The late Isaac Asimov is my role model for being a productive writer.
He wrote 435 books, making him one of the most prolific authors of all time.
When asked for the secrets of his prodigious writing output, he said, “I never get writer’s block because I have multiple projects on my to-do list. So when I get tired or get stuck on Project A, I simply move to Project B.”
Although I am not nearly as prolific or successful as Asimov, I use the same technique to make my days as productive as possible: I have multiple projects under contract at all times.
So when I run out of steam on Project X, instead of quitting for the day, I just click my mouse, open the file for Project Y, and start typing.
Working on multiple projects can enhance productivity in any profession, not just writing. It works for consultants, programmers, design engineers, and anyone else doing creative work in which one might get blocked or burned out after putting in a number of consecutive hours on a single project or task.
Another Asimov secret, which can be used to increase productivity no matter what your profession, is that he worked long hours all the time.
For over 3 decades, I worked 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. But Asimov was the real workaholic, working 12 hours a day or more 7 days a week; I usually take all of Sunday off, and work only part of the day on Saturdays.
The late, great copywriter Claude Hopkins said the reason he made twice as much as any other copywriter he knew was that he worked twice as many hours.
Another Asimov tip for writers was to write in a simple, straightforward, unadorned style.
He wrote a first draft, made one edit, and was done.
On copywriting projects, I unfortunately am more of a perfectionist, rewriting and editing many times until I am happy enough with the copy to show the client.
I am closer to Asimov on my content writing projects: books, e-books, essays, and articles, writing far fewer drafts than I do with my copywriting.
Also, writers who are prolific typically write on the same subject over and over, like Ted Butler, who turns out a constant stream of articles on a single subject: the silver market.
Writers who tackle a fresh subject each time, like John McPhee, spend much more time on each new book or article because of the big learning curve, although McPhee has a respectable output despite this (remember, McPhee is the guy who wrote an entire book about oranges…and it was a great read!).
Yet another secret to increasing your productivity as a freelancer or small business owner is outsourcing, of which I am a fanatic practitioner: I have not been to the post office in 20 years. I do not mow the lawn, shovel the snow, rake the leaves, fix things around the house, or prepare my own tax returns. I hire others to do that for me.
Four reasons why I outsource these and dozens of other tasks to experts:
1) I don’t want to do them because I find them boring, mundane, mindless, or unpleasant.
2) I make more money per hour than the expert I am paying to do it, so I come out ahead financially.
3) The expert can do it 3X better than I can in a third of the time.
4) It frees me to focus on my core business, writing.
There is nothing wrong with doing everything yourself, if you enjoy that, I suppose.
But to me, it decreases your productivity, weakens your focus, and limits the size of your body of work and revenues.
I agree with the late direct mail consultant Dick Benson, who said, “Do what you do best in-house, and outsource everything else.”
Benjamin Franklin: “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten; either write things worth the reading, or do things worth the writing.”
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.