How to Write Massive Quantities on Demand

How to Write Massive Quantities on Demand

People often ask me this question, and it makes me grin every time:

“James, exactly how do you manage to write such massive quantities? Is there some magic switch we can flick on to write lots of articles?”

Now, sometimes I answer it’s jet-fuel-strength coffee that’s so black, it’s like ink. But the truth is that it’s not the coffee (though that helps) and it’s not a magic switch at all.

Then again, maybe it is…

A writing routine – a clear, set pattern of familiar, habitual activities – trains your brain to write on demand. When the routine begins, your brain perks and recognizes that this is the usual pattern of steps that lead to an outcome.

What’s the outcome? Train your brain right, and it’ll be industrial quantities of well-written words.

Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing (wow!), is famous for his book Influence (and if you don’t have a copy, get one now). In it, Cialdini explains a cool psychological response he refer to as “click – whirr!”

Our brains have built-in, automatic responses to fixed-action patterns activated by trigger features. That means if something triggers our pattern, we run through a sequence of behaviours as predictable as snow in the Arctic.

It’s like hitting a “play” button on a DVD. The movie plays out. You rewind it, hit play, and the movie plays out again. Rewind, hit play… you get the picture. Same movie, same ending, every single time. All you need to do is hit “play” – your trigger.

So if you’ve built a pattern of actions, you’re golden. Hit the trigger, run through them and the scenes unfold until you reach the end: you, writing.

Here’s an example: Every day, I follow the same, fixed routine. I wake up. I grab a cup of coffee. I sit at the kitchen island and read my email. I wake up my daughter and get her ready for school – iCarly, cereal, clothes, prepare her lunch, brush her hair, walk her to the bus stop.  I walk back, breathing deep, feeling grateful and thinking only about the writing task I’ve chosen to work on when I arrive home.

I refill my coffee, sit down and – “click!-whirr” – hit the keyboard.

This routine never changes. It’s the same, constant, predictable routine that happens every single day of my life (except weekends, of course). And if something happens that disrupts my routine? No coffee? We drive to the bus stop instead of walking? I get distracted by a call when I come home?

My “click-whirr!” response fails, like a record jostled nastily off the song. Scrrriiiitch!!  I have trouble writing, I can’t think easily, and my mind’s a useless sludge.

That’s where the game would usually be over, but luckily, I have a second “click-whirr!” routine I can set off to get back on track. I take a 30 minute break to dissociate from the mental sludge, trigger the new routine and soon I’m back to writing on demand. (And today I wrote 8,000 words – not counting client emails!)

So what’s your writing routine? Can you map it out as clearly as I did, step-by-tiny-step? Can you reinforce it? Make it more constant?

Or maybe you don’t have a writing routine established yet… no wonder you have trouble writing when you finally sit down!

Start building your habitual writing routine today. Get into the habit of a set pattern of predictable activities that never change and that end with you writing. And guard your routine fiercely. Let nothing and no one disrupt it.

Soon you’ll be able to “click-whirr!” with the best…and write on demand, in massive, effortless quantities.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Alysa Wishingrad says:

    Great post – I agree, ritual is so very important though I find that I have to change up my routine every few months – I’m a bit of a nomad. My desk may make me happy for a few months but then suddenly I have to go out and write in a public space for a few weeks. However the one constant I need is 20 minute meditation in the AM. It sets me up very well even though I’m lousy at the whole quiet your mind part. But it’s the ritual and the opportunity to take 20 minutes just to wander that is the key for me.

    • I think it’s a great idea to change the routine, Alysa, but you’ll have a very different reward and benefit for that… think of it like driving.

      You always, ALWAYS drive the same way, and it becomes second nature. In fact, you probably can’t even begin to list all the tiny steps you automatically take between putting your hand on the door handle to actually hitting the road.


      So changing the routine actually *breaks* the potential of a click-whirr! routine… which means your brain needs to adapt and constantly learn new patterns.

      As long as you’re aware that you’ll lose out on the automatic “write on demand” feature a set routine creates, you can experience the other benefits a change in routine can bring.

  2. That image is so you James! That’s exactly how I imagined you back when you used to tweet a lot about drinking coffee and were still a man. Wait, that last part didn’t come out quite right. But you know what I mean right? 😉

    Also *bows to your 8000 word writing self*

    I’ve taught myself to write even while singing ‘Itsy bitsy spider’ to my 2 year old and I can write pretty much any time of the day.

