One of the top complaints I hear from writers is that they don’t have enough time. There’s not enough time to write, not enough time to focus on marketing, not enough time to work on a website and blog and do all the other tasks writers think they’re supposed to do. Unfortunately, a lot of writers suffer from a case of the “Somedays.”
“Someday I’ll write my book.”
“Someday I’ll have time to do the things I’m most passionate about.”
“Someday I will magically discover all this extra time!”
You might think you’ll get serious about your book once your kids are out of the house or when you retire. Maybe you’re waiting until things slow down at work or for that vacation you’re planning to take next summer.
But, putting off goals can be risky.
What if someday never comes?
Following is a list of tips to help you boost your productivity as a writer so you can reach your goals.
1. Carve out time. One of the biggest challenges for every writer is finding (or making) the time to write. The only way this can change is when you decide to make it a priority. This means that you may have to watch less television, give up some extracurricular activities, get up earlier, stay up later, or schedule the time in your calendar. Do whatever it takes to dedicate time to achieving your goals. The results are worth the sacrifice!
2. Binge-write. One of my favorite ways to get a ton of writing done is to check into a hotel for a couple of nights. I wrote several books at The Hampton Inn, located just a few miles from my house. Once, a writer wrote to me after hearing me mention this idea at a writers’ conference. He said his wife wasn’t on board with the idea and asked if I’d write to her! If you need some help, show this to your spouse or partner. By the way, you can also binge-write on an airplane, in a cabin in the woods, at a local café or park or library, or on a weekend when your family has other plans.
3. Exercise your writing muscle. Like any form of exercise, writing tends to get easier the more you do it on a regular basis. Find ways to make it a daily practice, even if just for a few minutes. With time, your skills will undoubtedly improve.
4. Keep a journal. In Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, she recommends writing “morning pages.” This is essentially a practice of journaling where you sit down for a short period of time each morning and empty all the thoughts out of your head. There are several advantages to journaling this way: You get rid of all your worries and distractions, exercise your writing muscle, and can even brainstorm ideas for your day. There are no rules when it comes to journaling, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be done in the morning. I enjoy journaling at the end of the day, just before bedtime. I find it improves my sleep greatly.
5. Make an outline. I like to use the storyboard method when I decide to write a new book. Here’s how: Sit down with a stack of 3×5 cards and write down every single concept or idea you have for your book on an individual card. Think of it like a giant brain-dump and get it all down. You may also need to incorporate notes you’ve been keeping for your project. This process may take a day or it may take weeks, but it will help you lay the foundation for your manuscript.
Next, start putting the cards in logical order until they begin to form chapters. You may have to spread them out across a large floor to do this. This will allow you to see where you have chapters that are too long and need to be separated, and where you have chapters that are thin and need to be expanded. Once you have all of your cards organized, type up all the details into an outline that you will work from. This will ultimately get consolidated into your table of contents.
6. Create your writing space. It might be your home office, a table in your bedroom, or a kitchen table. It could be in your garage, in a shed in your backyard, or even in a closet. Use whatever you have available, but make the space yours. Ideally, your writing space should have a comfortable chair and should feel good when you sit down. Hang pictures that inspire you such as shots of family, friends, or images found on the internet. Do whatever it takes to make it a space that you love to visit.
7. Clear the clutter. Whether it’s paperwork on your desk or clutter sprinkled around your workspace, you might be amazed by how much your productivity improves when your writing space is clean and free from distracting “stuff.” (Confession: This is one of my greatest personal challenges!)
8. Find space outside of home. Some writers, though not all, love to work in coffee shops or other spaces outside the home. If this works for you, find one or more favorite places where you can set up camp. If working in busy settings like this doesn’t work for you (it’s too distracting for me), then skip it and focus on carving out space at home. If home isn’t an option, libraries offer free internet and quiet surroundings.
9. Mix up your writing spaces. Creativity can get a powerful boost in new environments, so consider seeking out different places to write and notice how your productivity and creativity are impacted in new spaces.
10. Prepare to work. Gather whatever you need to make your writing time as comfortable as possible. A big glass of ice water is a good start. A notebook, pens, notes, and files that you need to reference, a pack of gum if you like, and whatever else you need to feel comfortable and focused.
11. Create a ritual. Some writers find that it helps to signify to the brain that it’s time to start getting creative. You might light a candle, turn on some soft music, say a prayer, meditate, do a rain dance—whatever works for you.
12. Remove distractions. Turn off the ringer on your phone or better yet, leave it in another room. Close email and all social media. Writing time should be sacred, and it will be far more productive if you limit outside distractions. This might mean putting Fido or Fluffy in another room. As a crazy cat lady myself, I initially resisted locking my cats out of my home office until I realized how much more productive I am without them trotting across my desk.
13. Train your kids to honor your time. If you have young ones at home, they can be taught to honor your writing time. Let them know they should only interrupt if something is wrong. Depending on their age, you can give them a task to do while you work. Perhaps they want to spend time writing, too! My son was taught from an early age to be quiet and not interrupt when I’m in my office, and it has never been an issue because we started the process early.
