Writers in the Storm

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January 16, 2015

4 Steps to Happy Writing Productivity

Jamie Raintree

image1The beginning of the new year is always a great time to step back and reevaluate our routines. Sure, we all have resolutions and goals for the coming year (finally finishing that book probably being one of them) but if we continue to approach our goals and resolutions in the same way we did last year, we'll likely find ourselves on December 31, 2015 in the same position we're in now--no finished book, disappointed in how little progress has been made, or maybe even with a finished product but not very happy about what it took to get there. If the previous tactics haven't worked, it's important to continue trying new things until you find the best system for you.

I actually got a lot accomplished this year. I'm proud of the progress I made, even though there were some setbacks along the way. I'm the kind of person that tends to stick to my commitments to a fault--even the self-imposed ones. It's a great way to get things done but it isn't always the best way to be happy while doing it. Yes, productivity is great, but how meaningful is that progress if the stress of chasing our dreams sucks the happiness out of our daily lives?

Is there a way to have both--productivity and happiness?

This year I'm trying out a new routine myself and I thought I'd share it with you. Here are 4 steps to think about incorporating into your routine for happy productivity:

The thing about planning is that even if you don't want to do it and don't like to do it, you still sort of have to. If you're not much of a planner, you might not recognize it as planning--it might show up as procrastination when you sit down at your desk to write as you try to figure out what to write next, how much you want to accomplish, etc. That's planning--it's just eating into your writing time now. Taking ten minutes to plan ahead of time--how much your want to write this week, which scene you want to write next, what might happen in that scene--will rescue your writing time because by the time you sit down, you'll be ready to go.

Trust is not easy for me. I stay at home with my toddler and preschooler all day, every single day, without a relative in a fifty mile radius. I have a lot of anxiety around the idea of accomplishing my writing each day. I spend so much time worrying about whether or not I'm going to hit my goal today, and when, and what it might look like, that by the time I sit down to work I'm out of energy. I build it up in my head so much that it becomes an insurmountable task. This year, I'm adding in trust as a step to my routine--trust that the time will present itself and because I have a plan, I'll be ready to jump on it when it happens.

That being said, some days it still just isn't going to happen. I know a lot of us have the habit of beating ourselves up about the days that life gets in the way or we're just flat tired and can't connect with our creativity. The problem with resenting ourselves about it is that we drag that into the next day's writing and then the day after that. Especially if that resentment prevents us from writing for days on end and it grows into this monster on our shoulders. Life happens. So does writing. Forgiveness and going with the flow gives each days' writing a fresh start.

Because writing a novel is such a long process, it's important to reward ourselves along the way for a job well done. Unfortunately, having a party for every 500 words isn't exactly feasible and a piece of chocolate for every 50 probably isn't advisable. Still, a daily pat on the back can spur us on to go at it again tomorrow. Rewarding yourself is not something to be ignored if you want your productivity to be happy productivity. The best reward I've found is tracking my progress. It could be something as simple as an X on a calendar to create the famous Seinfeld chain, writing down your word count in a notebook, or if you're visual like me, a pretty progress bar to keep track of the percentage completed. Find a way that gives you a little thrill at the end of the day and easily proves that your work today was meaningful. If you don't have your own way, I'm happy to share my Writing Progress Spreadsheet with you.

These are some steps that have already begun to make a difference in my productivity and happiness this year, but whatever works for you, don't let the New Year's excitement wear off before you take a look at your routines, assess them, and make them work for you. And may you have a fulfilling, prosperous, novel-filled year!

About Jamie

image1Jamie Raintree writes women's fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working on revisions of her first novel in preparation for submission to publishers. In the meantime, she blogs about her journey toward a well-balanced life and a career in publishing--her struggles and successes along the way. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women's Fiction Writers Association. Subscribe to her newsletter for more blogs, book news, and writer tools and other free downloads for dreamers. To find out more, visit her website below.

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29 comments on “4 Steps to Happy Writing Productivity”

  1. Thanks Jamie! With two kids and no help, I, too, know the guilt I bestow upon myself when I don't achieve my writing goals. Yes, forgive, and move forward. It's not like we were sitting around all day doing nothing, right? Happy 2015!

    1. SO true! I can't tell you often I'm running around like a crazy person and STILL feeling like I'm not getting enough done. Enough is enough! We're doing the best we can and that's all we can do. Happy 2015 to you too, Maria!

