Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Two “Secrets” of Being a Productive Writer (Guest Blog by Kelly A Harmon)

The Two “Secrets” of Being a Productive Writer

Kelly A. Harmon

Writers write. And no matter how much they produce: a hundred words a day, a thousand words a day, a novel in six weeks...nine times out of ten, if asked, they’ll tell you they wish they were more productive.

The fact is, we could all write more. But between email, the phone, and popping out to the Internet for a bit of research, all that productivity starts to wane. We try to multi-task, but concentrating on more than one thing at a time weakens our ability to do any one of them well.

No lie. Scientists have proven that multi-tasking is a fallacy.

I’m not talking about the trick of putting in a load of laundry and writing while it washes: that’s simply ordering your tasks in a manner which allows you to accomplish more. The fact is: first your put the laundry into the washer first, and then your write. You’re not really doing more than one thing at a time.

Consider a writer who sits down to write with a cup of tea at hand. He types a few words, maybe a few sentences, and then stops to take a drink. Did you hear the key word? He stopped. As soon as he reached for the cup, he was no longer writing.

Imagine how much time he loses when he answers a ringing phone or reads an email.

So the first “secret” of being a more productive writer is to just write. Focus on putting words on the page and ignore everything else until the writing is done (or you’ve reached your time limit, or your word goal, etc.). Just concentrate on one single task.

When you’re finished with that task, start the next. Finish it, then start the next. It’s called serial mono-tasking.

The second “secret” to being more productive is to keep more than one writing project in the hopper at a time. When you’re done with working on the novel, turn to a non-fiction article you’ve been wanting to write. When you tire of that, move on to the novella you’ve been toying with. Don’t just close up shop for the day when you’ve finished the task at hand. Keep moving. Always strive to do a bit more than is necessary. Push yourself to accomplish more.

As Johann Sebastian Bach said, “I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

So, in truth there are no secrets to being more productive: focus and hard work, which have been around forever, are the key.

A tale of murder, betrayal and comeuppance.

King Theodicar needed an heir. When his wife, Queen Piacenza, became pregnant, he’d hoped for a boy. His wife, along with her nurse, Salvagia, knew it wouldn’t be so: with each cast of the runes, Salvagia’s trusted divination tools yielded the same message: “A girl child must rule or the kingdom will fall to ruin.” The women were convinced that the child would be a girl.

When the queen finally gives birth, the nurse and the king are equally surprised. The king is faced with a terrible choice, and his decision will determine the fate of his kingdom. Will he choose wisely, or will he doom Borgund to ruin?

Excerpt One:

Theodicar looked down at the mewling infant in his arms, and felt the anger rise up. Even in death his wife defied him, the nurse ensuring her success. Women did not rule. He would not allow it. They had created a male child, and that child would take the throne upon his death.

“You can save the boy,” he said to Salvagia.

She slitted her eyes at him, her stare mutinous. Her words were loud and hard in the wake of Pia’s death. “I have the power to save one at the expense of the other, Sire. The girl is stronger. And eldest. She was born to rule.”

Theodicar watched the girl curl up in his arms, her birth fluids staining a brown patch on the dyed-yellow wool of his tunic. She burrowed into the crook of his elbow, trying to achieve the comfort of the womb.

“I will not hear those words again,” he said. “That absurd idea died with my wife. My son will rule.” He reached for the boy, thrusting the girl child back into the nurse’s hands. “There’s no need for a daughter. And no need for anyone to know of her.”

“So be it,” Salvagia said, wrapping the weary girl in a square of wool, covering her face. She reached for her basket.

“Kill her now,” said Theodicar.

Salvagia looked stricken.

“Sire, if we kill her now, she will be of no use to her brother. Once dead, the blood won’t flow, and we need her blood to strengthen his.

“Then drain her now,” he snapped. “I will not have her crying out when we call the witnesses back to cut the boy’s cord.”

I encourage you to follow Kelly A. Harmon's tour and comment; the more that readers comment, the better their chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:

Interested in hosting Kelly on your blog?


Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Rowena! Thank you for hosting me today. I look forward to chatting with you and your readers about writing, Blood Soup, or anything else that comes up!

RowenaBCherry said...

Good morning, Kelly.

I noticed that one of the other topics you will be writing about on your blog tour is Rejection.

