Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Be a Prolific Writer

This isn’t my first rodeo, you know. I’ve been posting to this blog for about six months, but I have six years of prior blogging experience. Yet, this blog has quadrupled in size in about one-tenth of the time it took to grow my previous blog. How did it happen?

Well, it wasn’t by accident.

And it wasn’t luck.

Prolific Writer - Tomatoes

Photo credit: Tim Sackton (Creative Commons)

The secret to building an online platform through a blog is simple: You have to be prolific.

“Prolific”

Marked by abundant inventiveness or productivity.

(Via Merriam-Webster)

I’m about to do something crazy. I’m about to divulge my secret. And you may not like it. You may not believe it. You may even scoff at it.

But if you do this, it will grow and stretch and challenge you as a writer. And it will work.

I hope you attempt to be more prolific with your writing. It has tremendous pay-off.

Your Guide to Prolific Writing

Here are three simple steps to writing more than you ever thought was possible (and how to do it):

1. Over-commit

Say what?

That’s right. I want you to bite off more than you can chew. Commit to more than you think you can do. And then do it.

No, I don’t want you to sacrifice integrity, but I want you to stop living in fear and hedging your bets. As my friend Blaine Hogan says, only scaredy cats “under-promise and over-deliver.”

Your job is to over-promise and over-deliver.

You can do it.

If you have faith. If you are confident. If you believe.

I do this by taking on more freelance gigs and guest posts than I think I can handle. I know my limits here, but I also try to test and stretch them. As a result, I grow.

2. Write all the time

On your iPhone. In your notebook. On your computer.

Even when you don’t feel inspired or think it’s dumb. Even when you’re busy and tired.

Write, write, write.

Always be capturing ideas (I use Evernote for this). Always be imagining.

Every circumstance and experience is a potential piece. The more you do this, the more naturally it will come.

The Muse is speaking; are you listening?

3. Use your “byproduct”

The guys who wrote the book re:work taught me this.

Do you know how Kingsford Charcoal started? Henry Ford invented it by using leftover wood briquets from his automobile assembly line. He used his “waste” to create a new product. And you can do the same.

If you’re constantly writing, you can re-purpose pieces of content for other outlets. For example, two of my posts this week are from email exchanges I had with readers last week.

Similarly, you can recycle blog content by tweeting or re-posting an old article from your archives.

Don’t work harder; work smarter. Use what you’ve already written, polish it, and share it (again).

This isn’t cheating. It’s being efficient.

Being prolific is like rolling a snowball

At first, this may be hard. Being prolific may feel like a discipline (and it is). But it gets easier. I promise.

As with most skills in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets. And the better you do it. Because you’re sharpening yourself as you do it.

So start rolling that snowball. Start building momentum. Before you realize it, you won’t have to push so hard.

It’s like planting seeds. One day, it’ll be harvest time.

What tips for prolific writing do you have? Share your thoughts in the comments.

*Photo credit: Tim Sackton (Creative Commons)

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that I literally make pennies off of anything you buy as a result of reading this.

Further reading: The Dilemma of the Prolific Writer

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Thanks Jeff!! As I go into my second year of blogging at my site, I need this! 
    I’ve dreamt of being prolific … but now I’m inspired again. Thanks for sharing your secrets!
    Though I’ll be slightly cautious about over-committing … I’ve done enough of that in other areas of life and I have no desire to live life in a panic all the time. 

    • Yeah, it’s an art. You need to commit JUST a little more than you think is wise. This will stretch you without breaking you.

  • I try to do all of these Jeff. Good thoughts! 

    • You’re welcome, Ron! You’re VERY prolific. I think you should write more for other websites/magazines/blogs. You’ve got so many good ideas.

  • I agree, Jeff. Most of us don’t write enough and don’t dream big. When our dreams don’t happen right away, we give up. It’s time to get over that. 

    • Yup. The main lesson I’ve learned is to keep at it. To not give up or change gears too quickly. It takes 10K hours to become excellent.

  • Over-commit. I love that. It goes against the typical advice to “do what is manageable”, but I’ve found as I stretch myself I can do more than I ever thought possible. We’re too easy on ourselves.

    • I love how you’re constantly rising to the occasion, David.

  • And not just prolific, but prolific with focus (as you point out elsewhere on this blog). You can’t have a single blog about theology, gardening, politics, and parenting. 

    But I’m curious, how focused do you think the blog should be? I write about Scripture and Theology, which is a HUGE topic. Maybe not focused enough. But I never run out of things to write about. 

    A friend of  mine writes about “planting house churches.” This is a narrow topic, but he seems to regurgitate a lot of stuff. 

