The Importance of Output: Could You Be Doing More?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

If there's one thing I've learned about the writing journey over the years, it's that there's never just one way to success. Multiple roads lead to publication.

Some paths have long detours, frustrating road blocks, deep valleys, and winding paths that seem to lead to nowhere. The author has years of wandering before finally getting published.

Others have a straight shot. The author seems to arrive at success overnight.

Whether our journey takes forever, happens quickly, or falls somewhere in between, there comes a point where we may grow stagnant. Our footsteps slow down or even come to a standstill. Perhaps we lose our enthusiasm for publication, our energy level drops after the initial excitement for writing fades, or we may even grow weary from all the new stresses.

Sometimes, the journey may be taking so long that we start to think, "What's the use?" or "Why bother working so hard for nothing?

Unfortunately, I've seen many good writers fall by the wayside. Their footsteps grow slower and slower until they're practically crawling along. Some have even stopped writing altogether. I no longer see the #amwriting enthusiasm from them on twitter. Or when I check in to see what they're working on, I discover they're on the same project as before.

If you've been reading my blog long enough, you know I'm NOT opposed to writing breaks. I took a seven year hiatus from my writing career when my children were younger. So, I completely understand the need to back off and refresh ourselves.

But, for those who are still plodding along the publication pathway, I want to encourage you not to let discouragement, disillusionment, or disappointment fill your journey with quicksand.

Nowadays, output is becoming more important than ever before.

For those pursuing traditional publication, it's never wise to get stuck on one book or two. First, agents and publishers like to know that you're capable of writing more than one book. Second, if one book doesn't sell, then you have a whole stack of books to keep querying. The fact is, every book you write increases your chance of breaking in. And the good news is, if a publisher doesn't end up wanting the plethora of books you've written, they don't have to languish in a drawer. You still have options.

For those pursuing self-publishing, James Scott Bell (author of Plot & Structure) says this in a recent article titled We Are All Long Tail Marketers Now: "[For] self-publishing writers, the ones who are making some good money at it . . . volume is the key. That's what wags the long tail."

He goes on to say that no matter what type of publication we're pursuing, "We're entering the age of long-tail marketing . . . which holds that the profitability of a business is directly proportional to the number of products it has for sale over time. The more products—factoring in quality, of course—the longer the tail."

In other words, the more books we write, the better chance we have at finding success. Essentially, we all need to keep persevering, push ourselves through the slumps, and put out quality stories time after time.

So for those who have found themselves slogging in quicksand lately, I encourage you to keep writing. Give yourself daily or weekly writing goals (or a combination of both which is what I do). Set a time limit for when you'd like to complete your book or editing (i.e. 12 weeks or 16 or 20).

Then once you're done with the book, give yourself a limited amount of time "off." Don't let it drag on indefinitely. Put a plan into place for when you'll start the next book.

Always keep moving forward. Keep your writing output high. The more you write, the stronger your writing muscles grow. Yes, take a break if you need it. But then get back to work and don't let excuses slow you down.

What about you? What does your writing output look like these days?


  1. I must admit, I often struggle with the output vs. quality debate. I naturally lean towards writing fewer books of higher quality, but then I see people who maybe aren't so picky as I doing very well for themselves because they can produce more. Since I write category romance, quantity definitely has a lot to do with sales. If an author can put three books a year in Walmart and have them sent out to book club members, that goes a long way in making sure readers don't forget your name.

    Now if only I could write that fast and still have good stories. Sigh . . .

    1. Hi Naomi,

      I really think the number of books is going to vary from author to author depending on their life situation and the other things they have going on. For example, a mom with young kids might now have as much time and energy as someone who's already through that stage. The important thing is that if you're writing that you keep at it. All too often I see writers stop or slow way down when nothing is happening. I personally feel writing gets me through those times of waiting, keeps me busy, and helps me not to focus so much on what I don't have but what I can still strive to become.

  2. Good news for me. I'm all about movement and I happen to have a good number of novels waiting for their day...might come sooner than I once thought.

    1. Can't wait for the day when I can rejoice with you! :-)

  3. I have a question... I agree the more books we write the better. Even if they don't get published we as writers need the practice just like playing a sport, a musical instrument, etc. However, my first book has turned into a series of 3, possibly 4 books, and I was wondering as far as "practice" goes, does this count as only one book because I'm using the same characters and just advancing the plot into multiple books? Or is it truly like writing 3 books as they are full length (90,000 words or more)? I do plan on starting a new story after my current project but I don't feel I've done all I can with the story I'm currently working on. Would appreciate your thoughts on the subject and hope I've made sense trying to explain it :)

    1. Hi Shelly,

      I'd say that you've written three books (not one)! Even if you're carrying the plot over, each book has a beginning and a clear ending with all that happens in between holding it together. So if you've gone through that process multiple times, then each time is definitely a practice in completing a full length novel. Hopefully you've been able to challenge yourself to grow in applying new techniques with each book, putting into practice all the good things we writers have to learn.