Can you give my visitors a glimpse of some of the issues you'll be blogging about during your month long tour with goddessfish and various hosts?

RowenaBCherry said...


A correspondent on was asking about sales and promo.

Have you discovered anything that has really caused your sales or preorders to spike? In other words, what do you think works promo-wise?

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Rowena,

Thank you for asking about other topics.

Authors by Authors has asked me about my favorite books in the genre... Always fun to talk about me! :) I also reveal my favorite snack...look for that at the end of the month.

I'll be discussing Where Ideas Come From, Things I Wish I Knew about Publishing Before the Book Deal, and how giving up "crutches" can help accomplish more as a writer.

Excerpts will abound!

I've a few open dates on the if there are topics anyone is interested in, I'll be happy to expound on those. Ask away!

s7anna said...

Hey Kelly,
You're a new author for me and I'm looking forward to reading your work. I've gone over and signed up for your newsletter and will be adding your name to my buy list.


Pauline B Jones said...

What an intriguing excerpt! And great writing advice.

It's Monday, so I find my brain dead self wondering how the sights are on a blog tour. As you wander across the internet, any memorable moments? Anything that surprises you?

May you have a fair wind and a following sea on your tour (did I get that right? LOL!)

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Regarding promo that works...So far, I've seen two things spike sales:

1. public readings (when they're well attended) - so promotion is key here.

2. Getting good reviews posted on Amazon.

I had a 5-star review for a kindle short story on Amazon at the beginning of April. I've seen more sales for that story this month than I have since I pushed the story out in December. That story even made the Kindle Fantasy Best Sellers List last week.

Ask me again about promo in May, I'll let you know if I can add Blog Tours to the list of things that work! ;)

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Anna

Thank you for adding me to your buy list! I hope you enjoy what you read.

But, uh, I don't have a newsletter... do you mean the RSS feeds on my blog?

EmilyBryan said...

Hi Kelly,

I find myself in quasi agreement with you. There is no substitute for BICHOK (Bottom in Chair, Hands on Keyboard) but, I also have been known to write while driving the car, walking the dog, or--to my chagrine--while in conversation with my DH. I get this glazed over look in my eyes and the poor man will say, "You're writing, aren't you?"

And I am. A scene is spooling out in my mind's eye. I'm eavesdropping on the characters' conversation and watching the action. And once I get to a keyboard, it gushes out my fingers.

If a writer finds herself stuck, there is something to be said for doing something mindless (like housework!) while her subconscious unties the plot problem. I can't tell you how often the solution has come to me while I'm folding clothes or walking on the treadmill.

Yes, a writer needs a good work ethic. I'm fanatic about meeting my daily page count (which is 10 in case you're wondering). But we also need to give ourselves time to play with our work. We're creating something out of nothing, not flipping burgers. And not all creating takes place in front of a flickering monitor.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Pauline

Thank you for the kind words about my writing!

Regarding tours....this is my first blog tour, and it's the first stop. So far, things are pretty rosy, based on the conversations started here.

If the rest of the stops are just as terrific as this one, I'll consider it an unqualified success. :)

s7anna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara Monajem said...

So true. It's just one step after another, from dawn until dusk (and I'm pretty sure I even work in my dreams). Like Emily, I work even when not at my computer - driving, walking, whatever. They say movement stimulates the brain, and I believe it.

Rowena suggested that I mention my guest blog at Musetracks re writing the perfect book. Comments and tethers to the earth would be welcome!

http://tinyurl. com/musetrackspe rfect

s7anna said...

errm...I think I signed up somewhere I wasn't supposed to...*sigh* okay so it's your blog that I'll be following...obviously Mondays and I don't get along since my brain is already short circuiting ;-)

RowenaBCherry said...

I wonder whether it is possible to write well, and also to be a good wife and mother.

There comes a time when it is simply not possible to spool out a scene while a loved one is trying to communicate... especially if the child is an adolescent.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Emily

At the risk of forming a mutual admiration society...I agree with you completely about the daydreaming/thinking part of writing.

I've been known to drift off into story land while doing housework and yard work, while watching TV, *burning* dinner, etc.

I like to think of that as the "prep work" for putting the story down on paper. I know that I can't really be productive at the keyboard -- no matter how focused I am -- unless I know what I'm going to say.

Maybe I should have discussed "Three Secrets..." here. :)

RowenaBCherry said...