    • Hi Jeremy – I wrestle with this, because as a creative I get bored easily. I have learned that focusing on a topic or suite of topics helps provide direction for me, and it seems to generate more of an audience.
      I like what Rachel Held Evans said about this subject: voice is more important than subject. I think that’s good and right on. Does Don Miller have a subject? Not really. But he has a distinct voice. Similar with Seth Godin. He talks about a handful of topics, but it’s his voice that makes him unique and attractive.
      In general, I think it’s good to start with a general theme, boil that down to a subject (or maybe three at most) that you tend to focus on, then decide how you want to address that in a unique way. If you can do that, you’ll find a sweet spot.
      And yes, I think “theology” is too general of a topic.

  • It’s all about priorities. Over-committing essentially forces you to make the blog more of a priority, because that’s the only way you’ll meet your over-the-top goals.

    • Love that, Loren. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • (raising morning cup of coffee toward the screen) Here’s to over-committing and being prolific.  Philippians 4:13

  • This post reminded me of the silly joke…How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  I guess I need a bigger elephant and need to set higher more challenging goals.   Truthfully, I get a little panicky when I think this way.   Thank you for more good thoughts to think about. 

    • elephants are delicious

      • haha! I guess “prolific” writers know this 🙂

        • i think that’ll be the subject of my next newsletter…

  • I think you have to know what your perspective is. Something I am working. Who am I? and what do I bring to the table?

    I think you also have to “share the wealth.” 

    In 2011, writing and publishing is far different that it ever has been. You have to engage the reader through comments and maybe even their own site. 

  • Hey Jeff, really great post – I’ve found that over-committing has done wonders for me, too (I mentioned it in my http://www.firepolemarketing.com/blog/2011/08/01/freddy-krueger-of-blogging/Freddy Krueger post today).

    It’s not just over-committing forcing you to write and be prolific, though – you consistently bring your “A” game, which makes all the difference (prolific production of bad content is the fastest way to drive people away…). 😉

    • nice Freddy reference!

      good clarification.

  • A friend read a post of mine last week and asked, “How do you do it?” She made the same trip. She saw the same things. She experienced similar feelings. The difference was I experienced those through a writer’s eyes, ears, (need I cover all five senses?). When I experience things, I think in terms of articles and posts. To become a prolific writer or blogger, you have a certain mindset. You observe the world with two questions in mind. What can I learn from this? What can I share with others?

    • Well said! I will try to be more conscious of seeing the world with writer’s eyes. Thanks 🙂

  • good stuff Jeff…thanks

  • I really need to work on rolling that snowball and writing all the time (#2). I have ideas that pop in my head, but I’ll let the lizard brain creep in and distract me. “Oh, I’ll write that down later.” Wrong answer.

    Thank you for the words of wisdom and encouragement. Write On!

    • I love Evernote for this. I just jot it down using my iPhone app.

      • I use to be a compulsive Evernote user, but I need to get back into the habit and define a better structure. Gotta be organized.

  • I need to get better at capturing my ideas when they pop into my head. I have Evernote on my computer, iPhone and iPad, I usually have paper and pen near me for when my electronics are, I just tend to be lazy and think I will remember it later. I’m kicking myself for it this week. I had a great idea I forgot to write down and now I can’t remember. You live and learn I guess. 

    • It’s a discipline, but nothing too stretching. Big fan of Evernote!

    • Same thing happens to me.  Hate that crap.

  • Barry pearman

    As one who follows someone else who ‘over committed’ and eventually got ‘de-friended’ by all, including his Papa for a brief painful moment, I am in a tension between being and doing. Henri Nouwen wrote ‘Being is more important than doing, the heart is more important than the mind, and doing things together is more important than doing things alone. 
    How do you find creative balance?

    • Great question, Barry. It’s a fine line, for sure. The balance is not in how much I do but what value I attribute to the doing. I try to get centered every morning by affirming first WHO I am before I attempt to DO anything. In my experience, we can do a lot if we believe the truth about ourselves.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks Jeff, its important to centre back on who Daddy, Jesus, and Spirit say I am and not who I say I am, those closest to me say I am, and those I serve say I am. Always important to settle on the great ‘I AM’

  • Jeff,

    Terrific! I would say it is also extremely valuable to read a lot, as well. In fact, read more than you write, but still write a lot, of course. The more you read, the less of a rip-off artist you will be and the more you will become aware of what gaps need to be filled.

    Best,

    Peter

  • Ahh…the writing all the time part is the thorn. I struggle with wanting every piece to be gold when all I see is rusty tupperware. And tonight is a perfect example of when I spent the evening reading blog posts rather than writing them. And watching The Bachelorette.

    • Yeah, it’s tough but doable. Write first, edit later.