    Ever since you’ve taught me to set up a routine in DFW though, I do my daily amount of 2-3k of writing in the 3 hours my daughter is in school. I use the rest of the day for client emails, research, planning, prospecting and other admin stuff related to a freelance biz.

    I can’t tell you how much setting a writing routine has made time for everything else. So thank you 🙂

    • You’re very welcome! and yes, that was just like me… or IS like me… or… well… you know what I mean. 😉

      You’ve got the right of it too – if you’ve set up the routine well, there’s probably one routine that works best… and then you have several secondary routines that pick up the rest of the time. I can write under all kinds of conditions, just like you…

      But you have me beat on the singing ‘itsy bitsy spider’! Hats off to you!

  3. This is brilliant advice. We are such creatures of habit. Now to be a creature of writing habit.


    • Ha! I prefer to say, “Now to be in CONTROL of my writing habit,” but at some hours of the day, creature’s more like it, eh? 😉

  4. Great post. Now – just need to get into a routine for my writing. I do try to write daily, and am getting much better at shutting out distractions. Mornings are best, and with a cup of coffee and the door shut, I can usually get something down that works.

    8000 words in a day! I take my hat off to that!


    • Good for you, Nicki – try to really pay attention to your routine for the next few days, and try to always repeat certain actions. “Cup here, two steps to coffee, one sugar…” The more habitual you can make it, the more second nature it becomes.

  5. Hello there,

    I don’t often read all my emails but I’m very glad that I read yours. It reminded me of the fact that my most effective writing has been when I have an outline and it really does take that long to write one. I just get lazy.
    Anyways, thanks for the reminder about that and the power of an effective and automatic routine.


  6. Hello.

    Not sure I’m able to write on demand, in massive, effortless quantities, but I have created a routine similar to yours. Mine never changes either. I write every morning for at least an hour (usually two), but unlike you I DON’T check email first, that’s where the wheels come off 😉

    I quit coffee many moons ago, but now I’m back on the stuff and it’s super duper dark, just like yours 😉 It does help.

    I like to go back and re-read sections of “Influence.” from time to time. That’s a good one.

    • There’s absolutely nothing so perfect as a thick, sweet coffee in the morning. (I lay off it around 10am or I’d shake all day!)

      I’m with you on the “don’t check email” – I shouldn’t do it and I’ve been working hard on it. I’ve managed to establish a “don’t reply until 2 hours have passed and you’ve had your coffee rule”!

  7. Hi James

    I am managing 1000 edited words a day. Need to get my output up a bit before I go ahead with a writing business.

    My writing routine had to change. It is now winter over here in Oz and early morning rituals have moved to mid day. This has thrown me out of balance for the minute but I’ll soon be back on track.

    Really appreciate all the advice on the DFW course



    • Actually, 1,000 words is great! That’s a pretty big stretch and just plenty. (Even Chris Guillebeau writes 1,000 a day as his goal.)

  8. 8000 words! (woot)

    Thanks for bringing the point into the picture. Its something I always acknowledged but never appreciated.

    You have a very soothing routine; i.e. you can do what you have to do but you do not have to invest too much of your attention into doing them thereby you can brainstorm and pack your daughter’s launch at the same time!

    I always hate it when my morning routine gets interrupted (social calls are the worst) and although I don’t drink coffee, I find that a 30 minute jog gets my “click brrrrrrrr”. 🙂

    • I know many people swear by exercise before writing – they say they’re stoked and full of creativity. I know I always feel more motivated after a walk myself… it just gets cold sometimes in winter 😉

  9. I have a routine (quick research, write, revise as I write, edit, and revise needed parts, publish, but for the life of me I can’t get past a more than 1000-2000 work related words per day. I guess part of the reason is I’m doing the research while I write, or spending lots of time searching for topics to fill the niche. I try to automate every task I can on my computer, using Hazel and Keyboard Maestro. I’ve tried using dictation software (admittedly my typing speed is about 40wpm), but I still can’t get anywhere near 8,000 words per day. I would love crank out at least 4000, which would help me complete longer extended projects more often.

    • Yeah, doing writing/revising/editing at once is very difficult and probably holds you back a lot. Try three days of one day writing (no revising!!!! just drafts!), one day revising and a last day for editing. You’ll probably find you write better and faster after a week of it!

      (Also, 8k words is nothing short of Olympic writing… I did it again today and I’m just about ready to fall over. I won’t be doing it tomorrow!)