Discuss Three Secrets now. We won't tell.


Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Barbara! Thanks for stopping by!

I love the humorous opening to your blog post. Had me laughing...and interested. I'm with you regarding spreadsheets and characters...mine waltz into my head and start talking from the beginning. Using a spreadsheet seems so clinical!

Rowena: I like to think I write well. ;) I'm both a wife and a mother...and I work full-time with a 2+ hour commute daily.

That's why I stress the importance of focusing. And did I mention burned dinners?

I think anyone can write well no matter what the demands just might take a little juggling of priorities along the way.

I've been "foiled" in the daydreaming stages by family, but I like to think it gives my mind an opportunity to work on those scenes subconsciously.

EmilyBryan said...

Rowena, point taken. There are times when we have to remain in the moment and not get sucked into story mode.

But do you think any male writers are worried about whether they can be good husbands and fathers while they pursue a writing career?

RowenaBCherry said...

Dear Emily,

I was only making a point about my own self-doubts and worries. You weren't expected to take the point, even if I bounced off a husband with glazed eyes.

I get the same accusation, a lot!


Kelly A. Harmon said...


That group Yahoo Group you've joined is probably the Eternal Press Readers Group. Eternal Press published Blood Soup.

That's actually a good group to belong to if you enjoy new fiction. Once a month on the 7th the there is a "launch party" on the list where new books are excerpted, and there are review postings and excerpts from previously published books throughout the rest of the month.

Pauline B Jones said...

Husbands worry about that stuff? Not that I ever noticed. It's women who take guilt trips. Sometimes we go on them w/o being sent by anyone.

That said, its counter productive to try to work against who and what we are. If we have families, we will be affected by them and so will our writing time. As you pointed out, we should focus when we can!

And little ones grow up. Even teens eventually go to college. If we spend our time thinking about what we don't have, we will miss what we do have. (Did that make sense?)

RowenaBCherry said...

I have such trouble keeping a second project on the hopper.

Emily has a wonderful tip which she has generously shared on my radio show, which is to burn a track of theme music for each novel.

I find that I need to stay in POV of one book until the editing is completed, which makes me much slower than I would otherwise be.

Bagging a series of blogs might work, though. As you say... something none-fiction.

RowenaBCherry said...

Excerpt Two:

“Do you want to learn about your sister?” King Theodicar asked.
“Go on.”
“Salvagia had a set of runes, and she cast them over and over and over as Pia’s pregnancy advanced. Always, the answer was the same: ‘A girl child must rule or the kingdom will fall to ruin.’”
“Do you believe that, Father?”
“Your mother did. And so did Salvagia. They came from Omero, where the eldest born ruled, not just the eldest male. They believed your sister should rule.”
“But, did you believe?”
“I think your mother wasn’t meant to bear children. She was little and frail. Her labor arrived early—almost too early for you to survive. Your sister was born first. She was tiny, and just as delicate as your mother. Pia died the moment she was born, without even seeing her. Salvagia cut the girl’s cord and handed her to me. Then your mother’s belly contracted, and we realized there was another babe: you.”
“So, you killed my sister so she wouldn’t take the throne.”
“It wasn’t like that at the time.” Anguish washed across Theodicar’s face. “The girl was
frail, but you were worse. Salvagia could only save one of you. She was certain you wouldn’t last through the night, and she tried to convince me that your weakness fulfilled the prophecy. I wouldn’t listen to her. I told her to sacrifice the girl so you could live.”
“The girl, the girl, the girl. Has my sister a name?”
“Her life was given for yours before she was named. I’d asked Salvagia to remove the body afterward, so there would be no question about who would rule after me.” He looked down at his feet. “I’m fairly certain Salvagia named her, though she never told me so.”
“How did my sister save me?”
“Her blood, Amal. You drank of her blood to strengthen your own.”
Amalric’s hand tightened on the glass in his lap. He swallowed hard, imagining he could taste the tinny flavor of blood on his tongue. It was worse than he first thought: not only was he winner by default, but he was beast—some variation of an incestuous cannibal—alive only because he drank his sister’s blood.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

I LOVE the idea of using a different set of music for each project.

iTunes would be great for this if you keep your music on your computer (you don't need to have an iPod)...but any music software which allows playlists could be useful.

Lately, I've been letting silence reign while I'm editing. I can "hear" the characters better for some reason.

