10 Scary-Good Productivity Tips for Writers 5


ON THE EVE of National Novel Writing Month or National NonFiction Writing Month (affectionately known as NaNoWriMo or NaNonFiWriMo, respectively), the issue of productivity becomes more than important than ever. After all, how will you meet the challenge of writing 50,000 words of fiction or completing a nonfiction piece in one month without a solid productivity plan?

So I’ve decided to treat you with 10 of the greatest, awesomest, scaryiest-good productivity tips I know. No trick here — these really work!

  1. Schedule your writing time. 
    Put your buns in your writing chair at the scheduled time, and
    do nothing but write until your time is up! I know, I know, you’ve probably heard this advice a bajillion times. But do you actually do it? Make this commitment, and you will be more productive than you could ever imagine.
  2. Dedicate a consistent space for writing.
    For the highest productivity you need a writing space that allows you to focus. I need (dare I say it?) a room of my own, with four walls that shut the rest of the world out. However, some people like writing in coffeeshops and restaurants, because they can treat the surrounding chaos as white noise. Do whatever works for you, but go there consistently, and dedicate that space for writing, not visiting with others, checking your email, or anything else.
  3. When you sit down to write, set everything to Do Not Disturb.
    This means, placing a Do Not Disturb sign on your office or bedroom door or getting out of the house altogether, putting your smartphone and watch in airplane or Do Not Disturb Mode, and closing all applications on your computer except whatever you use to write with (I highly recommend Scrivener). Do not attempt to multitask, No exceptions! Need to research something? See tip #5.
  4. Take scheduled breaks.
    It’s hard to stay productive for long stretches without a break. Set a timer and take a ten-minute break at least once very hour. When the timer goes off, get up, walk around, grab a quick snack, drink some water, and get some fresh air. Taking breaks will help you stay committed to your overall writing schedule, as well as be easier on your body.
  5. Schedule a separate time for research.
    Giving research its own dedicated slot on your calendar will help you to stay committed to writing during your scheduled time. While you are writing, any time you think you to research something, simply insert a comment in your piece and keep writing. Conduct your research before your scheduled writing time for best results.
  6. Separate writing from editing.
    This means welcoming a crappy first draft. Writing and editing activate different parts of the brain. When you try to do both at once, you won’t be able to accomplish either very well. Instead, you’ll stop the flow of creative juices and you won’t edit effectively. If you’re committing to getting a lot of writing accomplished in November, save your editing for December. Or, just as you scheduled time for writing and researching, schedule time for revision.
  7. Set clear, doable goals.
    Attempting to write 50,000 words can feel daunting. But, when you break it down to 1,667 words per day, it feels much more doable. If you prefer, set a goal to write a certain amount of time each day and don’t worry about the number of words — some days you’ll write more and some less, but you’ll continue making progress nonetheless.
  8. Make your goals public.
    When you make your writing goals public, you hold yourself accountable to write as promised. So go ahead — tell friends and family, post your goals on Facebook, blog about them. Nothing’s more embarrassing than telling everyone you’re going to do something and then not doing it. The pressure to perform will keep you writing and on schedule.
  9. Reward yourself with down time.
    Pushing yourself to perform or produce 24/7 will only end in burnout. As a reward for staying on schedule each day, and to promote your own mental health, do something relaxing and completely unproductive. Take a walk around your neighborhood, go to the park or the mall and people watch, spend time playing with the kids, or watch  mindless comedy on TV — it doesn’t matter. The point is to give yourself permission to relax.
  10. Experiment.
    If you find you’re not writing as quickly or getting as much done as you’d like, identify where the problem or distraction lies, and then adjust your writing habits accordingly. For example, you might be more productive writing at night when the family is asleep. Or perhaps you do better when you write in short spurts, 30 minutes at a time, followed by longer breaks. Change where you write, if necessary. Or break your writing goal down into smaller chunks. The point is to find what works for you, and then stick with it.

So, come on and tell us — what are your writing goals for the month of November?



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5 thoughts on “10 Scary-Good Productivity Tips for Writers

  • Nancy Dye Leer

    Thank you, Amber! These scary tips are perfectly timed – and go deeper than many you read elsewhere. Writing versus editing – big time suck, researching versus writing – you nailed me! I’m going to look into national non-fiction – november.

  • Patsy Ann Taylor

    Thank you, Amber, for these tips.
    Nanowrimo is one of my favorite activities. I’ve produced three novels that way. One is in final editing process, one is ready for the next revision, and the third, which was my first attempt at Nanowrimo, is in a drawer awaiting a miracle.
    When I wrote the first novel, I believed the originator of Nanowrimo when he said to simply sit down and write. No plan, no rules, except not to edit until the 50,000 words were on the page. As a result, I ended up with a garbled mess. I loved my characters, setting and era, but without a plan I had many POV and tenses to contend with. And other problems. That book will take months to unscramble, if I choose to go forward with it.
    I have also used Nanowrimo to finish work I have begun and then set aside to wait for more inspiration. For those projects, it is the act of writing or revising the 1,666 words a day that matters.

  • Barbara Toboni

    My writing goal for November is to close the door to the room I write in! I know it’s a little thing but I get distracted every time the phone rings, which means a lot lately. Too much telemarketing and politicking! I usually run out of the room and listen to part of the message to see if it’s important. It never is! And if it is they can leave a callback number. Same with my cell. I could leave that out of the room too. Thanks!