I’ve always envied authors who write quickly. Many of them pull ideas from their own life. Sometimes, when I finish reading a good novel I feel like I’ve met some of the characters, because the author has actually met the people who fill their stories.
Alan Paton was a prolific writer of academic papers and essays, many detailing the problems facing native Africans and expressing his own views against apartheid. However, he is most remembered as the author of Cry the Beloved Country. It was not only a well written book, but also composed rapidly. He wrote much of it in his downtime, stuck in a hotel during bad weather while visiting correctional institutions in Scandinavia.
Alan Paton’s job was running one of these correctional institutions for native African youth in the Republic of South Africa. He knew the material in his book because it was the kind of events that occupied his life. I realized when I read the court scene in Cry the Beloved Country that this was written by a person who unfortunately knew the legal routine used in criminal trials very well.
Here are some ideas that I gleaned from the life and works of Alan Paton that might help increase how fast I write and still produce excellent work.
1) Write frequently. A daily habit of writing is a way of practicing that art, similar to the daily practice of other skills such as playing an instrument. The repetition actually makes the task easier to do. However, the challenge in daily writing is to continue to create something new.
2) Write about what is intimately familiar. This doesn’t mean I never have to pause to research anything as I write. Research can be necessary but it takes an increasing amount of my time because I justify doing this task even if I only glean a tiny bit of information for my writing. I need to realize when the time to find trivial facts is too great
3) Travel somewhere else and leave familiar places behind. New experiences do help the flow of creativity. However, new environments also help me see the place I left behind with new and more observant eyes.
4) Write in a place where I am alone and have nothing else to do. Most of the time I can find something else to do, even if it is a peripheral task like organizing my writing files. However, a place with no distractions, because I have no other tasks that can be done there, definitely helps to increase my written output.
5) Write what I care about deeply. This may be the most important item in this list. I will write intently when I have something to say. The drive to express what I want the world to know pushes me to continue when fatigued. Having a purpose to write provides the energy to keep doing it.
Sometimes, I consider dispensing with the time required to create an outline in order to increase my output. However, I’ve heard authors admit that this shortcut results in writing three to four times as many words as needed for their final book. However, these five tactics listed above can be used no matter your technique for writing.