It always amazes me when I read about writers who can put out several books per year. Getting a book written, edited and out on the market is hard work, particularly when you have to balance family responsibilities, a demanding day job and keep all the other elements of your life in balance. One might think that during a pandemic, being forced into lockdowns with nowhere to go and not much else to do, a writer could be more prolific, but a lot of writer friends of mine are finding it quite the opposite. It takes a lot of mental energy to block out the real world and create something within a fictional one. Fighting off anxiety, having more (or in some cases much less) ‘alone time,’ spending more and more hours working online, not being able to blow off steam with friends… it can add up to a massive creative void.
And yet people are still producing great fiction. Here are a few ideas for my writer friends on how to to be more productive…
- Setting SMART Writing Goals
You’ve probably heard of SMART goals already, but I think when it comes to productivity, taking time at the “executive” level to establish what is you want to accomplish can make a world of difference. When it comes to setting writing goals, you want to make goals that are:
Rather than “write a novel” which is vague, be more specific… complete a novel outline, complete a first draft manuscript, sent out 10 query letters, etc.
How will you measure your progress? How will you know when you’re finished? One great example of this is setting word count goals.
Given all the commitments you have in your life, is it reasonable for you to achieve this goal? Of course you can challenge yourself. But part of good adulting is learning to judge what’s reasonable.
It’s important to spend time thinking about the big-picture. Where do you want to be with your writing in five years? Are your immediate goals consistent with that?
Time limits are important, even if they’re only self-imposed. When you don’t have a deadline, anything else that does have one will take priority over your goal, which makes it that much more challenging to complete.
- Tell Other People About Your Goals
Most people want to see other people around them achieve their goals. (One could argue that most great fiction is based on this single fact.) When you tell people what your goals are, you’re defining them in a concrete manner, and making a kind of commitment that at very least you’re likely to be asked about in the future. It also helps the people around you to understand where your priorities lie.
- Find Some Writing Buddies
As fun as writing is, it tends to be a solitary hobby. Having at least one other person you can talk to about your creative journey can help keep you inspired and accountable to your goals. Look for people who have similar goals and write in similar genres if possible. And making time for positive socialization is also a part of taking good care of yourself.
- Write 100 Words First
Something that really helps me during National Novel Writing Month is to write 100 words as soon as I sit down. Do that before you open an internet browser or check your email, or do any of those other pre-writing rituals. I know, for a lot of people those are important, but one thing that I’ve found is that often getting through that first 100 words can trigger those writing centres in your brain that it’s time to write. And then, even if you fall into a black hole of procrastination and end up with nothing else for the rest of the session, you at least put 100 words down.
- Make Writing a Regular Habit
When you have a regular writing period in your daily or weekly schedule it’s that much easier to tell other people that this is your writing time. You can defend it. You can organize (most) other responsibilities around it. And if inspiration doesn’t show up the moment you sit down and start working, you can at least have the satisfaction of looking up from your desk with a scowl when it tries to sneak in and say, “you’re late!”
- Leave on a High Note
Its always tempting to write through a scene and stop only when you get to a natural break. But consider stopping the middle of scene. Even in the middle of a sentence. That will make it easier to start again the next day because you’ll know what to write next.
- Foster Resilience in Yourself
This is one of those little tidbits that we all know on some level, but sometimes need to be reminded of. By taking care of yourself, I mean getting adequate sleep (and not replacing sleep with caffeine), exercise, and nutrition… on a regular and ongoing basis. It can almost seem counter-intuitive at first. Taking time to work out can cut into valuable writing time, but life is all about balance. The point is that when you’re as healthy and alert as you can be, that will help with all the executive *willpower* tasks that you need to exercise personal discipline and stay on track as you work.