Secrets of Super-Productive Writers

Every year, my husband takes the kids camping for a week in early August.  Since I’m a fan of indoor plumbing and beds, I opt out of the camping. Instead, I take a solitary week at home as a writing retreat. Unfortunately, I’m never as productive as I’d like to be. I see writer friends posting 5,000—or 8,000—or even 11,000 word days on Facebook or Twitter and I wonder how these people manage to crank out so many words.

Since my writing retreat was coming up, I asked them for their secrets, and many were kind enough to share them.

blurry hands

Write so fast your hands get blurry!

Shannon Delany has been known to write 11,000 words in a day. She taught me about word sprints—15 minutes of uninterrupted writing, followed by a five minute break, and then ten more minutes of writing. I found that I could write 700 words in a 30 minute sprint, which is huge for me. In my case, sprints are most effective with an online check-in buddy. You can post a Facebook status update at the start, and folks can check in using the comments.

Shannon says that “word sprints are a great way to push past your pesky internal editor (you know, that nagging voice that questions everything from plot to word choice?) and get some words down. Some people feel intimidated by the blank page, but a ten minute word sprint will give you an odd sense of accomplishment and help you build momentum with the rest of your writing. It’s all about leaping in and going wherever your characters or story will take you….The main idea is that you outrun your internal editor, find some diamonds among the mess of words you’re writing and then revise to make everything shine.”


Last month, Shawn McGuire wrote 29,958 words in a week. She wrote up a bulleted list of things that helped her accomplish this impressive feat. She wrote to me, “Honestly, the two things that make the biggest difference for me are turning off the internal editor – just get the words on the page – and noise-cancelling headphones! Blocking out the real world and being able to slip into my character’s is huge. This works for me even if I only have an hour or so.”

Shawn recommends this page  on Molly Cochran’s site and this blog post  by Rachel Aaron, who routinely writes 10,000 (not a typo) words a day.


 Janet FoxJanet Fox says she can write up to 5,000 words a day when she’s “on a roll.” Here are some of her tips:

“First of all, although I don’t create outlines, I write down a very short punchlist of key words. I know what they mean; they give me direction without imprisoning me.

Secondly, I don’t judge the writing as I go. I shut down the internal editor and just let fly. This means that I may have to axe a bunch, but I’ve discovered that, most of the time, I’m on the right track and even find new and unexpected paths through scenes.

And finally, while I allow myself breaks to check the internet, make a cup of coffee, do the laundry, and (most important) take a walk, they are short breaks only, and few. I don’t give myself any real time off until those several thousand words at least are done.”


Laurie J. Edwards  told me, “The first thing I learned was to turn off the Internet. I didn’t realize how often that distracted me until I no longer clicked on it. I also tried Candace Haven’s Fast Draft online class.” Like Shawn McGuire, Laurie found motivation in Rachel Aaron’s blog. “I’ve found that if I’m motivated, I can write 5000 words in about 3.5 hours. . . Next I downloaded Write or Die. You have to keep typing your novel into this app or face consequences. . . . I haven’t been brave enough to try the kamikaze consequences, though, where your writing completely disappears if you don’t make your writing goals.”

Sarah Prineas


Last winter, Sarah Prineas wrote 85,000 words in five weeks. She said “it was a fun, whirlwind time.” When I asked Sarah about her method, she said this:

“I don’t follow any writing rules or pay attention to tips or anything like that.  Often I’ll go for two weeks or more without writing, or just tinkering, and then things will start coming together, a story gets its teeth into me and doesn’t let go.  The trick then is to go with it.  When that happens I work probably 12 hours a day, wake up at night with ideas, neglect my family, send out for pizza, drink a lot of coffee, and post giddy tweets about wordcount . . . I couldn’t tell you how I did it, it just sort-of happened.”

So there you have it. Sometimes there is a method, and sometimes it’s just madness.

Share your own productivity tips in the comments!


Jacqueline Houtman’s debut middle-grade novel is called The Reinvention of Edison Thomas.  In case you were wondering how her week went, she’s pleased to say that she finished the first draft of a novel and wrote over 10,000 words in a week. 


Jacqueline Houtman on FacebookJacqueline Houtman on Twitter
Jacqueline Houtman
Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers, BAYARD RUSTIN: THE INVISIBLE ACTIVIST (Quaker Press 2014). Find her at
  1. Those are some CRAZY daily totals! My biggest output ever was 8,000 words in a day and that was writing for most of the day and I also wrote THE END so I was pushing myself and highly motivated to finish the first draft! When I’m on a roll though I can do 1200 – 1400 words in an hour. My average output is 2500 – 3000 words per day – but that is NOT writing for more than 3 hours at a time. There’s always SO MUCH ELSE TO DO in a day, whether it’s family, household, marketing, school visits, presentation/talk prepping, appts, etc. For some writers to consistently do those kinds of numbers is mind-boggling. You could write a book in less than a month and about 15 per year! 🙂

  2. Super helpful post, Jacqueline! I need to get some noise cancelling headphones. No, wait. I need to write … or at least price those headphones, or write …

    I use the selfcontrol app on my Mac to block myself from certain sites, as I have very little will power. If, I mean, WHEN I finish this current manuscript, I should probably dedicate it to the makers of the app. Thanks so much for these tips. And congrats on your (enviable!) word count progress.

  3. Jacqueline, thanks for sharing these great ways to get past the fritter impulse! Julie

  4. Great post! Like Shawn and Jacqueline, I plan artist dates in which writing takes precedence over all else. I also e-mail a small group of writers with my weekly goal. They do the same. We must account to one another. Quite helpful as well.

  5. AWESOME post…seriously awesome. I need to bookmark so I can go back and re-read this and go through all the links. Thanks for much needed info 🙂