14. Set word count or page count goals. The average prescriptive nonfiction book is around 60k words, and three typed pages is about 1,000 works. If you wrote just three pages per day, you’d have a full manuscript in 60 days! For my own writing practice, I like to set daily word count goals. If I have a full day for writing, I can often hit 5,000 words. This is a big goal so don’t get discouraged if it’s too much for you. Aim for smaller goals and with a solid outline and an ongoing commitment, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to reach your targets.
15. Know your audience. Before you write your next book, blog post, or article, get clear about who you’re writing for—and keep in mind that targeting a niche can bring many benefits. For example, if you’re writing a guide to living with food allergies, perhaps you could identify moms of kids with food allergies as your target audience. Once you make this decision, your writing can focus on the needs and challenges of your target readers.
The same rule applies for writing memoir and narrative nonfiction. If your memoir has a theme around growing up as an adopted kid, then instead of trying to appeal to the masses, why not focus your writing—and marketing—on adoptive families? It will be much easier to make your book stand out when you are clear about its ideal tribe.
16. Write what moves you. Though you should work from an outline to help you stay organized, that doesn’t mean you have to write in chronological order. Find a topic on your outline that feels right and work from there.
17. Just write. Formal writing classes teach writers to get in the flow and just write. The goal here is to write without editing, without stopping to look something up, without any distractions. Write, write, write, and edit later.
18. Shift gears when needed. If you get stuck when writing about a certain topic, then put it away and work on something else from your outline. You can always return to it later.
19. Organize your research materials. If your manuscript requires lots of notes and reference materials, you could potentially drive yourself crazy trying to keep track of it all. When author Gretchen Rubin spoke at the 2018 Nonfiction Writers Conference, she said she keeps lots of notes and reference materials in one giant document. Then, when she needs to find something, she simply performs a search. If you prefer a more formal system, you could create individual documents in a folder or use an application like Evernote, which allows you to clip and save information from any web browser. Regardless of whatever system you choose, the point is that you create a system so that you don’t go crazy when it’s time to sit down and work.
20. Note places where you need to follow up. If you want to look up a statistic or source, instead of breaking up the flow of writing, mark your text so that you know to come back to it later. I like to simply add an “XXX,” so that I can later search for those notations and handle my follow up work in one sitting.
21. Eat light snacks. A heavy meal can make your tired and bog down your creativity. Stick with high protein meals and snacks. Good options are a salad with chicken or fish, a handful of nuts, a piece of cheese, or a cup of yogurt. The goal is to keep your energy up and your brain firing on all cylinders.
22. Stay hydrated. Statistically, most of us are chronically dehydrated. By the time you’re thirsty, your body has been craving fluids. I like to keep a big tumbler of ice water next to me at all times and sip frequently. Hydration will keep you focused and give you energy. It staves off hunger and makes you feel good. You may make a few extra trips to the bathroom, but getting up from your desk is good for you, too!
23. Take breaks. Writing requires a lot of brain power so be sure to give yourself frequent breaks. You could take a short walk, sit outside for a few minutes, meditate, hydrate, or eat a light snack. Ideally you want to avoid tasks that break up your creative flow so avoid the temptation to log on to social media, check email, or return phone calls.
24. Break through writer’s block. If you get stuck, there are many ways you can push through:
- Get up and take a walk.
- Read something light, like a magazine article or short story.
- Shift gears and write something different.
- Make a cup of tea or coffee.
- Spend a few minutes with your pets.
- Take a bath or shower.
- Do a light task or chore, like tidying up the kitchen or folding a load of laundry.
- Turn up the tunes and take a dance break.
25. Ignore chores and related distractions. If you’re writing at home, it’s easy to get distracted by laundry, dishes, and other household chores. Resist the temptation to throw in a quick load of laundry or clean the kitchen. The only exception is if you’re stuck in writer’s block and need to take a mental break. In this case, a mundane chore might shake loose some creative energy.
26. Seek help when needed. If you get stuck or feel that your writing could be improved, hiring an experienced editor or book coach can help you break through blocks that are holding you back and help you produce a great manuscript. Keep reading for tips on how and where to find help.
27. Review with fresh eyes. You will always see errors and areas that need improvement when you return to a writing project one or more days later. Always re-read your work with fresh eyes, ideally on different days.
28. Read out loud. Though it can be awkward, whenever you read your work out loud, you are bound to notice areas that can be improved.
29. Know when you’ve achieved your last draft. In the publishing world, there’s an old saying: “There is no such thing as a final draft, only a last” It is easy to get stuck in revision mode and keep reworking a manuscript for months or even years. At some point you have to decide that it’s good enough. For me, I usually know I’m getting close to being done when I’m sick of looking at the manuscript!
30. Find or form a critique group. If you want feedback on your work, a supportive critique group can be a great way to get constructive feedback. Just beware of putting too many cooks in the kitchen because that can be counter-productive.
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