I like to listen to music without words when I write...anything from classical to Sousa marches to new age...

What do you like to listen to?

RowenaBCherry said...


Don't forget to check back during the course of your tour. Not everyone comments on the first day, and some readers who find you on a later stop on your tour may want to come back and learn your Two Secrets.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Rowena: Thank you very much for hosting me. It's been a lot of fun.

Thanks to everyone else for commenting. Feel free to drop me a line any time!

I'll keep checking back to make certain I don't miss any late comments.

RowenaBCherry said...

Some lawyers will advise an author not to make a public statement about specific musicians and titles that might have inspired a particular work.

It opens the door (a crack) to a potential lawsuit from the inspiring musician!

Personally, I am saddened by such an abundance of caution. Of course, authors must respect musicians' and photographers' and cover models' copyright every bit as much as we'd like everyone else to respect ours.

What fun it would be, though, if all of us artists could work together and collaborate more!

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Rowena: I've never heard of author's being cautioned not to say what music influenced then. How sad not to be able to do so.

Interesting that musicians can say which musicians influenced them, and (I presume) we can still admit which authors influenced us - but we can't admit "cross influence" without fearing of a law suit.

Pauline B Jones said...

That is kind of a bummer about the music and not good marketing. I've read about a song, maybe in an interview and looked it up. Sometimes I've bought it.

I will admit to being VERY careful about how I use music in my novels, though.

jean hart stewart said...

Great excerpt and article. I'd like to know how you go about getting great reviews posted on Amazon?????Any clues appreciated.Jeanclu

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Pauline: I try never to mention songs or lyrics in my writing either. Many times, it's just too hard to secure rights from the musician. (Total bummer, especially when you know of the perfect song to go with the scene!)

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Jean! Thanks for the kind words about my post.

Sorry, but I can't help with the Amazon reviews question. Sheer dumb luck for me.

Blood Soup has been out for several months and it just got it's first review. I think that encouraged the second.

My story Dragon's Clause received reviews from the same two folks who reviewed Blood Soup.

The anthologies I'm in have received a few more reviews...but they've been published over a year. I think it was only a matter of time for that.

Exposure helps, of course. The more people who see the book, the greater likelihood there is for someone to write a review.

Pauline B Jones said...

When I made the jump from romantic suspense to science fiction romance, I contacted five of my most faithful readers and asked them to read an ARC of THE KEY and ONLY IF they liked it, to post reviews at amazon and B&N. I made it totally clear that if they did not like the book, they could post why or not post at all. It was totally up to them.

This helped me in two ways. I got more online reviews AND it helped my fan base to see that the switch wasn't that big. I'd changed locations, but not the fun.

You can also ask family members to write reviews or offer something small, but special to readers who take the time to review.

I know I didn't realize how much they mattered, even though I was an author, too. I try to take the time to go review books IF there aren't already tons of them there. I save my efforts for books/authors in need of more reviews.

RowenaBCherry said...

I know two authors (apart from Pauline) who changed genres.

JA Konrath and MJ Rose both asked friends who wrote in the new-to-them genres to ask their friends if they'd be willing to read a copy and review it.

JA Konrath offered a prize for the reviewer who posted reviews in the most places.

There are plenty of websites that do reviews, but many of them have long waiting lists.

Have you tried An Alernative Read? It's a yahoo group, but the owner does reviews.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Pauline: I like the idea of contacting your fan base and asking them to review...

...but I won't ask my family to write reviews. First, I don't want them to feel obligated to write a good review - especially if they didn't like the story.

Also: there will always be those critics out there who think that a review from a family member means less because the reviewer is related to the author. Reviews by relatives may be perceived negatively.

I'd rather have no reviews than take that risk.

Rowena Cherry said...


You make a very good point. In some forums, readers are very skeptical of authors who have been reviewed by other authors... especially if there is an appearance of reciprocity.

There is a subgroup on in the Tips for Advertising group that arranges reciprocal reviews.

I know about it because I moderate the main group.

Pauline B Jones said...

Kelly, I only asked family members who told me they liked the books. Some posted their own reviews without prompting, but others just didn't think of it. And yeah, some people won't take them seriously, but others don't notice or care who wrote it.

And in the end, they can do or not do. It's their call. It's not all joy asking family. Two of my brothers gave me four stars. LOL! But at least they read my books. I have a couple of brothers who "don't read."

