Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How to Be a More Productive Writer





We all want to find the time to write more, but those darn annoying things called “responsibilities” get in the way (*eye roll). Then there are those unexpected things that tend to pop up every time you get in "the zone." You know what I’m talking about. Your allergies are bugging you, it's your great aunt's b-day, or your dog just threw up on the new carpet. Okay, some things are more urgent than others, but still, whatever the reason, finding the time to write and sticking with it is well, really freakin hard! It’s something that all writers struggle with, including me, which is why I'm sharing my biggest productivity takeaways in hopes of helping you achieve your writing goals and feel great at the end of the day. Now, let's do this thing!

1)   Identifying and Sticking to Realistic Goals: Write down your writing goals for the day, week, and month and stick to it. This can be in the form of a word count, page count, or whatever gets you motivated. If things repeatedly come up and you aren’t able to meet your writing goals, there may be a simple fix like setting different goals or slightly adjusting current goals. Still not working? Ask yourself why writing is important to you and why you want to make time to write. The pieces should then fall into place.

2)   The Power of Timing: Successful authors know what times of day they write best. They block out this time for writing and schedule everything around it. If you’re freshest in the morning, schedule your writing time accordingly. If work or school overlap with your best times, never fear, you can still find energetic hours. It just might be a little trickier. After I’ve had my morning walk and coffee, my brain is on and ready to go so I always reserve that primo morning time for writing new and/or challenging content. I also block out a chunk of time in the afternoon. Since I’m not as fresh then, I use the time to re-read what I had written and edit.

3)   Create A Routine: Block out writing time on your schedule every day and commit to it. The only way to transform your writing routine into second nature, and thus be more productive, is to follow it consistently. Here’s what Stephen King does:
“I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning. I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.” (from Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, via Daily Routines)
4)   Work in Increments: Group tasks into small batches instead of working for one long duration of time on one task. Not only will this help you focus, especially if you get bored easy, but you’ll be more productive because you will be regularly re-visiting your work with fresh eyes. Even if you're not sure about this one, try it out! You might be pleasantly surprised. One thing that has worked very well for me is scheduling in short blocks of time on my calendar the night before so I know exactly what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it the next day. I’ve had to learn to accept that as much as I want to sit and write all day, I simply can’t. Although my writing time isn’t as long as I’d like it to be, I definitely utilize my writing time more efficiently.  

5)   Organize Your Space: If you haven’t done so already, designate a writing space where you can focus without interruption. Ideally, this would be your own office, but if space doesn’t allow, just make sure you avoid choosing a place where you relax like your bed or couch, which can send mix signals to your brain. Your goal is to train your mind to know when it should be in “work mode.” Wherever you choose to work, make sure that the area is well organized and free of clutter and distractions. An organized space = an organized mind. Also, getting the right space might take some experimenting. For me, I absolutely can't work without a view. A view might be too distracting for you though, so you can try facing your desk towards a wall instead. Don't be afraid to experiment. 
Here's my work space. It's simple, neat, and has a great view.
6)   Disconnect: Disable everything! I mean, everything. Close your Internet browser and turn off your cell phone (or at least the notification alerts which ping every time you get an email). Continuously being connected not only interrupts your flow, but the temptation of social media and emails can be too hard to resist. Before you know it you’ve scrolled through dozens of tweets, added five recipes to Pinterest, liked your BFF’s wedding pics, and written zero words of your book. I just read a magazine article that said the average person checks their phone 100 times a day! You don’t need it. Remember, you’ve got a book to write and all those things can wait.

7)   Skip It: If you’re still struggling to find time to write, take a good hard look at where you are spending most of your time. You’re more likely to achieve your writing goals if you skip watching shows and movies, spending hours surfing the Internet, or even reading other people’s books. You don’t need to avoid these things all the time, only when you’re struggling to focus or unable to meet your goals. I use movies as a reward. This motivates me to meet my goals because I have something to look forward to. Chocolate is also an excellent motivator. Whenever I hit a milestone like finishing a first draft, my husband and I celebrate by going out to get a piece of pie or cake.

My very own chocolate cake for completing Strange Luck. Yum!
8)   Schedule Social Media in Advance: You’ve already scheduled time to write, but what about social media and blog posts? They're important, too! Queue posts in advance and limit the amount of time you work on these things each day. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much time you’ve freed up.

9)   Motivation: It’s very easy to get down on yourself for not meeting your writing goals. It’s even easier to compare yourself to other authors and ask how the hell they’ve written fifteen books when you can barely get through one. This is another time where you might just need to disconnect. This means you need to stop looking at other authors and what they’ve done or are currently doing, and just write! When I’m having a particularly rough day and don’t want to write at all, I’ll journal or go over to Pinterest and look at some inspirational quotes. After five minutes I feel so much better.

10)   Know When to Step Away: Sometimes you just can’t get in "the zone" no matter what you do. The key here is to pay attention to your body to avoid a possible burnout. If you can, leave your workspace and do something fun or relaxing. Or both. Although it might feel like you’re wasting time initially, breaks can actually refresh your mind and lead to increased creativity. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas while doing something fun.  

Want more tips on how to write a book? Check out my other posts here.

Now you share! What tips or tricks do you utilize to increase your writing productivity?