting Perfectionism

Ella Barnard is host of the Author Like a Boss podcast, owner of Author Boss Academy, and administrator of the Author Like a Boss FB Group. She’s also an author and publishing coach who loves helping creative people connect with their audiences and with each other. In this episode, Ryan and Ella explore what holds authors back from starting and finishing their books, why marketing doesn't need to be scary, how to find time to write, and much more. Find Ella and get a free marketing book at:

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TPW 099: Rachael Herron on Writing Memoir

Rachael Herron is the internationally bestselling author of more than two dozen books, including thriller (under R.H. Herron), mainstream fiction, feminist romance, memoir, and nonfiction about writing. She received her MFA in writing from Mills College, Oakland, and she teaches writing extension workshops at both UC Berkeley and Stanford. In this interview, Ryan and Rachael talk all things memoir, why to write one, why not to write one, how to discover past memories, and much more. You can find Rachael at:

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(Most of) Life is Out of Our Control

Most of life is out of our control. Life is a mystery and complex and a gift.

You can eat well and exercise and still get cancer.

You can work your tail off at a prestigious college and still not find a job.

You can raise your kid’s to love and respect others and they can still turn out to be monsters.

Life is complex and a mystery. As much as we like to think we’re in control of, well, anything, it’s not true.

Does this mean we throw up our hands and say:

“We’ll leave everything up to God, chance, or luck?”

No, we control what we can control.

The artist, creative, and writer often forget these truths. They’re looking for that perfect moment or season of life when everything will line up. When the creative gods will drop an idea, image, or project in our laps.

David Long comments on inspiration for the writer:

“You can’t rely on inspiration. I don’t even believe in inspiration. I just believe in working. Work generates work. What frustrates me horribly is not knowing what I’m going to do next. And so you force something to happen… . You can’t sit around thinking. You have to sit around working.”

Long is right. Inspiration is a myth. Ideal situations and circumstances are not a thing. We can’t control if our health will hold out today, but we can control doing the work. Sitting around thinking about the work, is not work. Adding new words to the page is work.

A writer can’t control a bad review or a family member who doesn’t understand why you’d spend months writing a novel.

A writer can’t control rejection. I found out this reality last week after submitting a novel to a publisher.

“No thanks, not what we’re looking for.”

I couldn’t control rejection from a publisher but I can control the work. I can control the work that allows for the possibility of submission which might lead to the path of acceptance.

But it all starts with the work.

The artist and writer and creator can’t control their health. Or the health of others. I’m in and out of hospitals this week as I write these words. A family member is ill. Perfect health on Saturday, in the hospital Sunday.

Such is life.

I can’t control what people say, what they think, or the circumstances and events of my life. But I can put my butt in the chair. I can tap one word after the other.

No one can take away the sacred process of creation.

You can control paint on canvas, words on a page, or working on your next project. No one can steal that part of the creative process. The results are up to the gods.

We aren’t able to predict future results. No magic eight balls or prophets telling us how it will all turn out. We go in faith.

But we can do the work. You can control that today.

Toni Morrison said:

“I can’t explain inspiration. A writer is either compelled to write or not. And if I waited for inspiration I wouldn’t really be a writer.”

We can wait for inspiration, wait for the perfect situation, or we can control what we can control…

Doing the work.

*Originally published on The Prolific Writer (publication)

TPW 098: Aileen Erin on All Things YA

Aileen has a BS in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Texas at Austin. After working in commercial editing in Los Angeles for a few years and writing after hours, Aileen decided to leave the industry to dedicate more time to learning the craft. Since then, she’s hit the USA Today Best-Selling list twice, and has moved nearly five hundred thousand books in her Alpha Girl series. In this interview, Ryan and Aileen discuss her unique angle on writing YA, why writing good books is not enough for success, her journey in doing an MFA, and much more. Find Aileen and her books at:

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Everyone Wants a Book: What to Charge as a Ghostwriter

*Guest post by Jerry Nelson an American freelance writer living the expat life in Argentina. You can find him at any of hundreds of sidewalk cafes and hire him through Fiverr.

Originally published on Medium.

Everyone wants to write a book about their life. Many, who recognize writing is not in their skill set want to pay a professional writer to write the story for them.

A ghost has only a lay knowledge of the client/subject and can keep asking the same questions as the lay reader, and may open up the potential readership of the book to a much wider audience.

