A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled 7 Tips for Writing the 1st Draft [of your book.] Here are additional productivity tips. Numbers 1-8 are centered on daily writing, while 9-13 focus more on the big picture.
I write for many reasons: because I enjoy it, to earn a living, to give pleasure to other people. But the first and foremost reason (and I have to constantly remind myself of this) is for the Glory of God. So before I jump into writing, I make sure that I’ve prayed first.
But it doesn’t stop there. Pausing to pray in the midst of writing is essential too. A prayer for help when the words don’t flow. A prayer when I’m frustrated, or tempted to write for the wrong reasons (to vent at someone, for instance.) A prayer for my readers, or to thank God for this talent He’s given me. There are so many reasons for prayer. Never neglect it.
2) Peak Times
You don’t write well when you are tired (good advice, Mack!) So figure out your peak times when you’re awake, free from other duties, and not bursting with too much energy. Mine personally occur in the early afternoon and late at night (roughly 10 PM-4 AM.) Seize on those times (however short) and make good use of them.
3) Write on Paper (or Vice Versa)
Perhaps you find the blank, endless document on the computer daunting. Or your words flow too quickly for you to get all your thoughts down on paper. So switch it up. It can’t hurt.
If you do try paper, here are three bonus points:
a) Graph Paper: I have been using this for about a month now and it’s wonderful. Lots of rows of tiny squares crammed together; perfect for my small handwriting. (I actually calculated that if I fill up both sides of the sheet of paper, that’s roughly a 1,000 words. But I’m only writing two pages. It’s productive, but it feels lazy. Perfect.)
b) Colorful Pens: Do you find black boring? Switch it up and use blue, purple, green, or red pens instead. Something different is all you might need to increase productivity.
c) What’s not included: the Internet or computer games, both boundless sources of distraction.
4) Favorite Environment
Whether it’s the library, your backyard, or your bedroom, find out where you like to work. It may even change depending on the time of day. During the daytime, I’ll often work in the family room on my desktop and at night move upstairs to my bedroom with a laptop.
Alternatively, if you usually work in your home at a desk, go write at the library. Or a coffee shop. Or a park. Perhaps a change of environment is all you need to spark your creativity.
[Sub Bonus Tip: redecorate your workspace. There’s no better time of year than August with its “Back to School!” routine. Just don’t get sucked into admiring the newly painted turquoise and tangerine walls.]
I almost always have music going when I write. What I play occasionally changes, but generally it consists of a song or a short set of songs on repeat. While that might drive some people crazy, I enjoy it. There is music, but my mind places it in the background, so it’s not bothersome. (The music also tunes out family members’ conversations, cats howling for dinner, and other unwanted noises.)
Personally, I lean towards classical pieces or soundtracks. Some of my favorites: The Piano Guys, Libera, The Sound of Music, and various LOTR pieces.
6) Chunks or Spurts
Some people like to write in big chunks. Others prefer many short spurts of fifteen minutes or so spaced throughout the day. Experiment and find out which method works best for you.
I suggest implementing these on a few different scales. Some examples:
a) Take a break after writing 500 words to listen to some music and play a few games of TriPeaks (but watch the clock! Time flies.)
b) Enjoy a bowl of ice cream when you finish your day’s work.
c) Go out bowling or to a favorite restaurant when you hit the quarter completion mark on your first draft. (I reward myself with Chinese food for each 25% done.)
d) Buy that new dress, book, or video game, bake a cake, etc. when you finish the book.
The possibilities are endless…
If bribery doesn’t work, you can impose penalties on yourself. These are especially effective when it comes to eliminating distractions. Examples:
a) If you didn’t write yesterday because you were distracted by reading blogs, expel the Internet, social media, computer games, and email from your life today. (And yes, I have to do this sometimes too.)
b) If you haven’t finished the scene, don’t get up and pet the cat. (Yes, I know he’s adorable, but he’s distracting.)
c) If you don’t hit your word goal for the day, skip the bowl of ice cream.
d) If you continue to sit there and procrastinate, go clean the bathroom or the kitchen floor. It gives you time to think about your book, gets your house cleaned, and will motivate you to get back to writing (because who likes scrubbing the kitchen floor?)
And of course, don’t reward yourself with the cake, a new book, etc. until you hit your bigger goals.
