Monday, December 28, 2015

What'cha Doing? Ways to be a More Productive Writer, Part 1

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A writer's life is often a busy life, and productivity is high on everyone's wish list. We wish we had more time, more words, more pages, more books, etc. We'd all love to get more writing done in the time we have, but that time is frequently the first thing sacrificed when life gets hectic. Even if we have a lot of time, we still wish we could make better use of it.

This first article in this series is on finding the right time and place to write, followed by more on preparation, stopping in the middle, not re-reading too much of the previous session, and leaving yourself notes. The final stop is all about not wasting time. 

There's lots of advice surfing around the web about being more productive, but I've found that no matter how optimistic I am, if you give me a 10 Things to Boost My Productivity type list, I'll pick one or two of the easy ones and never get to the rest of the list. It's just feels like too much hassle to change all at once and that much "new" disrupts my day. My guess is I'm not alone here.

Change is rough, especially if you're trying to change your routine, so instead of throwing a slew of tips at you, I'm going to hand them out one at a time and let those who wish to try it work it into their regular routines. Then we'll move on to the next. Big changes can come from small steps.

So, without further ado, the first tip on being a more productive writer is:

Carve out a time and place to write.

Yes, I know, "find time to write" isn't revolutionary, but it's the one thing that will make the most difference in your productivity. If you're not giving yourself enough time to write, it's that much harder to feel productive. It's often hard to shut out the rest of your life and responsibilities to get any real writing done.

Hence the second part.

Change of location can make a difference. I know it sounds crazy, but a break in routine can trigger a change in perspective, and if you're in a new location you're free to behave differently. Stake a writing claim and declare, "This is where I write and get things done." Your mindset is a powerful tool, so use it to your advantage.

(Here's more on how small processes changes can lead to big results) 

Step One: Find time to write 

I'm not an every day writer, and despite what "everyone" says, I don't think you have to write every single day to get anywhere. But you do need to consistently write. Some folks can do an hour a day, others an evening three days a week. If Saturday afternoons are all you have, then write your heart out every Saturday afternoon. Whenever you have regular time to sit down and write, prioritize that time.

If you have a solid, dedicated writing time, then you won't feel guilty the rest of the day (or week) when you're not writing, and can more easily shut the world out and write.

Step Two: Find a place to write 

This is the part that makes step one achievable. Sitting at the same desk you do a million other things at and telling yourself "Okay, time to write now" doesn't always work. You get stuck on a scene, so you surf the web, check email, make a call--because it's all right there and easy to do. If you change locations, separate yourself from the things that commonly distract you, and all you have is the writing. You'd be surprised how much more writing you'll get done. Go to another room, head outside, find a coffee shop or a library.

If you physically can't move your computer, try writing on paper and see what happens. Maybe flesh out the entire scene, so when you do get back to your computer you can write quickly and get it all down. Try writing at the library, or even at a friend's house. Stay late after work (if the boss doesn't mind) and save everything to a flash drive. Get creative.

Step Two-and-a-Half: Find different places and times to write when needed 

I can edit like a fiend at my desk almost any time of day, but to write a first draft, I need to be away from my office. I've also learned I write more in the mornings. Mixing up your writing time and locations can help you discover your most productive time and place. Maybe certain writing tasks can be done at different times or places, which leaves your best writing time free for the creative drafting (or revision if that's what you need more focus on). If you can outline or brainstorm ideas every night in between other tasks, why not take advantage of it?

Your challenge (should you choose to accept it) 

For the next two weeks, carve out a time and a place to write. Pay attention to when and where you're the most productive and if different tasks can be accomplished at different times. Create a writing schedule that works best for you.

Do you have a writing time and place? What do you do to be a more productive writer? 

The whole series: finding the right time and place to writeall about preparationstopping in the middlenot re-reading too much of the previous sessionleaving yourself notes, and  how to avoid wasting time.

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

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. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

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

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. I write for at least one hour every single day of the year and I protect that time strongly.

    The time I write is dictated by my work hours. On my days off I will work for at most three hours. The most important thing for me is getting that one hour in. If I do that I'm happy.

  2. Already have one: My bedroom desk, 6:55-7:25.

    On weekdays, anyways.

    I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with those lazy weekends.

  3. Good advice, Janice. It's amazing what sticking to a routine can do for your word count--even if you aren't making leaps and bounds at each session.

    I've recently discovered a new place to write that does NOT have internet access. I'd prefer to work with wifi, but then again, I also prefer to play online. Now I find myself adding a new location into the rotation. Hoping this helps keep me on task!

  4. Consistency is so important. I agree that it doesn't have to be everyday that I actually write -- I need reading and thinking time too. But I'm not good at writing outside my zone (my designated writing places/time). That is something I know I need to work on...

  5. This post couldn't have come at a better time. I am still adjusting to the major life change of quitting my job and stay home with my infant son.

    You would think that even with taking care of the baby I'd have plenty of time to write since I am home all day, but I have less time than I did before I had the baby.

    Now I have to take what little bits of free time I have and just edit like a fiend. It's forced me to be very flexible and more productive in some ways. I know I don't have time for Twitter because the baby could wake up any minute. Twitter and blogs are reserved for when the baby's awake and demanding half of my attention.