Pauline B Jones said...

Reciprocity puts authors in a tough spot sometimes. I mean, I'm a reader, not just a writer, so I do read. LOL But that said, I don't post online reviews unless i really like a book (and will admit I sometimes forget to do it when I do like a book.) I do mention books I've read in my blog.

But I also rarely buy books because another author has written a recommendation. I buy books based on the blurb, samples and sometimes reviews, though a recommendation by a real person is what will most often get me to go look, which brings us back to word of mouth.

If I "meet" an author on line and they are delightful (like Rowena) this will prompt me to check out their books. After checking them out, I bought Rowena's books based on the blurbs. I love humor. :-)

I bought Linnea Sinclair's books because a reviewer compared us in a review. lol

I also check out books mentioned by blogs I follow, like Galaxy Express.

But I recognize that not everyone buys books like I do. LOL

What I do know is that readers WANT to find good books (with some exceptions, of course. There are those who feel their reading lists are "full," but I try to reach the people like me, who are always open to a new author, a new read.)

You do have to take the long view in this business. At least I have to. LOL

Until I pulled my back list, in preparation for updating my brand, I was getting sales from books released back as far as 1998.

Kelly A/ Harmon said...

Hey, Pauline...I've been checking out your books! I think I've mentioned before to you that I love the cover of Girl Gone Nova... you've got an awesome back list.

I think the moral of this review thing is: you have to do what works for you. There's no right or wrong answer (well, okay: paying somebody for a good review would be bad...) :)

Pauline B Jones said...

Thanks, Kelly! I've been around for a while. LOLOL!

I think that is the key to any promotion, find YOUR "sweet spot." That doesn't mean you shouldn't try things, but try to work from your strengths. This isn't a "one size fits all" business.

Best of luck with the rest of your blog tour!

Rowena Cherry said...


Just to play Devil's Advocate, which is always a tricky thing for a host to do to a guest....

Shouldn't the bottom line with reviews be "whatever works for the readers"?

Of course, if someone loves your book and tells you so or writes an unsolicited review, there's everything to be said for asking them to post a brief review everywhere.

Have you joined PNR the paranormal romance group on yahoogroups which has over 3,000 members, many of whom are delighted to be a free reader and submit a review.

Mike said...

I loved your comments on multitasking, which I wrote about recently at

One of the lessons I passed on to my daughters was pretty simple: You can do it all. You just can't do it all at once.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must get back to writing.....

Michael Rosenbaum
Your Name Here Guide to Life

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Rowena: I've been giving some thought to your post about "whatever is best for the readers," and I guess it depends on how one thinks.

If getting your books into the hands of readers "is best" then I would think that having as many good reviews as is possible is the thing to do (assuming that people do buy based on good reviews)...

The caveat here is, of course, that what you've written is good and it should be gotten into the hands of readers.


If getting more readers "informed" about your book (regardless of whether or not you want them to buy it) "is good" - then as many reviews as possible is still a good thing...yes? (I supposed we could argue that any kind of advertising would also inform readers, but I'm thinking it wouldn't really impart the detailed information of reviews...) question back to us is... what do you mean by "what is best for the readers?"

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Mike! I just wandered off to your blog to read your post on multi-tasking. Thanks for the chuckle.

Thanks for stopping by!

RowenaBCherry said...


You are such a great and interesting guest. I do thank you for your conversation.

For the record, though, I didn't write "what..." or "whatever" is best for readers"; I would never presume to decide what is best for another adult.

I wrote "whatever works for readers."

Honest reviews work.

If readers notice that Author A gave Author B a 5-star review, and Author B gave Author A a 5-star review, they will infer (not necessarily correctly) that Author A and Author B have made a deal.

Those readers may subsequently ignore every review by and of Authors A and B.

(In which case, at the very best, A and B have wasted up to 6 hours each in reading each others' books, and writing their honest and thoughtful reviews.)

At the worst, by extension, those readers may eventually assume that every 5-star review written by an author should be ignored.

Stella (Ex Libris) said...

Hi Kelly! What an eyecatching and original title you ahve chosen! It certainly looks interesting, please count me in.

stella.exlibris AT gmail DOT com

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Stella!

Thanks for the kind words and for dropping by. Count yourself "in."