9) Visualize Your Progress
It’s easy to get bogged down while writing your book. Yes, you’re pounding out words, but still you might wonder, “Am I really making progress?” The trick is to picture it in a concrete way. Some suggestions:
a) The quickest and easiest is a repeat of a tip above: write on paper. Even just filling up one sheet can make you feel accomplished.
b) A word count meter. These things are really addictive. Sometimes I’m filling mine up only by 100-200 words at a time just to keep myself going. I also calculate the percentage of the words I’ve written to give myself a better feel for how the overall book is progressing.
d) A checklist. There are a few ways you can employ this method.
You can have a whole or partial list of planned chapters or scenes for your book to check off.
You can have a list of scenes or points for a chapter (an outline, basically) that you strike off as you go along. I use this one a lot as I write long chapters.
You can have a goal to write x words per day, adjusting the goal for each day depending on your schedule. If you don’t meet the goal, you don’t get a check and vice versa. If you earn __ checks, you can reward yourself!
d) Colored Boxes. In Scrivener, I’m able to color code my chapters and scenes. Green is “To Do”, Yellow “In Progress”, Pink “Minor Edit Needed”, etc. When I finish a chapter or scene, I un-color it, so it’s just the default blue. And so, at a glance I can see the whole of my book and tell by the colors what remains to be done.
You could adapt this method with an old-fashioned corkboard and index cards. Either fill it up with index cards and pull them down as you write, or add them to the board. Again, it’s all about visualizing your progress in a concrete way.
10) Don’t Overwork Yourself
I have made the mistake before of becoming so absorbed in my writing that I neglect everything else around me: prayer, family, well spent leisure time… (Computer games don’t count.) And then eventually I wake up and wonder why on earth I’m burned out and feel like I’m going crazy.
To counter this, I strive to purposely devote time to other things. For example, recently I’ve started going for a daily walk around my neighborhood. It gets my blood flowing, puts some fresh air in my lungs, helps me clear my head and burn off frustration, and lets me interact with others. Later, when I sit down with my writing, I’m far more refreshed and alert (and hopefully more productive as a consequence.)
11) Set Realistic Expectations
Summed up in short:
a) Don’t shoot to write a bestseller on your first try.
b) Don’t shoot to write 10,000 words every day. You will burn out.
c) Don’t shoot to publish a book in two months. Realize that the process takes time, especially on your first go around.
On the flipside, do set reasonable limits to help yourself be productive. (I will write __ words or pages today, I will finish this first draft within the space of a year, etc.)
12) Pitch the Negative Attitude
A negative attitude kills productivity. Why? Because negative people are great at creating excuses. (I know from experience.)
“My schedule is so full. I never have time to write.”
(Cut out some Internet or TV time [or whatever you waste your time doing.])
“I wrote today, but it was so little. I don’t feel productive at all. Why should I keep going?”
(And Rome wasn’t built in a day either. But the Romans kept going and finished it.)
“My writing is so bad. I pour time into it, but it never seems to improve, and I’m so discouraged.”
This last (criticism from self or others and the resulting discouragement) is extremely hard to overcome. I myself have fallen into slumps for weeks because of it. It is that painful.
First, it’s important to realize that you are constantly improving with your writing. Every time you sit down to write, you get better at it. Therefore, don’t stress. Even just a few months of writing can make a drastic difference in your work.
Second, it’s crucial to relish the things you already do well in your writing or that others praise about it. If you can’t even tell yourself, “I love this scene! It’s great!” without also saying, “But oh, here are the ten things wrong with it that need fixing.” then you need to fix that negative attitude. Perfectionism kills productivity. (Also learned from experience.)
So if you have a negative attitude, pitch it. Enjoy your writing and focus on finishing the book one scene or chapter at a time. And if something needs improving, don’t stress about it, especially on your first draft. You can clean it up later. (I can personally attest that my new characters often start out like plastic. By the end of the book, though, they have fledged out and I know what I need to go back and change [or more often add in] about them.)
13) Make Writing A Habit
This is the tip that sums up all the others. The only way writing gets done is if you actually write. And that does not mean you must dutifully pound out 2,000 words every single day.
I have had some grand days while writing Battle for the Throne where I just fly along and produce 3,000 words over the course of a day. But days like that are the exception, not the rule for me. More often than not, I produce somewhere between 500-1500 words each day (at least of late.) That’s not a lot by any stretch. But as you can see from the word count meter, it adds up.
To sum up, believe that this is possible. When I wrote my first book, I had no idea how much time or effort it would take. All I had in mind was the idea that I was going to write and publish a book. It was a simple, ambitious goal, and with prayer, help from others, hard work, and lots of persistence, I achieved it.
And you can too.
Do you have any productivity tips to share?