In the summer before my sixteenth birthday, I stumbled on Nora Roberts’ Irish Thoroughbred in the Olde Book Shop along my route to Spanish lessons. The Olde Book Shop had an entire shelf dedicated to Nora’s romance novels and I spent the summer making my way through the second-hand books.
Twenty-five years later, I’m an academic research writer who must sometimes write boring research articles to survive the ‘publish or perish’ academic lifestyle. Lately I have been wondering how the hell Nora Roberts, now worth US$400 million1 with a backlist of 250 books2, was so prolific to keep supplying her readers with stories.
It seems I’m not the only one interested in Nora’s writing routines and habits. Much has been written or gossiped about her including the possibility that she uses a ghostwriter. Nora Roberts ended the speculation by writing her own narrative “Here’s How I Work”3 published in March 2019.
Here are seven behaviors I learnt from her narrative that contributes to her prolific output.
1. Nora Roberts loves her job
Nora Roberts admits she is blessed to be able to make money from something she loves. She is grateful to make her living from writing stories and her love for writing fuels her.
Admittedly, not many women are in this position to love the writing work they have. So, find one thing about your work that serves a higher purpose. The writing will get a tad bit easier to do.
2. Writing is Nora Roberts’ Job
As writing is Nora Roberts’ job, she treats it as such. She keeps regular writing hours during the week. You are bound to find her in her writing space every weekday from 8 am to 3 pm. She puts in the work during those hours. And, if she feels like it, she will write on weekends (remember, she loves her job).
If you already have a 9-5 job and want to write a bit on the side, then make the time either before work, during lunch, or after work to write. You don’t need long hours to write. You can start writing for 15 minutes. The key is to do the writing in a short space of time when you can fully focus without interruptions. And, if time permits, you can increase the time input into your writing.
3. She is disciplined
Nora Roberts credits her work ethic to nine years at a Catholic school and parents who insisted on meeting responsibilities. That attitude is ingrained in her and serves her well. Her writing practice is so consistent that she writes most days.
Even if you are writing for only 15 minutes a day, write every day to build a writing habit.
4. Nora Roberts is a focused lone wolf
Nora Roberts doesn’t have any staff (maybe except for the publicist Laura who published the article on Nora’s website). She does not tolerate interruptions while writing (her work) and deplores having anyone in her writing space. She has trained herself to “block out” her once-a-week housekeeper. No staff means no researcher, no ghostwriters and no collaborations. She admits this is just how she works.
Do you prefer solitude or working in a group? Try out both before deciding. There is no one right way. Find the way that works best for you and that allows you to focus.
5. Nora Roberts has a writing process
Nora uses a three draft process to get her novels to the required quality she wants.
Her first draft is a discovery draft. She writes to figure out the story, characters, relationships, beats, dialogue etc. from a mental outline. She may do some research herself.
In the second draft, she works methodologically, fixing the story, expanding on it, and working through the language and play of words. She works faster through the second draft.
She works the fastest through the third draft, quickly polishing page by page, fixing sags, directions and spelling.
She sends the draft to her editor and takes a day or two off. In that time, she develops a mental outline for her next book and researches a bit.
If she receives comments from her editor while she is writing on her latest project, she puts the project aside and makes the changes her editor wants. She has come to trust most of the recommendations from her editor. Nora Roberts completes her projects and that might also mean getting them into the hands of her publisher.
So, what can you do regarding your own writing? Discover your own process. Figure out what you do and how you move from an idea to a finished writing product. Having a writing process will help you to overcome fears of getting to the end and questioning the quality of your work.
6. She takes care of herself
After spending 6-8 hours behind her computer, Nora exercises for 90 minutes. That’s just her routine.
Although Nora gives no explanation for why she exercises, movement is always good to keep your body healthy. When you are hunched over a computer for hours, your shoulders and posture droop and you can develop eye strain. Exercise helps your posture and gets oxygen into your brain and cells and time away from the computer helps your eyes to rest.
7. Nora makes time for important relationships
Nora might have a walk with her dogs and speak with her husband. A couple of times a month, she sees her children and grandchildren. She makes time for relationships important to her and admits she does not socialize much or have hobbies.
When you become a professional writer, you may tend to cut off excessive relationships. Don’t isolate yourself. Instead, choose those that are important to you and make an effort to maintain the relationships.
The way forward
As professional women, we will have to write for the job. As creative beings we may want to write on the side. The key is to find the best way you work.
You may want to try out some of Nora Roberts’ behaviours as they have served her well in becoming a prolific professional writer. Adapt them to suit your life and toss out any that does not work for you.
But, make one promise here and that is you will try out at least one behaviour for a long enough time to determine if they work for you.
1 2020 America’s self-made women net worth: #56 Nora Roberts. Dated 10/13/2020. https://www.forbes.com/profile/nora-roberts/?sh=e5174e54c1bf.
2 Complete Booklist –Nora Roberts/JD Robb titles. https://noraroberts.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/NRW-complete-original-print-through-2019.pdf.
3 Here’s How I work. Dated 03/22/2019. https://fallintothestory.com/heres-how-i-work/.
4 Deborah Dundas. The ordinary life of Nora Roberts. Dated 10/03/2014. https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2014/10/03/the_ordinary_life_of_nora_roberts.html.