I Wanna Write like Nora Roberts: 7 Tips for Prolific Writers

© 2008 Ed Yourdon CC BY-SA 2.0

As you may know, I’ve never been able to get through a Nora Roberts novel. I’ve always gotten bored or otherwise lost interest. So then why would I say that I want to write like her?

It’s not a joke. I seriously admire Nora Roberts as an author, even though her fiction is not for me. Here’s why.

Look at Nora Roberts’s history as a writer, even from the very beginning. She got started in 1979, when she first put pencil to paper, literally, to write a novel:

She pulled out a pencil and notebook and began to write down [a story she had made up]… Several manuscripts and rejections later, her first book, Irish Thoroughbred, was published by Silhouette in 1981. [emphasis added]

Every new writer has his first manuscript rejected, by a publisher or by the market (and usually both). But not every new writer produces “several” manuscripts within a 2-year timeframe. Most new writers, unsure of themselves and with unhoned skills and process, use up years completing their first novel. And they may never complete a second. But not Nora. No, right from leaving the starting gate, she churned out manuscript after manuscript.

Since Irish Thoroughbred, she has published 211 books. That’s more than 7 per year, or about one every 7 weeks. Nora Roberts wins NaNoWriMo every single month of the year, from January through December.

Talk about being a prolific writer.

Truthfully, I don’t know how to get there from here. How to increase my story output to 100,000 words every 7 weeks. At this point, I don’t even know how to develop a novel-length story in 7 weeks, much less how to complete it. Something always occurs halfway through writing the story that requires me to go back to the drawing board, and that’s to be expected. Nora must encounter those things all the time as well, but she’s a professional, with a writing process that’s been honed through decades.

What’s the first step? Things I know work:

  1. Set sustainable daily goals and weekly deadlines, and hold to them.
  2. Know your writing process, continually refine it, and set aside time to work it every day.
  3. Recognize impending procrastination, and thwart it.
  4. Focus on one project at a time.
  5. Get a rough story out, as quickly as possible, then develop it afterward.
  6. Get the first draft out fast, warts and all, and then fix it afterward.
  7. Use a one-pass revision process. (From first draft to final in a single edit.)

What other tips can you recommend for writing more prolifically?



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9 responses to “I Wanna Write like Nora Roberts: 7 Tips for Prolific Writers”

  1. Douglas Cootey Avatar

    Identify what distracts you and work hard to eliminate it!

    Great post.

  2. Rose Avatar

    Great post
    I love the analogy of Nanowrimo. Nora doensn’t outline – just has an idea and lets it run its own course. By not outlining, she becomes prolific. Look at prolific writers – they don’t outline.

  3. J. Timothy King Avatar

    Also a great suggestion, Douglas.

    Rose, you did something that I actually forgot to do. (Doh!) Search the internet for interviews with Nora Robert that talk about her writing process. Here’s something:


    Do you write more than one book simultaneously? How do you keep up the pace?

    … I write one at a time. I couldn’t give each cast of characters or each individual story line my full attention or commitment if I switched off. Plus, I’d just confuse myself. The pace is comfortable for me. I write quickly…

    I’m always anxious to start the next project.

    “I write quickly” sounds like a cop out to me. 🙂 It’s not really an answer. Here’s a better answer:


    I’ll vomit out the first draft: bare-bones, get-the-story-down. I don’t edit and fiddle as I go…

    I know that Nora doesn’t outline, but based on these interviews, I think she does do some planning. And then she goes back and edits each manuscript twice before submitting it. It sounds like her first draft may be functionally like an outline+zero-draft+plot-notes all rolled into one.

    BTW, I’ve made a correction in the post above. She’s published 211 books, not all of which are novels.


  4. Just Write Blog Carnival: October 23, 2009 Edition…

    Welcome to the October 23, 2009 edition of Just Write. We have a great selection of articles this week (as usual) and I’m sure you’ll find something to spark your creativity. Thanks to all who submitted. Remember to show the blog owners we …

  5. […] process, from this article on Nora Roberts’s process  (according to one estimate, she averages a book every seven weeks—wow!) and Dean Wesley Smith’s series on Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. Both Roberts and […]

  6. Skeleton Man Avatar
    Skeleton Man

    I just came from an article that claims that Nora Roberts does 3 drafts. I have also encountered a few authors who see benefit in having more than one project going at once.

  7. Pastrana Avatar

    As a practicing author, I have always followed an instinctive logic it felt
    normal to center on the subject -> come up
    with ideas/answers -> put it on paper. However, nothing can save me when I was writing concerning
    thermodynamics, as an example, that, as you can imagine, is not my main field of experience.
    Anyway, I took some Fantastic tips in the writing style,
    thanks to that:slightly_smiling_face:

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  9. […] journalism students inside look." And it was revealed in an Oct 19, 2009 weblog titled "I Wanna Write like Nora Roberts: 7 Tips for Prolific Writers." Moving on: it was additionally revealed in a Dec 10, 2009 weblog titled "Creative […]

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