Adam Kosloff is one of the fastest writers on earth. He owns and operates a booming ghostwriting business for high-end clients like attorneys and doctors who want high quality books written quickly. He’s also a bestselling author published with TCK Publishing and a freelance writer for various businesses.
In today’s show, Adam shares his top tips for increasing your writing speed, productivity, and quality at the same time. Adam says writing is like a business, and he’s applied business best practices to his writing work to become a writer on fire.
Adam took a spontaneous, seemingly random path to becoming a prolific writer. He went to Yale and studied geophysics. He was part of a comedy improv group at Yale, and after he graduated he decided to move to Los Angeles and become a screenwriter.
He needed a way to pay the bills while he pursued his dream of becoming a screenwriter, so he decided to start writing for websites as a way to make extra money while he pursued his dream of becoming a screenwriter.
He has done screenwriting work for Mel Brooks, and he wrote for the Woody Woodpecker Show.
Over the years, Adam has written for more than 36,000 websites. He’s written on every topic imaginable, from dating, to low carbohydrate diet science, to the law, and everything in between. Adam developed the skill to write authoritatively on any topic by writing one article at a time.
Adam also writes books for professionals who want to expand their business. He’s developed a ghostwriting system that makes writing these books quickly a simple process.
Adam taught himself the process of writing quickly. He credits his second grade teacher and ninth grade teacher with giving him the foundational skills he needed to become a successful writer.
One of the challenges Adam deals with is carving out time to work on his own stuff instead of writing for other people. People pay him well to write quickly for them, so it’s a balancing act on a daily basis.
Staying Productive as a Writer
Adam dictates the majority of his copy. He has it transcribed by a freelancer in India, and then he goes back to edit the copy.
He got into writing this way because he developed severe carpal tunnel syndrome from the massive amount of work he was producing at his keyboard. Dictating his work and having it transcribed saved his health and business.
Develop Your Writing System
Adam read The Entrepreneurial Emergency by Rich Schefren. He’s also taken Rich’s course on entrepreneurship.
Rich says that every business has an output, and when you’re developing your system you have to think of the constraints that will be the bottleneck to your output. You have to design your business around your constraints to maximize your output.
Let’s say your business is making shoes, and the slowest part of your business is the guy who puts the heels on the shoes. When that guy gets backed up, the whole system goes down. So if you hire a second person to put the heels on your shoes, your productivity will skyrocket.
What you want to do is define your constraints and then look at ways to improve your business by working on your constraints. If you try to make improvements in your business that don’t deal with your constraints, you aren’t actually improving your output.
Focus on Your Constraints
“As a writer, if you want to write really fast, you have to figure out what is slowing you down. Don’t just look at your process. Look at yourself. A lot of time your constraint is psychological.” – Adam Kosloff
If your constraint is, “I’m not inspired.” You have to figure out how to get yourself inspired.
If your constraint is, “I don’t have enough time in the day to write.” Figure out how much time you have in your day. See if you can carve out more writing time. You aren’t going to solve this problem until you track your time and look at it objectively.
If you can figure out your bottlenecks and work on those, you’ll make much more progress faster.
“I have regular thinking time where I think about my business. One of the questions I always ask myself is, ‘What’s holding me back?'” – Tom Corson Knowles
Ask yourself, “What’s my constraint?” Or “What’s holding me back?” and paying attention to those answers so you can develop a system that will maximize your productivity.
It’s really easy to see what your challenges are when you pay attention to them, rather than going through your habitual daily activity without paying attention to what’s really going on in your life.
Treat Your Writing like a Business
“Your writing is a business, and if you’re not thinking of it like that, you’re just writing for fun and that’s dangerous.” – Adam Kosloff
Spend time thinking about what kind of writer you are. Spend time thinking about the kind of writer you want to be.
The hardest part of being a writer is understanding yourself. We’re not taught how to do that in school. We’re not taught to be introspective.
If you don’t understand who you want to be it’s hard to look for your constraints. If you don’t spend time every day thinking about your business, it’s very easy to get busy and not actually achieve your goals.
Schedule Your Writing Time to Maximize Output
The key to writing fast is scheduling your writing time. You want to schedule enough time to get your work done, and be intentional about writing during your writing time.
One thing you want to avoid is scheduling too much writing time.
Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.”
What that means is if you give yourself two hours to write 1,000 words, you’ll write 1,000 words in two hours. If you give yourself eight hours to write 1,000 words, you’ll write 1,000 words in eight hours.
Schedule enough time to get your work done, but don’t give yourself too much slack! Be intentional about writing during your writing time. It’s better to aim low and hit your goal than aim high and miss.
You’re not going to start writing 120,000 words a month overnight. What you have to do is plan for and achieve incremental improvements. The only way to know your increasing your writing speed is to take action and track your results.
The 20 Mile March
Jim Collins is another author who writes about how to be successful in business. In particular he writes about the 20 mile march to the South Pole, and the importance of creating incremental measurable progress that leads to achieving your goals.
There were two teams of explorers that set out to reach the South Pole. The first team of explorers went as fast as they could. In good weather they would march 70 miles a day, in bad weather they would march 2 miles a day or less. The first team never made it to the south pole.
