You’re knuckling down to achieve your dream of writing a book. Or maybe you’ve already written one and you’ve got a second … or third … or fourth in the pipeline! At any rate, you’re taking this seriously, you’ve carved some time out of your schedule to work on your book, and you want to know how you can be as productive as possible. We aim to help you with our collection of tips to make you a more productive writer.
1. Disconnect from the internet. It’s an obvious one, but do you have the cojones to do it? Here are some pointers to help you make it happen:
2. Make a ‘to-do’ list the night before. Also the night before, prioritise the tasks on your list. Then you’ll have no excuse for not getting started straight away.
3. Be canny with your priorities. Anything time-sensitive — competition entries, admin, etc. — obviously needs to get done before the deadline. You’ll often hear advice to get quick but mundane tasks out of the way first, or tackle something you hate first in order to get a sense of achievement and relief when it’s done. This is sound advice in some ways, but don’t prioritise too many short, boring tasks otherwise you’ll clog up your day and lose your impetus. Similarly, if you start with a task you hate, you might just lose the will to live. Try to be smart about the way your brain works. Can you burn through a bunch of dull stuff first thing without getting distracted? Will you feel a ‘buzz’ afterwards or will you just want to go back to sleep? Don’t feel like you have to take all the advice handed out. Find out what works for you.
4. Ditch the fancy planners and digital task management systems for straightforward paper. It’s far less distracting. The process of handwriting may seem slower than typing, but it helps you to focus and retain information better. You can always enter your notes into a digital system later if you want to organise them in the cloud and have them accessible on your phone, for example. In fact, the process of reading and repeating them, and organising them again into a different system, may help you to spot flaws. I’m thinking particularly about notes on plot and structure here. There are some great digital notes management systems out there, but you run the risk of making yourself feel like you’re ‘at work’, and spending more time getting it to ‘look right’ and getting the tech to work for you than using your creativity and immersing yourself in the story you have to tell. Of course, as with the previous point, ignore this advice if it doesn’t work for you. Perhaps your brain is simply wired to use a particular system that you’re used to, which is fine. But it’s worth giving low-tech methods a try, too. Make sure you have some space, grab some paper, and don’t be afraid to tear it! Oh, and carry a notebook around with you, too — you can use all that ‘dead time’ when you’re on the train or waiting for an appointment.
5. Is there stuff on your ‘to-do’ list that you’ve been meaning to do for ages? Be honest! Either do it right now or just get rid of it from your list. No one has noticed the delay yet, have they?
6. Get up early … or not. This is a bit of a weird one. Look at any advice on productivity and the chances are that someone will say, ‘Get up early’. They will also say ‘Get a good night’s sleep’. Now, I can’t deny that this is sound advice. If you get up an hour earlier than usual, you’ll have a ‘spare’ hour, won’t you? Well, maybe. But the point of this list is to help you be more productive with the time you have, not to help you carve more ‘spare hours’ out of the day. So … get up early if it’s going to give you time you can use. Get up early if it means you’ll still get enough sleep. Get up early if you work well in the mornings. On the other hand, be aware of whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. Find a way of working that chimes with your natural rhythm. Stop trying to guilt yourself into getting up early if it just doesn’t work for you. If the only time you have spare for writing is between 10 and 11 p.m., use it. If you feel most creative at 3 a.m., write then. By all means try to change your sleep/wake pattern if you feel it’s not healthy or not doing you any favours, but this is yet another ‘don’t be afraid to break the rules’ piece of advice.
7. Ditch the guilt. Following on from the previous piece of advice, I’d advise you to follow your natural rhythm throughout the day. Do you have a ‘slump’ at a particular time? Set an alarm for that time, fire off a couple of really dull but quick tasks and then have a coffee break or a 10-minute walk or do some doodling or whatever resets your system. Set another alarm to remind you to return to work after the break! And be clever about what post-break task you give yourself, too. Do you feel refreshed and ready to dive right back into a meaty piece of writing? Or are you in the mood for something quick and fun before you get back to the knotty stuff? Again, your approach is going to be individual — find a way that works for you.
8. Tasks you hate? Do them at the same time each day, week or month. Need I say more?
9. Look after your health. This means taking regular screen breaks, exercising every day (even if it’s just that 10-minute walk I mentioned earlier!), eating healthily, and even taking a power nap in the afternoon if it helps. Don’t let anyone — least of all yourself — make you feel guilty for resting when you need to.
10. Set achievable goals and reward yourself when you reach them. But you knew that already, right?
11. Make snap decisions. Don’t agonise over twists and turns. You can always revisit things later. You’re building a world, and it has infinite possibilities. Leave yourself a note or comment to remind yourself of the options you considered, but don’t hesitate to pursue a course of action in your writing. At worst you’ll get extra writing practice and get to know your characters better along the way!
12. Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you jump in and start something. I’m guilty of this a lot – particularly over-researching. You want to make sure you know what you’re doing, that you’re not going down a blind alley. So you over-plan, or spend hours trying to figure out if a particular make and model of car had that one specific engine part, or obsessively search for the right stationery. Just don’t, ok? You can come back to those things later if you need to.
13. Get people to hold you accountable. Join a writers’ group or forum and participate in ‘challenges’ there. Tell people you’re entering a competition. Promise to read a short story at the next get-together. Tell your partner you’re aiming for a certain number of words this week. Whatever it takes to keep your motivation up.
14. Don’t burn out. Make time to relax. There’s no ‘right’ way to do this. Some people will tell you to take one day a week off. Maybe you don’t have that luxury, but make sure you do find some way of switching off at least once a week. It could be an evening when you go out with a friend; it could be 30 minutes a day when you read a book or do some drawing. But, believe me, your brain needs that down time, so don’t neglect it.
These are all common-sense tips that you’ve probably thought of yourself or heard somewhere before. You may well be thinking, ‘I know I should … but …’ The catch is that you do actually have to do the things in order to reap the benefits. No way around it, I’m afraid! Motivation is 99 per cent of the battle. Once you grit your teeth and get started, you’ll see faster progress and you’ll be a more productive writer, starting from … whenever you choose to start. It’s up to you!
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