Think You Have a Hard Time Getting Your Writing Done?
Sixteen Tips to Increase Your Productivity
by Leslie Colin Tribble
True Confessions - I have AWESOME intentions about my writing, but my follow through is less than stellar. Every day I think, "OK, I'll get all this done. And at the end of the day I probably haven't done any of those things.
However, I’ve challenged myself to pick up the pace and be more productive. Here are some tips I've gathered that have helped me.
1. Write Everyday
I was completely inspired by this article about committing to writing only 15 minutes per day. So for the past week or so I've tried it. Guess what? There was just one day that I just wrote for the required time. All the other days it's been longer, even 90 minutes. 15 minutes? That works for me.
2. Set Up a Writing Spot
I have an office space. But I didn't like it. It's in "that" room of my house - you know, the one you use for sewing, crafts, office, and whatever junk ends up there. So this fall I cleaned it out. I organized my book shelves and cleaned out my filing cabinet. I bought a space heater, because the heat from my wood stove doesn't quite make it to this room. I've found I can actually work in my office now, and enjoy it. I can write on the couch, but I feel more like I’m working when I sit at a desk.
I make a list of what I want to accomplish during the week. A daily list doesn't cut it, but a weekly list does. I still haven't found a great way to display my list. Right now it's in my spiral notebook which has my notes from JulieHedlund's How to Make Money as a Writer course. I figured since I need to make money with my writing that would be a good place to store it for now.
4. Start the Day with Focus
Before I begin working, I sit and think about what I must, or want, to accomplish on this day. Recently, I interviewed life coach, Loree Bischoff who says, "Start your day with intention, with purpose. Why did you get up this morning?” I altered that to, "Why am I trying to be a writer? How will I get there?" Loree also talks about evaluating at the end of the day. "Were the things you did during the day of your choosing or did the day seem like it just happened to you?" I am trying to work more intentionally and guide my time instead of letting "life" just happen.
5. Remind Yourself Of Your Responsibility
I constantly have to remind myself that if I don't do the work I will see no results. Yes, I know, you productive people are thinking, "WELL DUH!" But for those of us who aren't quite as successful in the work management department, this can be helpful. When I start my pity party of "Oh, I won't ever get published," or, "I won't ever get an assignment from a national magazine," I have to stop myself and say, "No, you won't because they don't have any clue you exist." Just do the work - write, query, submit. And do it again.
6. Give Yourself Permission to be a Writer
I used to tell myself I could say I was a writer when I got published. Publishing takes many forms, and for me it came through magazine articles. I saw my name on that glossy page. But I still didn't refer to myself as a writer. I kept thinking something bigger, something better needed to happen. Then I read Jeff Goins' book, "You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)." So I did. My stock answer to, "What do you do?" became, "I'm a writer." The first few times I stumbled over that little phrase. Now it feels right. I'm a writer. And what do writers do? They write. For at least 15 minutes a day.
7. Minimize Your Distractions
If you're going to write, you have to lessen your distractions. Notice I said, "your" distractions. We're all different. My son loves to scroll through his Tumbler feed, looking at the gorgeous photos of nature. For my daughter, it's Instagram. For me, it's Spider Solitaire (Yes, so classy!) When you sit down to "work", what do you do? Do you actually pull up that latest story file, or query letter? Or do you think, "Oh, I'll just check Facebook and Twitter to see what the agents and editors are saying? (because that’s writing related, right?)" How many minutes go by before you actually open up that document file? Make a list of what distracts you. Then find an app or program that will eliminate it. RescueTime can track how much time you spend on websites. ColdTurkey lets you block social media. You have to love anything named AntiSocial. There's also SelfControl and StayFocusd.
8. Get Organized
One reason we're not productive is because we're not organized. Talk to other writers. How do they organize their manuscripts and revisions, as well as agent/editor queries? Nancy I. Sanders has some great ideas for organizing. Make it simple so there’s not a lot of set up and maintenance time. Other folks have great ideas as well, so ask around. I struggled for 30 minutes adding a header to a manuscript for Kristen Fulton's NonFiction Archaeology class. My classmate, Sue Havenrich, said she has made a template of her header and uses it for every manuscript. Genius!
9. Keep Active
Writing is expansive for both your brain and your bum. If you're planning a long day in the writing chair, set a timer so you get up and move every hour. I take a break and bring in firewood or play with the dogs. Getting out in the sunlight for even 15 minutes (the magic number!), clears my head and lightens my mood. Sometimes I even do squats or lunges outside (Don't watch. I said I do them, I didn't say how well.)
10. Change Your Surroundings
Get a change of scenery. There's nothing like setting all your writing stuff out on a table at a library that screams, "I'm a writer!" Sometimes finding a new place to write opens you to the universe and allows fresh thoughts and creativity to flow in.
11. Don't Stop
Once you complete a project start another one right away. Don't give yourself a couple of days off as reward for finishing. When you stop working you create a gap. It takes less energy to maintain flow than it does to stop and restart.
12. Perfection Is Not In Your Vocabulary
We can revise until we're exhausted. At some point you have to stop and let the story go. It should definitely be your best work before your trot it out for agents and editors, but know when you're done. Perfection is the enemy of done. Get it to 95 % and let go.
13. Get a Submission Buddy
Make a pact with a writing friend. Ask someone to hold you accountable. My advice would be to find a buddy who is already highly productive as they will haul you along on their coat tails. Two non-productive buddies will encourage each other over a real, or virtual glass of wine and always talk about tomorrow.
14. Lose Yourself
If your writing isn't flowing, immerse yourself in someone else's writing. Tara Lazar talked about sitting under the dining room table, or making a blanket fort so you feel like a child again. Take a stack of picture books and some cookies and milk into your fort and just read. Renowned children's author, Avi recently wrote about this same idea. Reading opens my mind to the flow and cadence of language. I see words I haven't used in a while. I take note of scene and character development. It makes me want to get back to my own words.
15. Stop Comparing
Ok, how many of you get just a tad bit jealous reading those posts by those hard working, submitting folks who got signed by an agent or had a book deal? Yeah, me too. I am thrilled for them, but sad for me and that's ok for a nanosecond, because if you stay there you will neglect YOUR work. Don't ask yourself, "Why can't I do that?" Because THAT has already been done. Do THIS, this work that is in front of you.
Need I say more?
Go forth WRITER and be PRODUCTIVE!