The second team of explorers committed to traveling 20 miles a day regardless of the weather conditions. On good days they went 20 miles and rested. On bad days they went 20 miles regardless of the difficulty. They made it to the South Pole.
The key to achieving your writing goals is to create your own 20 mile march. Figure out a goal that you can sustain on a consistent basis over 5 or 10 years no matter what happens. If you can keep it up when you get sick, have a baby, start a new job, or move across the world, you’ll be able to sustain your progress over time.
That’s the key to long-term success.
The reason this works is it gives you something to always be working towards. You’re not going to be sprinting all the time. You won’t be overworking yourself. You’ll be making consistent efforts to achieve your goals.
- You have to put in the hours.
- You have to write when you’re not feeling inspired.
- You have to push through writer’s block.
“On a deeper level, being successful as a writer is all about the mental game. It’s you versus yourself. And to win that battle you need to understand your psychology. You have to know what you love doing.” – Adam Kosloff
It took Adam five years to write his first screenplay. After learning about systems and applying a system to his writing his next screenplay took him one month to finish.
Applying systems to his writing allowed Adam to write his second screenplay in 1/20 the time it took him to write his first. That kind of increase in productivity can happen if you’re open to learning new ways of writing. It just takes incremental improvement over time.
The sure fire way to be successful as a writer is:
- Keep writing. Grind it out. You improve as a writer the more words you write.
- Get feedback. Just through the process of writing more new words you will improve your craft, but you’ll improve faster if you get feedback on your work, because other people will see problems in your writing that you can’t because you’re too close to it.
- Don’t give up hope. It’s going to take time for you to get from where you are to where you want to be. Resolve to take the time. It’s going to pass anyway. You may as well be working towards becoming a successful writer.
The Stockdale Paradox
Admiral Stockdale was Ross Perot’s vice presidential nominee in the 1992 presidential election. He was captured during the Vietnam War and tortured for eight years. He survived and helped a lot of his men survive as well.
Admiral Stockdale survived because he was certain that he would. At the same time he was always completely honest about his current situation.
The men who died in captivity were optimists who kept believing they would be rescued by a certain date, usually a holiday like Easter or Christmas. As each one of their rescue dates passed the optimists became disheartened and eventually died of broken hearts.
The Stockdale Paradox is having complete confidence that you will overcome your current set of obstacles, while at the same time being completely honest about the truth of your situation right now. Don’t lie to yourself or make promises that are outside of your control. Focus on what you can control, and know that you have the strength to overcome any obstacle or challenge, no matter how hard things get.
The Power of Collaboration
As you write more books you’re building a business. You’re not just an artist, you’re creating products for the marketplace.
You want to think in terms of how you can get people to help you with the process. And not just in terms of the process of publishing, but how can people actually help you in the writing process?
Say you finish an outline. Who is the person you can send that outline to that will give you the best feedback to make your story better?
Now you finish the first draft. Who is the editor you can send that draft to that will send you back the best possible book?
If you think of your writing as a collaborative process, you will achieve your goals faster.
“You can look to other people to help you with your weaknesses. The writing process is much faster and more fun when you do.” – Adam Kosloff
There’s a myth in the writing world that the best writers work alone. That is true for some people, but not for everyone.
Writing Fast Makes You a Better Writer
“If you want to write well, one of the keys is to write fast, you want to get through this process. You want to go and get feedback. You want to have people tell you your work is terrible. So then you can figure out how to do better.” – Adam Kosloff
You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have assumptions in your head about the stories and characters you’re writing that are wrong. The only way to figure that out is to put your stuff on the market and let readers give you feedback.
Tips for Writing Better
- Write your first draft as fast as you can, and then get feedback so you can improve it.
- What do you want the audience or reader to experience? What’s the value you want the reader to experience? Answer these questions and write based on your answers.
- Figure out the log line of the experience of reading your book. What are people going to get out of reading your book? What value are you going to give your audience? If you’re writing a novel what do you want your audience to take away from reading it?
- Write an outline. By building your book around a simple spine or skeleton, it will be easier to write and you’re more likely to get the results you want faster.
- Complete projects. You want to publish your books. So don’t make your process too complicated, and improve your process incrementally over time. Every time you finish another project, it gives you momentum and builds your confidence going into the next project.
“Double or triple your writing speed by using a structure, process, plan and system rather than “pantsing” or just trying to wing it.” – Adam Kosloff
Adam wrote a spec script for The Simpsons that got him his first agent. He agonized over one line in that script for four hours. There are times to agonize over your work, but in the end, you have to put it out there.
The faster you publish your work, even if it’s terrible, the faster you will become a better writer.
People and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
Rich Schefren wrote the entrepreneurial emergency. Adam says it was foundational in helping him develop his writing system.
Adam mentions David Foster Wallace as an expert writer
http://virtuosocontent.com – Adam’s ghostwriting website
The Entrepreneurial Emergency by Rich Schefren. You can get the report for free by giving rich your email address.
http://www.caloriegate.com/ – Adam’s nutrition website.