Productivity for Writers
by Chris Perry Views: 975
With all of today’s self-proclaimed productivity gurus using buzzwords like “hack” and “most important tasks”, it’s easy to fall victim to information overload. You can find yourself thinking that if you don’t do things the way the “gurus” do them, you can’t be successful.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes you need to find what best works for you: what makes you sit down and do the work. Or, in the writer’s case, just write. There is no secret to success; there is no shortcut.
So how do things get done? How did Harry, Dumbledore and You-Know-Who get from J.K. Rowling’s magical mind to the page? What made a man as powerful as Marcus Aurelius sit down every night to write what came to be Meditations? What was their routine? How did they start writing? And more importantly, what made them continue writing?
Hopefully some of the techniques and philosophies suggested by the Mash team and beyond will help you find the productivity needed to become one of the greats. Or at the very least, help you finish whatever project you’re working on.
Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. – Neil Gaiman
Establish a Routine (e.g. write in the morning)
Miles Rausch, Mash Stories’ first ever winner, says, “I think the biggest help to my writing productivity was establishing a routine. Every morning, I get up at the same time. After preparing for the day, I head downstairs to my office to do writer stuff. That schedule has helped me carve out meagre writing time, which helps me build momentum on projects. It also shows that I’m making my writing a priority and protecting that artistic time.”
Cheryl Whittaker, Chief Editor at Mash, does the same. “I know I need time—mental space—to be productive,” says Cheryl. “I need to make sure I don’t have anything else running around in my head in order to produce, so for me it’s a question of getting all the other stuff off my desk before settling down to write. And I like to write in the morning, so it’s really about prepping the day before, so I have a clear day ahead.”
Maybe you aren’t the planning type; maybe you aren’t a morning person. That’s okay, as long as you don’t use it as an excuse for not getting in your writing for the day.
Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there. – J.K. Rowling
Daily Word Quota
Our own Robyn Bradley champions this method. “It teaches discipline,” says Robyn. “Inspiration is probably two percent of the writing battle, while discipline is the other 98 percent (yes, I’m ripping off that famous adage). It gives you a realistic roadmap for reaching your goal.”
Multiple-time shortlisted writer Stefanie Sidortsova offered some wise words on how she gets her writing done: “A fitness expert said to give yourself ten minutes. Commit to working out for ten minutes and see how you feel. Most of the time, you’ll want to keep going. Some of the time, ten minutes will be enough—but hey, you still worked out for ten minutes, right? So, I decided to apply this to my writing life. The vast majority of the time, when the ten minutes are up, I’ve really gotten into it and I don’t want to quit.”
Former shortlister MFC Feeley challenges you to write for just 15 minutes. “Whenever you have resistance to writing, set your timer for fifteen minutes. You *know* you can do fifteen minutes, so promise yourself just that. By the time the timer goes off I am always on a roll. But the day that I am not I will get up so that I feel safe using the timer to get myself started next time.”
The timed-interval strategy is a lot like one of the go-to writing tips given by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk. He uses what he calls his Egg Timer Method. “When you don’t want to write, set an egg timer for one hour (or half hour) and sit down to write until the timer rings. If you still hate writing, you’re free in an hour. But usually, by the time that alarm rings, you’ll be so involved in your work, enjoying it so much, you’ll keep going.”
If you’re someone who is easily distracted (my hand is raised), then you can try using an app like Freedom or Self Control, to stop you from acting on urges and from falling down the rabbit hole that is the internet (unless you’re reading fiction on Mash). Both apps block any websites and apps that you want to stay away from, for any amount of time.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Kate Kearns, Community Manager here at Mash, uses her writer friends as a resource. “What works best for me is accountability. For some, this is a writing group in which you are regularly expected to bring in new work. For me, this is having regular “homework” with a fellow writer who I trust. We make Skype dates at least once a month to review each other’s work, and we always have some new work and some revisions.”
Similarly, S.E. Sever urges taking responsibility for your writing. “Planning is great to establish a routine, but don’t turn planning into an excuse which steals away from actual writing time. Distinguish good story telling from good writing—one is ruled by imagination, the other is by practice. Reading about other writer’s routines—my favourites are On Writing by Stephen King & Written Lives by Javier—can be inspiring, but remember: no two artists/writers are the same. Finally, learn how to trust your gut instincts, appreciate yourself as an artist, and mute the nagging judge in your mind from time to time.”
Create a Dedicated Writing Space
Bill Bibo, winner of our seventh competition, devotes an entire room to his creative work. “I have a room claimed in our house as my writing space. One entire wall, which my desk faces, is coated with a special paint that has turned it into a massive floor to ceiling blackboard. One side are my deadlines, the middle notes outlines for most current projects, and on the other side a handful of autographed photos of astronauts for inspiration. In theory it makes me more productive. I just need to sit at my desk and look up at it.”
Take Advantage Of Momentum, Like Papa
Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, told Esquire in 1935: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.”
Ryan Holiday, bestselling author of The Obstacle Is The Way, and champion of the Stoic philosophy, uses what he calls his Commonplace Book to keep all of his resources and research in one easy-to-find place. “A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.”
I use Evernote for my Commonplace Book.
Make Writing A REAL Priority
Our regular blogger MF Wahl challenges our writers to really commit to their writing. “I don’t know about a secret, but my best advice would be to commit. Productivity is bred from commitment. If writing isn’t a priority then it will always be something to do later,” says MF. “When people say they don’t have time to write what they’re really saying is that writing is not a priority in their life. There may only be so many hours in a day, so hard choices may need to be made – that’s why it’s essential to commit. Live like a writer, don’t live like a an employee, student, parent, etc.”
Write Every Day
If you could commit to just 30 minutes—only 2% of your entire day—you will make progress. Double that and I think you will really have something.
I find that when I go more than a day or two without writing, I lose my ability to tell a good story. I get very robotic. In order to write every day, I use the Don’t Break The Chain method that Jerry Seinfeld made famous. The comic would hang a calendar on the wall and every day that he wrote material, he would put a big red X through that day. Eventually, it becomes as much about extending the streak, as it is about the writing. And in the process, you build a habit. Instead of a large calendar, I use an app called Way of Life to track my progress (my current streak stands at 40 days).
The advice to write daily is a common theme. And, it’s a great tie-in to my last piece of advice…
Never be Afraid to Ask for Help
Seek out a mentor; join a writing group (I heard the Mash Club is pretty neat). I do it all the time and even did it for this article, via Twitter. I reached out to one of my favorite writers, Hugo Award winner and author of Old Man’s War and Lock In, John Scalzi, who responded within seconds. Thanks, John.
John Scalzi: “Write daily. This is the same tip you will get from roughly 98% of all pro writers (the other 2% are weird and that’s okay, too).”
Chris is a contributing writer for Elite Daily. His work can also be found on The Dodo and Thought Catalog. Chris has a business degree from Kent State University. In his free time he enjoys working out, taking his dog for a walk, and walking downtown for dinner and drinks with his wife, Kelly. You can contact Chris at @C_G_Perry on Twitter.