Friday, March 6, 2015

10 Ways to Make Your Writing Time More Productive

When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that writers are able to get anything done. We’re natural procrastinators, easily distracted, and undoubtedly have more than a few screws loose. We suddenly get great ideas but have nothing to write them down on, we sit down to pen amazing stories and then realize that we need to go clean the dishes. A child starts screaming, a friend leaves a voicemail saying that they need a call back, a professor assigns a surprise essay, a mug tips over and spills coffee all over that brand new novel outline.  

Despite all of these things, we do manage to get at least some writing done. It’s just very slow work, often moving at a rate equal to Caltrans. For those of you not living in California who just pulled a Captain-America-in-the-21st-century-face, I’ll put it this way: it often seems like a three-legged turtle could get a job done faster than we do.

There has got to be a better way.

And, thankfully, there is. And it’s not even that hard.

From the moment you sit down and get ready to write, here are 10 steps you can take to make your writing time as efficient as possible:

1. Go in with a fair idea of what you want to write. No, you don’t have to have an outline. You just have to make sure you know what you want to accomplish. It can be as simple as “I’m going to rewrite that paragraph in Chapter 2 so that it flows better” to something more complex like “I’m going to open Chapter 11 with my MC doubting the loyalty of my secondary character so that I can build up tension for that scene where my secondary character goes missing.” Whatever it is, you have to have at least a general idea of what you want to get done, because if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Shocking, I know.
2. Decide how long you want your writing session to be. It doesn’t have to be super long. Maybe it’s only fifteen minutes. But once you say fifteen minutes, you need to be committed to fifteen minutes. You only leave your seat if the house catches fire…or if somebody offers you chocolate.
3. Find a place where you won’t be as likely to be bothered. Sometimes that means going to a busy place (like a coffee shop) where you don’t know anyone. However, sometimes this isn’t possible (and some people find it just as distracting), so try locking yourself in your room and telling everyone that you’re off-limits. That generally cuts distraction due to family members/roommates down by at least 50%.
4. Don’t write in the same place every time. Moving locations does help you stay focused. It can get really irritating to sit in the same place every day for hours on end, so try writing in a different room, in your backyard, at a coffee shop, etc.
5. Say goodbye to Siri. That’s right. Put your precious phone away. And I don’t mean ‘away’ like in your pocket. I mean somewhere you can’t easily reach. Try the other side of the room…somewhere you can’t hear it. No texting, no answering phone calls unless you know it’s important, no social media….Which brings me to my next point:
6. Avoid social media like it’s the devil. And, when it comes to trying to get your writing done, social media really is the devil. It’s a time suck and extremely distracting.
7. Music. There are three different ways to deal with music depending on the kind of person you are, or simply what kind of mood you’re in at the time:
  • Turn your music off. If you know for a fact that music is distracting to you, if you always find yourself wanting to go ‘thumbs up’ the song, check the artists, or sing the lyrics while writing, then the music needs to go. Sorry.
  • Turn the music down. This generally works pretty well. Putting the music down low provides enough noise to keep you from getting distracted by other random sounds, but isn’t so loud that it bothers you.
  • Don’t listen to your favorite kind of music. No, I don’t mean listen to music you hate. Just don’t listen to your favorite band or you favorite genre. It cuts down on the chances that you'll get distracted by the urge to sing along or dance in your chair. Don't try to look innocent. I know you rock out during your writing sessions too. 
8. The internet is off-limits. Unless you’re using it for research, don’t even go on there. It’s too tempting. I would know. Last time I hopped on the internet during a writing session, it took me 20 minutes to get back to my story because I saw that Marvel had released their 3rd Age of  Ultron movie trailer. Of course I had to watch it several times, tweet about it, and swap ideas with my older brother about certain characters that showed up. Moral to the story? Unless you are very resilient to Marvel movie trailers, stay off the internet.
9. Close your email. There’s nothing more distracting than seeing an unread email in your inbox from a friend…or from twitter notifications. If you close the window, you don’t have to see them and viola! Less distraction, more time to focus on writing.
10. Be OK with the fact that what you’re writing probably sucks. If you’re constantly backspacing and trying to make each sentence perfect, you’ll end up writing 100 words an hour…not the ideal pace. It’s fine to make tweaks here and there, but save the major editing for later.

Some of these might sound pretty strict, but here’s why: if you want to become a writer, you need to treat writing like a job. It’s mostly a fun job, but it’s still a job. Besides, how many people do you know that check their email during work, play on their phones, and mess around on social….Oh. Right. That would be most people. But, if we want to be more productive than ‘most people,’ us writers are going to have to be a bit more careful about our writing methods. Our writing time can still be fun, just a bit more structured. And, despite popular belief, structure does not kill creativity. I promise.

So what do you think? Are there special things you do to make your writing sessions more productive? I’d love to hear about them!