      • James, one of my main jobs is writing three to four 500-1000 word articles per week that usually consist of how-to articles or reviews of applications. So mainly I have to test out the apps or write the how-to as I write, otherwise I can’t remember everything enough to do straight typing. For longer PDF projects, I have produced a lot more text, but it still requires writing step-by-step instructions as I work with the application or site. Hope I’m being clear.

        I think perhaps if I didn’t have to spend so much time looking of topics to write about, it might free me up to do more longer projects. I have a few book projects in my head, but I can’t seem to get to them because I’m focusing so much on the daily articles.

  10. Stephen Beitel says:

    I heartily agree that establishing a routine and sticking to it is the best way to be productive, not just in writing, but also for example in copyediting, which is my main line of work right now. I just wish I could settle down to my routine more regularly! My work does seem to get done eventually, however.

    To Bakari: I rely on dictation software as much as possible. I don’t know if it actually helps me write or edit faster. The most important thing is that it helps me operate my computer at all without too much pain and frustration. It’s easy to talk 8,000 words in a day, but writing 8,000 words is a different matter, as you probably well know!

    • Stephen, I agree. Dictation alone doesn’t help you produce 8000 words per day, but is a lot better—when it works correctly—then manually typing and correcting typos every other word. I use DragonDictate mainly for writing comments like this, and writing articles which don’t require research as I type. Hopefully, Apple will put voice dictation in its next upgrade, as it did with Siri. But I still wish could find the magic cranking out at least 4000 words a day.

    • I’d actually really like to do a self-experiment and use Dragon exclusively to draft a project – say an ebook or something. It’s quite a good program, works well and would save a lot of time. Then swoosh through an edit, do some organizing… boom!

      • James, Dragon Dictate works best with TextEdit or the notebook program that comes installed with the application. I find that when you try to use Dictate with other applications such as Safari or Pages, the results are not as good. With TextEdit, you dictate and manually type without too many conflicts. Dictate will spell all your words correctly but it can misunderstand what you say, so careful rereading and editing is a must.

  11. Dear writers:

    This idea about how to write massive quantities on demand came at the right when actaully I was struggling to translate and edit at the same time lots of documents with my friend. Though it is not a good idea to use a magic switch if there is any, because I like using my brain , but it is worth having it in any case …

    What impressive and challenging idea!!!!!

    Ntarugera François

  12. Awesome post! I learned this the hard way, late in my writing. I also find if I put a story down for more than a day, I have problems getting back into the rhythm the story. I can’t feel the storyline anymore.

  13. Great post! I try to follow a similar routine but the hard part for me is that I’m literally juggling a number of different writing/managing jobs at the same time, and within each job, I may have a few writing assignments. I do need to better manage myself and try to make some sort of To Do lists.

    Back when I was an editor for a monthly magazine, I used to hand write a daily To Do list. There’s just something about physically crossing off an item and moving on. With the crazy computer world we’re in today, it’s all online. I use sticky notes on my computer, but my sticky notes have sticky notes and I feel quite disorganized. Maybe it’s time I went back to the handwritten notes to structure myself better. Like you pointed out, once I’m structured and in a routine, I can bang out copy without blinking an eye.

  14. I love how you showed that the teensiest thing – such as taking the car rather than walking – can put you off kilter.

    My mission for the week ahead is to create a tighter morning routine, set up a “click-whirr!” back-up plan and find my magic button. Like the turbo-booster on the racing computer games I played as a kid.

  15. Hi James,

    Nicely detailed process. I especially liked the gratefulness part 😉

    I have to admit I don’t have a process leading to writing, but I have a process for writing, which helps a lot – especially on the days when I can’t tell the difference between my As and Bs…

    …writing a blog post:

    1. Get surprised by an idea that might lead to a post.
    2. Make a draft in WordPress with a couple of sentences describing the idea.
    3. Optional: Forget the idea … and remember the idea (and be surprised about it) again in a couple of weeks.
    4. Write down the goal(s) of the post.
    5. Think of the most interesting angle to start with.
    6. Outline the post.
    7. Make the outline more detailed.
    8. Turn idea-bullet-points into text that makes sense.
    9. Proofread (and change everything from start to finish because of unsatisfactory flow).
    10. Re-proofread (and get confused about who/whom).
    11. Add links where they add value to the post.
    12. Schedule for appropriate date and time.
    13. Next day: Notice mistake in scheduling date (and time) and correct them.
    14. Wait for massive appraisals from readers.
    15. Repeat from step 1…

    …not the most streamlined, but works for me.

    But you’re right, I should create a “ritualistic” approach to writing, to become more efficient 😉


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