    I am really looking forward to the other posts, and think you've had a great idea in that you're posting them a little bit at a time. :D

  6. Great suggestion, Janice. Sometimes it really is about getting back to basics. A change of scenery, so to speak, might be exactly what I need. I'm in the middle of some tough revisions and I haven't written a word in around two weeks (maybe three). I'll give it a shot. Thanks!

  7. Through trial and error, I have discovered that I am most productive from 5-8pm. The creative juices seem to flow more freely then and I get a lot more work done than when I have to push it later in the evening or try to write earlier in the day. I've heard that biorhythms aren't just for sleeping schedules, and it can be really helpful to figure out the time of day when you are the most creative. Certainly worked for me!

  8. 2012 is proving to be a very productive year for me. What’s helping is ensure that I remain physically, emotionally and mentally healthy. And, additionally, I don’t put limits on my creativity. For example, I always ensure that I have a pen within easy reach—even when I’m sleeping.

  9. Yes! This is the one thing I've managed to do for my writing that's really stuck and made a difference. My husband and I recently moved to a studio apartment and I was very worried about listing the office room where I'd written in peace in them ornings while my husband got his morning new in the other room. Fortunately we have a large closet...we managed to squeeze a small desktop in with our shelving!

  10. Sam, good for you! Proof that even with a small amount of time per day, you can get a lot done :)

    C0, I take weekends off from fiction. Nothing says you can't :)

    Heather, small bits really do add up over time. Good luck with your new locale! Hope it works out for you.

    Bluestocking, not necessarily. If you're productive and happy with what you're doing now, no need to change it. Why add more pressure if what you're doing now is working for you? (Of course if you want more, that's a different story)

    Elizabeth P, I can only imagine! One thing to keep in mind: there's NOTHING wrong with taking a breather when you need it. After a huge life change like a baby, it's natural to need some time to adjust.

    Guile, good luck! Let me know how it goes.

    Jess, biorhythms sure rule my life. Mine get thrown off and I feel it for days after. That's awesome that you've found your creative time.

    Leanna, good tips all. It's easy to forget the rest of your life when you get focused on one task. A good night's sleep can do more for your productivity that staying up an extra two hours.

    Emily, what a great way to use your space! You're own private writing area :)

  11. I couldn't agree more. I used to try to write first thing in the morning because you hear so much about how, as a writer, you should be getting up earlier and knocking out at least 500 words before breakfast. That didn't work for me at all. My mind isn't as sharp in the morning as it is in the afternoon. I found I got less done and what I did complete was riddled with typos. It really is all about finding the best time for you :)

  12. Marcy, totally! When I try to write at night I'm brain fuzzed.

  13. I'm a fairly self-conscious writer so I need privacy, total privacy to get anything done. Which usually means if I'm in writing mode, my bedroom works best given I don't have an office. I've considered going to the library, but I doubt I'd get much done with all the activity there. I'm not even sure if I could manage to hang out on the front porch without being distracted by my surroundings. So total privacy is what works best for me.

  14. Sandra, maybe you could find one of those small desks just big enough for your computer and put it in a corner? Nothing to look at but a wall to keep you focused :)

  15. Happy New Year! Good tip for any writer. I have always had at least a corner dedicated to writing, but have been lucky enough in the past few years to have a writing cubby in a different room than my work computer. I found that I couldn't stay focused on "making things up" when I could see the "real world work" awaiting me. I write almost every day from about 5:30 a.m. until around 9; on days when I have an early appointment, I use what time I do have to read or research.

    1. Thanks! Sounds like a solid routine, too.

  16. I loved this post Janice. Very helpful. I am just getting back into my writing so my goal is to read one of your posts here each day before I start writing. Thanks so much for your wonderful tips. Have a blessed day. :)

    1. Thanks so much! Good luck on getting back into the writing swing of things.

  17. I have a question on revising. During the summer months, I completed my first ever novel. And I heard that you should take a break for a few weeks after drafting. So I did. I patted myself on the back for sticking with it. But August turned into September, and I realized I really wasn't motivated to revise that all. Guess what? It's still sitting in my email inbox, waiting for revisions. Instead, I jumped into NaNo, thinking, Okay, this is it. I'm going to give it my all. December arrived, and I had over 50k words. Rejoice! Once again, I gave myself some time off.

    Now it's Dec. 28, and I have given myself the deadline of Jan. 31 to complete revisions. I just can't seem to get into the swing of revising. But while I was drafting, I had PLENTY of ideas. What should I do? Help!

    1. If you find yourself losing interest in the novel if you set it aside, it might be better if you ignore the "let it sit" advice. Try diving right into revisions while you're still excited about the manuscript and see if that keeps your momentum going.

      If not, it might be that you enjoy the drafting stage, but not the revision stage. You'll have to find some way to motivate yourself to put butt in chair and work, even if you don't feel like it. I wish I had an easy solution for that, but everyone is motivated differently.

      You could try jotting down all the things you want to do that excite you and use that to keep you revising.

    2. Thanks. Next time around, I'll definitely try that first suggestion. And as for the "Just Do It" idea, I can apply that to my current WIP and see how it pans out.

      Thank you!

    3. Fingers crossed for you :)