Whether you’re bashing out a novel for NaNoWriMo, crafting a short story or simply trying to get into the habit of noting down your ideas, successful writing depends on three things: productivity, consistency, and discipline.
This isn’t the most fun combination, naturally, but here are seven ways to bring more productivity into your writing routine that should help make things a bit more enjoyable.
Have a dedicated writing medium
For George R. R. Martin, this is a 1980’s DOS computer running word processor program WordStar 4.0.
He says it affords him a ‘distraction-free writing environment’, but it comes with added benefits – the ancient system is impervious to hacks, as George couldn’t hook it up to the internet even if he wanted to. There’s no Facebook, no email, no crashes, no unsaved changes lost, and no choice of fonts: just writing.
You don’t necessarily have to scour eBay for old technology, but it does help to have a dedicated writing system that’s different to the one you use for everyday tasks. Consider a second laptop, a blank journal, or dedicated writing platform that you only use for laying down your fiction.
Use a standing desk
Sit down comfortably in a chair with a cup of coffee in your hands, and it almost feels like bedtime. It’s easy to get distracted: your posture slackens, your eyes start to swim, and you decide just to check Twitter one last time. Lean back for too long, and it might just be time for an unexpected (and unhelpful) nap.
Sitting all day also isn’t good for our health – with links frequently found to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, thrombosis, and even cancer.
A standing desk will help you avoid these afflictions, with the added benefit of extra focus in your work. A clean, minimalist setup is best, ensuring that you’re comfortable and that the surface is at the ideal height for you. You’ll burn more calories standing up, and users often report improved posture and better productivity.
This one is difficult to maintain but important to follow.
Commit to focusing on only one task at a time: at first, this could be a short phone call or writing an email. But then, graduate to writing 100 words of your book or story, then 500 words, then 1000 or more until you can concentrate for long periods of time, completing your task before moving on.
It’s a good idea to block out your time using a journal. Decide on your tasks the night before, and schedule the day to come. When it’s time for a certain task, switch to it immediately – don’t get distracted and don’t hang on to something else for just a few more minutes in the hope you’ll get it finished in time.
The same goes for other people: if you have 30 minutes blocked for a phone call, don’t allow it to go on for 50. Let the other person know that you have commitments to keep, and you need to end the call. You can always catch up later – especially if you block out time tomorrow to finish the things you didn’t quite get to complete today.
This activity helps you to treat your time seriously. Even if your output isn’t as high as you’d hoped and you have some items that drift over to the next day, it’s still beneficial as it helps to stop you overestimating what you can get done in a single day – something that’s often a major source of self-imposed stress.
Research before writing
Research is important, but it’s more important to get the story across and fill in the facts later on. If you need to research something that’s vital for the plot of your book (e.g., if it’s possible to grow potatoes on Mars), look it up first and get the gist of the answer, but then start writing.
Don’t get lost in the dark depths of Wikipedia. Question and answer site Quora is excellent for those tricky little bits of information you need but would otherwise spend hours tracking down. All you need to do is ask and then swing by later to fill in the blanks.
The Pomodoro Technique
This is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. ‘Pomodoro’ is the Italian word for tomato, which the egg timers Cirillo used to develop his technique were shaped like. He used these tomato timers to break down his work into 25-minute intervals, separated by a few short breaks and then a longer one.
This allowed him to focus intensely, with a finish line always in sight, and has since found popularity as a productivity hack all across the globe. You can find an online tomato timer right here.
Take a break
It’s true, even though no one wants to admit it: now and then you need to look up from your computer screen. Focusing on a source of blue light so close to our faces for hours on end is not natural, may impact your vision, and has been shown to cause restlessness and disturbed sleep.
Get yourself away from the screen on a regular basis, and try to avoid them for at least one hour before bed. Why not snuggle up with a good (physical) book for the final stretch of the evening?
Write first, proofread later
Silence your inner critic! Who cares if you put that apostrophe where it ought not to go? If you’re in the flow, that’s a problem for later. The important thing is to get your story out, in its entirety, onto the screen or the paper. It can be polished later on.
If you can’t resist giving a chapter a quick edit, set a timer for yourself (no more than fifteen minutes would probably be ideal). Sometimes it helps to read back over what you wrote the day before to get ‘back in the zone,’ but don’t get so bogged down in fixing tiny mistakes and substituting words that you wind up eating all the time you could have used for getting further ahead in the story.
These are just seven possible things you can do to make your life as a writer less of an uphill battle. There’s a ton of advice available online and elsewhere to do with productivity – from enforcing a ‘do not disturb’ policy with family, to filling out a Bullet Journal. But remember, procrastination is your biggest enemy. As long as you’re writing, you’re already productive.
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