      Oh, and tupperware rusts?!

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  • Anonymous

    Using “byproduct” is starting to be the key for me. I’m a church pastor, so I’m already writing 3 sermons a week for the church. What have I found? That I read and research a lot of stuff and most of it gets edited out to make it fit a reasonable length and the defined goal of the sermon.

    So, now those are the blog-post starters for the week. It helps a lot, and makes it easier for me to find the other materials for a few other posts a week.

  • totally agree – just write a lot. and then write some more!

    • thanks, john! agreed. the craft comes with the discipline.

  • As an aspiring writer who overpromises and writes all the time, I guess I am partway there! Great words!
    Bernice
    Are you overwhelmed?

  • MichaelDPerkins

    I love the idea of overcommitting. It forces you to sit down & write. Bi-product using is a great thing too. I do that often. All it takes to write a post is an idea. And then cultivate that idea.

  • David J Ruess

    Boo yeah.

  • short, sharp and to the point – perfect advice, immediately spurs me into action on my next blog post – thanks!

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  • So simple and so true.  And by simple, I mean simple to read.  Not as simple to do.

    Thanks for the clear advice, as usual, Jeff.

    • not hard to do. just requires work. not much skill, though, just work.

  • Mbetters

    Hello Jeff Goins,
    I’m an amateur writer, and have made several “thirty page false starts”, but haven’t given up!  Although I am only sixteen and know barely anything about the craft, I still LOVE to create fiction, and am constantly captured by fantasy and imagination.  Someday, I will be published.  Do you know how I can get there faster?

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  • Marie Eve

    Thanks for your post, I love your inspiriting ideas to increase blogs audience. I’ll use some of your rips for sure

  • Thanks, Jeff. Super inspiring. For me, just writing in general is a huge stretch because I’m a programmer. I’m not supposed to know how to write, but I want to learn because writing inspires and influences people. That’s leadership. I do believe I’m called to lead, so I have to stretch myself and learn to write.

    • totally get that. thanks, Luke. great having breakfast with you the other morning!

      • You too! Thanks for all the writing training you’ve already given me through your posts. I have a lot of reading to do. 🙂

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  • Hey Jeff, well said! The issue, as so well noted in your interview with John Morgan, is honing the message and polishing the stone – not a ton of stones, but one or two that must be fully appreciated! Thanks –

  • Abishek Rana

    hi Jeff, thanks for the article. You site is full of descriptive content, and I really enjoyed ‘why we need to write everyday’ and ‘being a prolific writer’.

    For the past one four months, I have been writing three pages of free-writing every morning.  This was the tip I learnt from ‘The Artist Way’ written by Julia Cameron. These writings are personal, and we write whatever comes in our head. It’s also called the method made famous by Anton Checkov.

    This tip will allow us to keep on writing, no matter what. Even if we run out of sentences, we keep on writing a sentence like, ‘I am running out of words’, until we write the whole three pages. This has helped me overcome my writing.

    Thanks for your articles. They are simple, clear, and captivating.

  • Thanks, Jeff.  A great post, rich with both inspiration and brass-tacks advice, which makes it so much more useful to put to work right away.  I shared it via twitter, now I’m reflecting on which things I am doing already (so should keep doing) and which I need to take to heart.  Getting the work out there is sometimes my greatest weakness — doing exactly what you say, taking too much time with research and editing — and I agree that just getting it out there becomes a self-fulfilling ‘carrot’: the more work I put out there, the more I relax, and the more fluid I become with revision.  I am also a big fan of the repurposing strategy: in fiction, that can mean gleaning shorts and short-shorts from novels, or from pieces that ended up on the editing floor. Just because they didn’t serve the larger work, doesn’t mean they can’t have life elsewhere. 

  • Very simple ideas! Not necessarily easy… but clear. I do an awful job at capturing my thoughts. When I get an article idea, it’s never just one. It’s like 10 things at once. Unfortunately, I’m usually in the shower, lying in bed unable to fall asleep, driving or otherwise doing something away from my computer when creativity appears.

    Whenever I try to organize this stuff I end up with pieces of ideas everywhere (on post-its, two different computers, iPhone, index cards in my glovebox, multiple notebooks) and that drives me nuts. And then of course when I *need* to write something, I come up blank, and if I try to hunt down that idea from last week, I don’t know where to start looking.

    When will they invent technology that allows you to just think something, blink your eyes, and the thoughts are neatly transcribed into an online journal in the cloud (with tags!) That would be awesome!I’ve looked at Evernote more than once but never could get into the habit of using it. Let me go search your site to see if you have anything more to say about using Evernote effectively. Thanks for the ideas 🙂