      My only caution with series for new authors pursuing traditional publication is that if an agent is unable to sell the first book, then you can't really go anywhere with the entire series (unless you choose to self-publish). But as you said, you can start a new story and have another book ready to go that can showcase your writing skills and story-telling ability.

    2. Jody, I appreciate your caution regarding a series for a new author. I'm writing my stories in such a way to provide wiggle room for a series if the need arises. I want to put all the good stuff in the story I'm working on, not save it for the next one that may not see the light of day.

    3. Thanks for your thoughts, Jody! I agree about series and new authors and decided awhile ago that if/when I pursue publication I probably would not begin with a series. However, I do believe series are becoming more and more popular and this project might be something good to tuck away for the future. Thanks again! Your tips are always so helpful!

  4. I agree completely. My eventual goal is to be putting out 3-4 books a year, with both traditional and self-publishing.

    At the moment I'm close to finishing the final book of my Locked Within trilogy, and then I'm moving on to what will likely be my first step into self-publishing, steampunk, and Young Adult. With the right amount of work I believe I can have it ready by the end of the year, meaning I can have two books coming out in 2014.

    1. How exciting to hear about your plans, Paul1 Are you locked in with a non-compete right now? Or will your current publisher allow you to self-publish something in a different genre?

    2. My contract is pretty generous in that regard. The only obligation I have to my publisher is to give them first refusal on any sequels or books that use the same setting or characters.

      I was considering letting them know that I was planning to self-publish as well as continue my traditional publishing, though, as a matter of courtesy.

  5. Because I finally surrendered to God's call to write this year - after years of assuring Him he had the wrong number - I already struggle with the feeling of being behind, so output is important to me. I discovered that setting a words per day goal minimum was helpful. It gave me something to shoot for and helped me to push through when I felt like I was stuck. I took time out for several weeks due to several unavoidable events - but in the midst of that chaos, I ended up making a very surprising trip to my first writer's conference - an occurrence only God could have arranged. One thing that was stressed over and over and over - FINISH!

    I came home, finished the other things I had to do, and then got back to work and finished. What I'm working on now is trying to find a way to measure self-editing goals. The words per day worked for me originally, but now that I'm going back over it, I'm trying to use the measure of sections/chapters per day. If that doesn't get me the results I want, I may try setting time goals.

    I'm glad to see you write about having more than one project in the works. I have several other stories running around in my head that I want to get down, but I wasn't sure if I should just concentrate on one at a time. I know I have to get this one to the point where I'm happy with it before I move on, but while it's being critiqued and otherwise sent out into the world, I'd like to start on something else. It's nice to know that's not a bad idea.

  6. I've been struggling with writer's block these days, and I've used it as an excuse to procrastinate about writing. I feel guilty about it, and I've found that the longer I avoid my manuscripts, the harder it is to go back to it. But I know that I don't want to give them up altogether, so I have to go back to them in the end.

  7. Excellent advice. It's so easy to let a refreshing break turn into an unintended break. You lose so much momentum, and your skills rust. I've done it. Not my best idea. :)

  8. Good advice, Jody. A writer needs to keep writing, not get stuck waiting for one to get The Call!

  9. Hi Jody, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris

  10. I STRUGGLE with output.

    I didn't consider self-publishing my writing in part because I lacked (QUALITY) volume.

  11. Tried to reply directly to Naomi but blogger wouldn't let me, so here I am, just hitting the reply button at the foot of the main page...

    I naturally lean towards writing fewer books of higher quality, but then I see people who maybe aren't so picky as I doing very well for themselves because they can produce more.

    Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive, and producing more certainly isn't a matter of being 'less picky'. It's often the case that people who agonise over their words are missing out on the chance to exercise their writing muscles.

    And speaking as someone who's let her productivity slip in recent months, I've always thought of writing as a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. You don't use it? It atrophies.

    There was a time I could bang out 10k words in a day and these days? I let real life matters take over and got myself in a rut of not writing. I feel guilty about that, because I miss feeling creative and productive.

    Only got myself to blame for that, so I take this blog post as encouragement for me to get going again! :)

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