Monday, April 13, 2020

Don't Finish: Ways to be a More Productive Writer, Part 3

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Sometimes leaving things unfinished is exactly what you need to boost your productivity. 

Being a productive writer isn't about doing everything right, but about finding the tips and tricks that work for you. Sometimes you need to do something that feels counter-intuitive, but it's that shift in thought that shakes up your process and changes the way you work.

This first article in this series is on finding the right time and place to write. The series continues with more on preparation, not re-reading too much of the previous session, and leaving yourself notes. Today in my "Be a More Productive Writer" series, it's all about priming the pump.

Tip number three on being a more productive writer:

End your writing sessions in the middle of a sentence.

This little tip is from Hemingway. Not finishing your last sentence might sound crazy, but if you end your writing session in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, you'll know what comes next when you start the next session. You'll eliminate that "where do I start?" feeling that's all too common when we sit down to work.

I've always been the type of writer who ended my writing day at the end of a scene or chapter. They're natural stopping points and left me with a feeling of accomplishment. "I got a scene done! Yay!"

But I noticed that when I started writing the next day, I had to come up with a starting line for the next scene (and we all know how tough those opening lines can be). I was spending a long time trying to get started again, staring at that blank screen and re-reading a lot of the previous day's stuff just to get back into the work, which cut into my writing time.

On the days I didn't end at a scene break, but in the middle of something actively going on, I was able to jump right in and regain my momentum from the session before. That "where do I start?" feeling was gone.

If ending mid-sentence doesn't work for you...

For some writers, trying to remember what you were going to write is just as hard as starting over. So instead of ending at that break, try writing just a paragraph or two of the next scene and stopping in the middle there.

You get over that "new scene hump" and have primed the pump for the next writing session. This works quite well with Tip #2, since you'll have a starting point in which to plan out the next scene.

This tip's challenge: 

End your writing sessions during a scene when you know what happens next. Prepare your next session so you can jump right in.

As for last tip's challenge... Who did the prep work? Did it help make your writing sessions more productive? Were you more focused during your writing time?

The whole series: finding the right time and place to write, all about preparation, stopping in the middle, not re-reading too much of the previous session, leaving yourself notes, and  how to avoid wasting time.

*Originally published April 2012. Last updated April 2020.

For more help on plotting or writing a novel check out my Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

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Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. I do tend the be more productive if I'm picking up from mid-scene, but I can't do the literal mid-sentence approach that Hemingway recommended. I seldom remember what I meant to say in that sentence, meaning I have to lop off the fragment. And then I'm starting my writing session by feeling irked because I can't remember. Interruptions can't be controlled, but otherwise, I have to finish noting down the thought in progress.

    But mid-scene works great. Or if I have to start a fresh scene, having previously brainstormed notes beside me will get me started.

  2. Hmmmm... yes. I like this approach. Getting started where there is already momentum is motivational to keep moving forward and sets the course for productivity. I am going to give this a whirl. Thanks for the perspective!

  3. When I wrap-up a writing session for the day, I try to jot down notes or lines I want to use for where the story's going next. You're right - it helps me jump back in quickly!

  4. Wow, what a radical idea! It's sort of like what a cliff-hanger does to readers. I'll have to give it a try (when I get that far).

  5. I think I'm with Jaleh in that ending in the middle of a sentence would drive me nuts. I base this on the number of things I've started writing and gone back to much later that left off in the middle - and of course when you come back to something in the middle months (or years!) later, the momentum is long gone. Now that I'm getting back into writing, though, hopefully things won't sit so long and this might actually work for me - though I still would prefer not to end in the middle of a sentence, I think.

    I also like Nicole's idea of just jotting down some notes for the next day.

  6. I've heard this one before, I think as I start the next novel I might have to try it.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  7. When I write I look for that sense of accomplishment, which I get from finishing a scene or a chapter. But the next time I come back to my story, the words don't flow.
    Awesome tip, Janice. Thanks.

  8. When I write I look for that sense of accomplishment, which I get from finishing a scene or a chapter. But the next time I come back to my story, the words don't flow.
    Awesome tip, Janice. Thanks.

  9. Thanks!! I'm going to go check my work for today and add enough to do that. I can use all the help offered as the bod/head recovers from a nasty bug.

  10. productivity has never been a problem for me... learning the "proper" story construction and follow-through has been extraordinarily difficult--at least for me. your blog and your personal insight has helped beyond comparison, so thx for all you do.

  11. So glad your back! I was in a bad rut and moved my writing spot somewhere new. It worked like a charm! It was just what I needed. I'll try out this tip next.

  12. Good idea, I will have to try this!!

  13. Brilliant. I definitely suffer from a block every time I have to begin from scratch. The mid-paragraph interruption sounds like a way to cure that.

  14. Jaleh, I think I'm more of a mid-paragraph gal myself, though once in a while I do stop mid-sentence. Usually on a sentence that's obvious what comes next.

    PentoPaper, welcome! It does save a little staring at the page time.

    Nicole, I like that idea. Same principle.

    R.E. Hunter, exactly, lol.

    Gypsyharper, I liked her idea too. And true, too much time between writing sessions does defeat the purpose :)

    Sarah, I've found it quite helpful.

    Tracy, that's totally what I found, which is how I figured this out. It's harder to start than it is to keep going.

    Patti, hope you're feeling better now!

    Jeff, most welcome. You'll have to share some tips on what keeps you so productive ;)

    Anna, awesome! I know it's weird, but location matters.

    Traci, good luck!

    Anastasialeach, worked for me, so I hope it does you as well. You might also try Nicole's idea about jotting down notes at the end of a session for the next one.

  15. This is a super idea! I often have that "now what" feeling when sit down to write. It's that "now what" feeling that makes it all the more easy to procrastinate further, check the email again, get on twitter and Facebook and otherwise waste time trying to drum up a start point. This is such a smart way to get the ball rolling during the next session.
    Thanks for this.

  16. I find it's a little different for me. Stopping in the middle of sentences tends to leave me thinking, "What was I going to say? and not remembering. It's like it cuts off whatever train of thought I was in. Might be because I'm an organic writer and the process is quite a bit different.

    Instead I go from beginning to end of scene, so the scene as a whole exists. But parts of it are incomplete. I might have left some of the descriptions out, or a place that was harder than I thought. So when I return to writing, I rummage around in the scene, filling in some of the gaps, then go on to create the next scene. The gaps don't always get completed, so I make multiple passes as I build new scenes.

  17. Excellent points. Never have I run across this kind of writing tips. I have an outline, yet have wasted time starting a new scene. Thank you, Jan7ce!