Setting the obvious benefit of a wider audience aside, most clients don’t have a clue what professional ghostwriters may charge.

Clients and Ghostwriters Can Both Get Confused

Clients are confused about ghostwriting rates. Writers also get befuddled and wonder if they should ask for payment during the writing, a deposit before beginning or just a share of the book royalties.

Clients can be forgiven for being confused. There is no excuse for professional writers though. Writer’s Weekly suggests a per-project low of $5000 and a high of $100,000. The average cost comes in at $36,000 and the cost per word tends to run as low as 50-cents to a high of $3.00.

The correct price? Whatever the market will bear. As part of the calculation, there are other things to consider by the freelancer who wants to add ghostwriting to the stable of skills.

Ghostwriting Can be Lucrative

An experienced ghostwriter commands a higher fee than someone just starting out. The length of the book, in terms of word count, the amount of research needed and the amount of material provided by the client are also factored into the witch’s brew of price setting.

If royalties, or credit, are added in, they can change the negotiation as well as the rates. Also affecting the rates if whether the book is going to be self-published or if the author secures a name publisher. If a name publisher is used, royalties will have a higher value.

Ghostwriting can be lucrative, but without a track record, it can be tough to quantify the value of royalties and credit. So make sure to be paid appropriately for your efforts. Fame doesn’t pay the mortgage.

Many clients for ghostwriting services don’t realize skilled ghosting is expensive and freelance ghostwriting rates often spook them. It goes without saying that beginners should have a contract reviewed by an experienced, intellectual property attorney.

Here is an email exchange I recently had with someone who wanted to know about my ghostwriting rates. Many potential clients are as clueless about the rates and process as this person. But there are many who are knowledgeable about what it costs, the work involved and what it takes to ghostwrite a quality book.

7 Questions with Jerry Nelson

1. Why do you write?

Because I can’t do anything else.

I don’t mean I’m physically challenged in any way. I can do and have done, many different things in life.

But writing has always been a mainstay for me. At times writing has been locked away and kept hidden from even family and very close friends, but it always came out of the vault. Sometimes with a roar. Sometimes with a murmur. But writing for me has been a wolf in a trap, willing to go to any length to raise its head and scream for attention.

Part of me is still five-years-old. Remember how you presented your mom with the latest drawing in elementary school? You waited on her to ooh and ahh before relegating it to a place of honor on the fridge door.

That’s still me.

The money is nice, but the thrill and excitement of seeing my name my byline on something that is on the world’s fridge’s door.

Nothing else brings me the same contentment.

2. When you get stuck and are staring at the blank page. What steps do you take for moving ahead?

I don’t get many chances to stare at a blank page. The type of writing I mainly do is for clients. They decide the topic, so that doesn’t leave much room for blank pages and staring.

On the rare occasion, I want to write something, just for myself and am looking for inspiration, Reddit is a nice tool and so is Quora.

I also use Twitter as a muse. With a quarter-million fans and followers, I just have to send one tweet and the problem goes from “what do I write about,” to “which one of these great ideas do I write about?” So maybe it’s the same problem, just dressed differently.

TPW 097: Greatest Hits Episode with Joe R. Lansdale

*Ryan was not feeling well, so he's doing another Greatest Hits episode with Joe R. Lansdale. One of our most popular shows. This show was recorded June 8, 2018.  

Prolific writer Joe R. Lansdale, has written novels and stories in many genres, including Western, horror, science fiction, mystery, and suspense. He has also written for comics as well as "Batman: The Animated Series." As of 2018, he has written 45 novels and published 30 short-story collections along with many chapbooks and comic-book adaptations. He has much to teach us! Many of Joe's stories have won prestigious awards, Joe was inducted into The Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and several of his novels have been adapted to film. Ryan and Joe chat about what it takes to become a successful writer, why writing is a job, and we should treat it as such, why chasing markets is a bad idea, how to write cleaner first drafts, his process for churning out millions of words, and much more. You can get Joe R. Lansdale's latest updates and find his books at:

Turn on the Faucet- Advice on Productivity from Louis L’Amour

The process of creation can be a mystery. Do ideas come first, and then we create, or do we create and ideas come? Chicken before the egg? The question of all questions…

I think it can be both. Sometimes ideas seem to fall from heaven beginning the creation process. Other times we work our way into an idea.

