Historical romance author Joanna Shupe discusses productivity with speaker, coach, and best-selling author Allie Pleiter.
In this month's episode, host and historical romance author Joanna Shupe discusses productivity with speaker, coach, and best-selling author Allie Pleiter.
Allie talks about the Chunky Method and how it can help writers be “steadily productive.” Every writer has a “chunk”—or, in good circumstances, how many words they can get down before running out of juice. If you know your “chunk,” you can devise a writing schedule to be more productive and less stressed.
Brought to you by Romance Writers of America. Visit www.rwa.org for more resources.
JOANNA SHUPE: Hello and welcome to RWA University’s podcast on productivity—writing smarter, faster, better. In this podcast, we’re going to bring you tips from authors on how to improve the quality of your writing life and boost your productivity.
I’m historical romance author Joanna Shupe. My guest for this episode is Allie Pleiter, a speaker, coach, and best-selling author of over 40 books. Allie’s the author of The Chunky Method Handbook, Your Step-by-Step Plan to Write that Book—Even When Life Gets in the Way. Find out more about Allie at http://alliepleiter.com.
Allie, thank you so much for joining the podcast.
ALLIE PLEITER: Pleasure to be here.
SHUPE: Most writers I know don’t write as their full-time job, but it’s rather something we have to squeeze into our day—myself included. And that could be hard with all of the other responsibilities we have going on in our lives. So, tell us about your “chunky method” for productivity and how that can help authors.
PLEITER: Well, the chunky method was born out of needing to be steadily productive. I make my writing career in category romance, and so the expectation of a category romance author is often three or four books a year. So, it is my full-time job, but I also do a lot of speaking and, like you, I have most of my colleagues who do something else, so they’ve got to shoehorn it in to the other parts of their day. And I also started my writing career when my children were little, so I really needed to juggle multiple demands.
What I realized is the skills that I had for meeting deadlines when I was a professional in terms of grant writing actually applied to the creative writing process as well. And so what the system that I created really is close to—I have an engineering husband—and it’s quite close to what engineers think of a project management. And I think that I was surprised to discover that many of the tactics that work for project management do apply to the creative process, even though I thought they would sort of squelch the creativity. In fact, I’ve discovered just the opposite.
SHUPE: And how has that fostered creativity?
PLEITER: Well, the basic idea behind the chunky method is that every writer has what I call a “chunk.” And that is, if I sat you down in what you would consider to be good circumstances and let you run without anybody interrupting you, how many words would you get down before you sort of ran out of juice. And, a lot of time, writers will get to the end of their chunk, and they think of that as writers block, when in fact it’s not. You’re just sort of at the end of your creative gas tank.
And once you figure out what your chunk is, then you can build a schedule based on that if you know, or can guess, the relative word count of what you’d like to finish. And build on that in a way that doesn’t ask you to write more than your creative gas tank is used to putting out. So you figure out what your chunk is, and there are ways to do that, and then build a schedule so that you’re never asking your creative self to go too much farther than what it’s used to.
And I’ve discovered that most writers, once they figure it out and start building that reasonable schedule for their own personal style and speed, get a lot more productive, feel a lot less stressed, they’re able to predict and choose deadlines that make a lot of sense for themselves, and also they’re able to up that chunk a little bit to write faster or to meet a particularly tight deadline. Basically, it’s a concept of building a schedule that isn’t going to make yourself write yourself into a scheduling corner.
SHUPE: So I feel like I do this because I try to write a thousand words a day, and I find that some days it’s 900. Some days it’s 1,100. But I’m not one of those writers where I can sit down and write 3,500 words in a day. I just don’t have that kind of time, first of all. And, second of all, yeah, I feel like I run out of steam right around 1,200 words.
PLEITER: Most of us have a really consistent chunk. And one of the things that I really like to remind writers—because I’m what I consider a small-chunk writer. If you are writing full-time, I put the line between a big-chunk writer and a small-chunk writer at around 2,000 words. If you’re writing part-time, it’s usually closer to 1,000 words, but a lot of times we sort of talk ourselves into thinking, “If I don’t write 3,000 words or something like that that I’m not serious or I’m not dedicated or” … I just want to choke the people who say, “If you don’t write every day, you’re not a real writer.” Because that may not be the way your muse works.
So the chunky method works on two different dynamics: One is, are you a big-chunk writer or a small-chunk writer? In that there are things you can do in terms of your office, in terms of how you schedule your writing, in terms of whether or not you take care of your ergonomics, where you can write, where you plan to write, that … are you a big-chunk writer or a small-chunk writer? A perfect example is, most big-chunk writers really need to have a dedicated space or a dedicated office. Lots of small-chunk writers can write anywhere—Starbucks, airplane, kitchen counter, wherever.
The other dynamic is, are you – and these are the best sort of characters that I’ve come up with are Marlin and Dory from Finding Nemo. Are you the kind of person who has to be a linear thinker? “I gotta do A, then I gotta do B, then I gotta do C, and heaven forbid you interrupt me” kind of thing. Or are you a Dory, where you sort of flit around and you’re happy with multiple demands? Once you sort of realize where you fall on those two different dynamics, it becomes tremendously easier to schedule your writing time in a way that’s going to make sense for how you work. And I try to really validate all of those dynamics for writers. Big-chunk writers are no more serious or saleable or talented than small-chunk writers. It’s just how your muse works, and once you tap into that, I think you get far more productive.
SHUPE: So a Dory writer might be somebody who jumps around and says, “Okay, I’m going to write the scenes that excite me first and then I’m gonna come back and then maybe I’ll write the romantic scenes, and then maybe I’ll come back and” … so, is that what you mean by a Dory?
PLEITER: It might be, but it also might be something as simple as, “I do my thousand-word chunk and then I need to get up and go clean my kitchen or go do something that’s not staring at a screen.” And it’s because most of us have more than just putting words down on paper or laptop, and we have to do…there’s promotion and everything else or just the rest of your life. So Dorys may need to, what I refer to the highly technical term of “flitting”—flitting from one task to another. I will do a very high-intensity sort of paperwork kind of task, and then I will get up and do something like make phone calls or write emails or something that’s not quite so tense. Whereas if you are more a Marlin, you’re going to want to do all your writing tasks at once because you’re not going to feel done until they’re all done. So, it’s a way of realizing what, not only how do you write, but what’s the rhythm of your productivity during any given day?
SHUPE: I think that makes a lot of sense.
PLEITER: Yeah, it’s not… I’m not handing anybody some sort of magic handshake or secret formula. It’s really creative common sense, and once you realize “oh, that’s why that’s so frustrating for me” or “that’s why I hate writing on my kitchen counter—I need an office, I need a space for… it’s okay that I have to edit with purple pens.” Just understand your own style and work with it rather than take on somebody else’s version of what a serious writer does and try to make your style fit into what they think you ought to be doing.
SHUPE: Well, Allie, thank you so much for your time today on RWA University’s podcast on productivity. Those are some great, great tips.
PLEITER: Well, I really hope I helped writers realize that how your muse works is the best way to work, and you can work with that rather than fighting against it.
SHUPE: Alright, great. Thank you to everyone for listening. For more podcasts and RWA University resources, check out the Education section of RWA.org.