Related articles:
Controlling Your Plot Bunnies: How to Write A Novel From Start to Finish Without Getting Distracted
The Scheduled Writer - How to Boost Your Writing Productivity
My Top 10 Songs for Writing Action Scenes

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  1. All of these points have value, Hannah, though I have to admit that I love my routine, including my "writing place" and I wouldn't want to change it. But that's just me :) And yes, the most important thing to remember is that you can't get anything done as long as you're still plugged in the FB or Twitter feed. It's a toughie, but I found better to have separate days - days for writing and days for online stuff. Another great article! Nicely done :)

    1. Yeah, if you have a 'writing place' that makes you happy, then don't ever give it up. My writing space is at a desk over in the far corner of my room, and I get kind of claustrophobic after a while, which is why I find moving around helpful. =)
      Writing and doing social media on separate days is a good idea! I usually set aside specific hours for writing and social, but specific days might make it easier to concentrate. Thanks for the comment! I just got some great new ideas.

  2. "More than a few loose screws." I concur. (smile)

  3. My favorites - 8 and 10. My problem is I am an also a photographer who took 11,000 photos last year. I need to sit and write more.
    Good stuff.

    1. Wow! I didn't know you were a photographer. Good for you! I hope you're able to have the best of both worlds by finding the time to photograph AND write. Thanks for the comment!

  4. 4. I prefer the same place in the living room-first floor, two walls beside me and a large window before and this place restricts and I am disciplined. The beautiful view of my garden, Mango tree and fruits-refreshes.

    7. Music always, my earphones pumps 80's and 90's melodies; inspires the scene, situation and character's mood and the easy word flow.

    8. Yes internet distracts sometimes, but few minutes for research and info. Later, it takes few minutes to re-track my story line. And it too refreshes with new thoughts and twists.

    Thank you Hannah, all points mentioned are your experience I believe, I respect and appreciate. Have a wonderful time.

    1. It's so cool to hear about other people's writing practices. I would love to be able to write with the view of a garden out the window. How neat! Thanks for your comment! It gave me some new ideas to practice for my writing time. 80's music, here I come. =)

  5. ¡Gracias por tan buenos consejos! Tengo que cambiar porque escribo sin horario y conectada, con interrupciones de hijos

    1. I'm glad you found it helpful! It can be so hard to change old habits. Getting interrupted by other people (especially family members), is probably the hardest distraction to prevent. =) Happy writing!

  6. This is a really good article! Don't write at the same place all the time is a good one. I'm starting to learn that. Curious: do you rotate you spots very regularly, or do you wait until it becomes distracting or irritating? I've been doing the later and I wonder if it might be better to just continuously rotate places.
    Social media and email are the devil. I recently switched to writing before work (waking up at a quarter to 5am) and I've had to not check my email or social media until I hit my wordcount goal. I find that even checking it first ruins it. Unfortunately, I use google docs, so I do keep my internet open.
    On last thing: music with no lyrics are a great bet for writing. I find that even better than that is music with no lyrics and pretty repetitive. This way you don't have lyrics to distract you and you don't have much unpredictability to pull your attention.
    Awesome article! Thanks!

    1. Hey Jim! Great question. I don't rotate spots regularly because then I feel like I get into a rut. But I don't wait until a spot gets irritating, either. I just kind of go wherever I feel like I should. Sometimes it's the same place for 5 days in a row, and then other times I'm all over the place. It's kind of an 'on a whim' thing for me, but it works. =)
      Good for you, writing on a schedule! Funny, I used to write at the exact same time as you. I've been sleeping in recently, though. =) And you are so right about the music.Lyrics are best left alone while writing...they're so distracting. =)
      Awesome and helpful comment! It's cool to get insight into other people's writing setups.

    2. There are some truly incredible *game sound tracks* that are specifically designed to inspire, to increase lyrics, some repetition (depending on the game/sound track[s] you choose). Hit up your favorite search engine to check some of them out...I used to use various classical/jazz tracks, but I ended grooving to them just as much as some of the songs I could sing to. Until the neighbors complained about the screeching, anyway... :)

    3. Sweet! I'll have to check some of those out.

  7. All the screws loose!

    Caltrain is ridiculous.

    Yes, my biggest change was #1. At the beginning of the week or month (depending on where I am in the project) I write out s loose schedule- rewrite such and such a scene, draw out a particular element of the writing, and I pair it sometimes with writers or inspiration (ie, if I'm working on a stream of conciousness, I schedule time to read some Faulkner- always know the rules before butchering them).

    Music though, I do have to disagree with. Sometimes when I'm writing it feels like dancing, and music is a critical part of that :)

    1. Your writing process sounds very neat! I like the idea of sitting down and reading other authors before writing. It would lend stylistic ideas. Thanks for the insightful comment!

  8. I have yet to try this, but it sounds like the perfect type of music to write by as well as code by. Check it out!
    Also I am getting a small tablet/keyboard to take to work with me so I can write on my hour long break. I think this will be far more productive than playing games on my phone. Half an hour to eat, half an hour to write, should get something done right? Great article!

    1. How fun! That reminds me of the "Rainy Cafe:" Very similar idea. Glad to find another site like it. =)
      Sounds like you have an awesome plan. Best of luck!


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