The longer you spend creating anything the more the creation process becomes a mystery.

Louis L’Amour a prolific writer of hundreds of novels and short stories knew the creation-mystery well. I imagine after writing a hundred novels you might run out of ideas. Here’s what he said to do when the idea well runs dry:

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Ditch the Novels for Short Stories

Many beginning writers think the novel is Mount Everest. The place we start for proving our writing chops. But the problem with novels is they’re long.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. You can labor on this monster for months or years, never sure if it’s any good.

Ray Bradbury said (paraphrasing from a lecture):

“(Bradbury) explains the problem with setting a goal of writing a novel to begin with is that you can spend a whole year trying to write one, and it might not turn out well. After all, if you’re just starting out you haven’t learned to write yet. Beginning and intermediate writers should write short stories; that way, you can write one short story a week.”

If you’re diving into fiction writing and not sure where to start… short stories are a sure bet.

The short story is the perfect place to get in your 10,000 hours and build your fiction chops. It’s where I began, and where most writers start, and where many authors still live.

A short story isn’t the minor leagues for writing. Maybe someday if you can hit the curve, you’ll move to the majors and write a novel. No way.

Some of the greatest writing ever done was less than 20,000 words. Old Man and the Sea, anyone?

TPW Motivation Monday's 012: Everything's on Loan

In this Motivation Monday's, Ryan reflects on a commencement speech by Stephen King. The essence of the talk: everything's on loan, we don't own anything, we're just stewards. How does this relate to our writing life... and all of life? Listen in, and find out. More writing resources at:

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Flannery O’Conner on the Redemptive Act

“There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it.

His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.”

(Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970)

Writer, Everything’s on Loan

Stephen King gave a commencement speech at the University of Maine in 2005. I’m still haunted by what he said and the application to life and writing:

“And here’s a secret I learned six summers ago, lying in a ditch beside the road, covered in my own blood and thinking I was going to die: you go out broke. Everything’s on loan, anyway. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward. So pass some of it on. You may not have much now, but you’re going to have a lot. And when you do, remember the ones that don’t have anything. A dime out of every dollar.”

You go out broke. Everything’s on loan. You’re not an owner, you’re only a steward.

I came to grips with these realities in 2009. During a routine five month ultrasound they told my wife and me our second daughter would die. Samantha would die in the womb or shortly thereafter.

She lived four days (see below).

The Prolific Writer Submission Requirements and Terms of Service

What Are We Looking For?

The Prolific Writer is all about writing fast, often, and well. Our community is dedicated to helping writers create work at prolific speeds. Prolific-ness can be defined by a variety of metrics. But at the heart of the prolific writer is a desire to produce consistent and quality writing for readers to enjoy. Words that impact others and make the world a better place.

We’re constantly in search of articles that focus on writing, productivity, publishing, and anything that inspires/helps writers get unstuck, and get more words on the page.

>Every article must fit our mission: Helping motivated writers get unstuck.

>Submissions must be nonfiction. Unless you’re participating in the 52 Short Story Challenge.

>We prefer unpublished stories. Not a deal breaker, but if you submit unpublished stories we can ensure they’re of the highest quality, and edited properly.

House Rules

By submitting stories to The Prolific Writer, you agree to play by the House Rules. Don’t be a jerk, play nice, and we’ll keep you around. If you continue to break the rules, we’ll send you packing. That’s fair, right?

A couple more things:

  1. Articles must adhere to the policies of Medium. Partner Program stories have their own rules to abide by. Please read them carefully.

  2. Articles must be appropriate. If The Prolific Writer deems your material crass, offensive, or not a right fit for our community, no-go.

  3. Articles must have a point. Please don’t ramble and tap into your inner-artist that’s a bunch of free-flowing nonsense. Action steps and practical application for your stories are much appreciated. Don’t be scared to experiment in style and tone, but, always shoot for inspiration and a focused point.

  4. Articles with an abundance of self-promotion, no thanks! Please keep your promotion limited. Linking to other stories are fine, shout out to your books okay, but don’t go crazy. A sea of links in your stories will not get published.

  5. Articles need to be well-written. Please use spell check and if grammar is not your strong suit, ask for help. If English is not your primary language, please have someone proofread. Poorly written articles will be booted to the curb.

  6. Articles must be formatted correctly. Please use titles, images, and formatting in proper ways. Your images must be for public consumption and royalty free. Pixabay and Unsplash are good sites for images. See Medium guidelines.

  7. Articles must be owned by YOU! If you’re submitting stolen material or not properly cited work, bye-bye!

  8. Articles are to stay with The Prolific Writer. Once your stories are submitted and accepted by The Prolific Writer. Please don’t remove them from our publication. You still own all copyright son your work, but if you remove stories often, you will be asked to leave.

How Do I Write for The Prolific Writer?

  1. Fill out a request form. Be patient, and it might take a few days before getting a response. Not everyone is accepted.

  2. You must have a Medium profile before requesting to write for our publication. No exceptions.

What Are You Filling Your Mind With?

Every writer will face the blank page with varying degrees of resistance, fear, and occasional diarrhea. The blinking cursor staring back at you with demon eyes speaking lies of:

“You’re an imposter, hack, your past successes mean nothing. You’re a phony. You have no talent or skills. What are you trying to prove?”

Sometimes the writer-demon manifests itself in other forms. A mind that simply lacks ideas.

The passion for a story or article that flowed with ease now hits a metaphorical brick wall. Your brain an empty vessel scratching for anything that resembles an idea. Anything that will keep the work moving along.

Regardless if you’ve written hundreds of articles and published a dozen novels, the writer-demon is real. But there’s hope my friends. And we find the hope long before you ever put a word on the page.

Legendary prolific writer, Ray Bradbury, suggested in a lecture three things for what he called: writer hygiene. What are the things you can do to keep your mind healthy before you sit and write?

“What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields . . . I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field. On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay — at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?”

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

You Don’t Need a Decoder Ring or Special Undies to Write

A writing legend Harlan Ellison died last summer. Ellison wrote in just about every genre but known for his Sci-Fi and speculative fiction stories. He also produced work on about every platform possible (novels, short stories, TV, film, and audio).

Ellison was a brash man who had strong opinions about writing and the industry. He also was married five times and maybe not a guy to invite over for Sunday brunch.

Regardless of Ellison’s temperament and multiple failed relationships he offers solid advice for writers. Behind the rough veneer of Ellison he tried to champion the ordinariness of writing. Remove the mythical nature of word slinging and bring it down to the bottom shelf of mere mortals.

Ellison wanted people to know that writing didn’t require super powers or specialized degrees.

In fact, he once said:

…the hard part of writing isn’t becoming a writer, rather, staying a writer.

For all of Ellison’s controversy surrounding his personal life he wanted writers to write. Not only write, but write fast, often, and well.

Ellison was a professional writer for fifty years and made a great living. But what did it take? How did he do it? What insights does he offer us mere mortals?

C.S. Lewis on What Makes for Good Writing

In C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing by Corey Latta, Lewis writes a letter to a girl inquiring about what makes for good writing. Lewis gives eight tips that still hold the test of the time for the modern writer:

1. Turn off the radio.

Okay, maybe we listen to the radio less than previous generations. But how about social, TV, podcasts, Netflix, and You Tube? I’d say Lewis is spot on. Distraction is the enemy of good writing.

2. Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.

What’s a magazine?

3. Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being real aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.

When polishing and editing your work read it aloud. If you can, print it off, read aloud, and mark with a red pen. I know authors who listen to their books read to them via software on their computer. You’ll catch all kinds of funky stuff.

4. Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about.)

Can I get an Amen?

The passionate writer is a prolific writer. Lewis wrote fantasy and Sci-Fi novels for adults and children. He also wrote Christian theology and popular Christian books for a broad audience.

Lewis wrote what he wanted to write despite almost getting crucified by the Oxford literary elite. We do our best writing with great passion and heart because of a love for the subject at hand.

Write books about dragons eating a village, or how to sew a sweater. Do what interests you and you’ll find an audience. There are more people who like your interests than you’d think.

5. Take pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn’t, and a single ill-chosen word may lead them to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something that he needs to know- the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn’t the same in his.

Too many newbie writers try to be cute and clever with their language. Clarity wins the game. Tell the reader what you want them to know, see, or experience. We can attribute the timeliness of Lewis’ work to his clarity of speech.

Do your readers know what you’re trying to say?

J. R. R. Tolkien on Writer’s as Sub-Creator’s

The story-maker proves a successful ‘sub-creator’. He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed.

— from “On Fairy-Stories” (1939 essay)