    1. I think there's something about the writer personality that inherently makes us "slackers." We're so busy taking things in and processing it all, trying to understand it, that when it comes time to finally take action, we're already exhausted! Lol! Tracking is a great way to motivate yourself to do it anyway. It feels good to make that little notation at the end that says, I accomplished something today!

  2. Great post, Jamie!

    I would probably add "prioritize" to the list ... at least for me. 🙂
    The first thing I do every morning is plan out the day. I'm a neurotic list maker. But Between writing and WFWA and WITS and family and house and critiques, and, and ... it's easy to get overwhelmed. There are days when writing has to come first and other days when it won't. That's when I have to forgive myself.

    And yes, yes, to tracking!! I love that spreadsheet!! Thank you for sharing it.

    1. YES! I'm always making lists too. My friend turned me on to the Passion Planner and I've been using it so far this year (basically a day planner with sections for brainstorming, list-making, etc.) and I looooove it! I also use Trello. Because there's no such thing as too much planning to me. Lol!

      Glad you're enjoying the spreadsheet!

      1. Ouuu ... the Passion Planner. That just begs to be researched. 🙂
        I'm still firmly attached to my Franklin Covey planner from my corporate days. And then there's the Franklin tasks app on the phone and the pieces of paper with the daily to-dos and the notebook for the WFWA tasks and ...

  3. Tracking has become the most important part for me over the past several months. Your writing spreadsheet is such an amazing tool. I used it in 2014 and am using it again this year, and it's fantastic! Thank you for sharing it with all of us. 🙂 I've discovered that for me, creating a ritual of updating my progress every night makes me want to MAKE progress. Even if I don't feel like writing, it makes me sit down and do it anyway. 🙂

    I use a combination of things -- your spreadsheet first, then the sticker method that Victoria Schwab uses (https://veschwab.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/star-stickers-and-calendars-oh-my-aka-the-best-writing-trick-i-know/), and joining the Monthly Twitter Writing Challenge (http://writingchallenge.org/). That last one provides the moral support I need to keep going! 🙂

    1. I'm so glad the spreadsheet has been a useful tool for you! I feel the same way. Nothing is more amazing than watching those numbers grow. I got so addicted to it during National Novel Writing Month I had to create a way to do it on my own. I never expected it would be such a hit, but I'm glad it is! You're very welcome!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your spreadsheet, Jamie. Great idea. I use Scrivener, which offers a Project Stats feature which I haven't yet bothered to try and figure out. You've inspired me to take a look at it asap! If I can't figure it out, I'm coming back to get your spreadsheet 🙂 I read your post a little bit ago, and today as I'm working I find I'm chanting those four words like a mantra: Plan, Trust, Forgive, and Track. Thank you!

    1. I love that, Suzanne! So glad it resonated with you! And you're very welcome. I hope you find the perfect tracking tactic for you. I'm happy to send you the spreadsheet if you need it. 🙂

  5. I found I eliminated the guilt by not trying to do things when they were simply not feasible or fair to do them. With three kids, my mornings are filled with their needs, the afternoons with homework help then dinner as a family and then activities together then bedtime. I used to try to fit in writing during these times but with the kid's needs, the cooking, cleaning, laundry and so many other things - writing always came last and if I did manage to do it, I felt guilty for not doing something else or for ignoring the kids and I was often distracted. Then I discovered that if I stayed up later than I used to - for a few hours after their bedtimes on the nights my husband works, that I could search the web for info, read blogs, write blogs and write on my stories all without interruption or guilt and I wasn't rushed. The difference it made was amazing because I got to decompress and have some much needed me time and get a lot accompmlished

    1. JC, I did the same when I was working - that's how I started the crazy habit of getting up at 3 am! Hey, if you have the will, there IS a way! Good for you, and best of luck with your writing - but you won't need it, because you're getting it DONE!

    2. Exactly what I struggled with JC. I can't get up at 3 am the way Laura does, although I'm glad she does because she keeps me company online in the mornings with the time difference. 🙂

      I have, however, learned to plan my time around the hours the kiddo is in school and family time. And to let the guilt go.

      Sounds like you're well on your way to meeting your goals!

    3. Yes, JC, that's so true. Being a mom really is a full time job, and being a writer can be at least a part time job too, if not a full time job in itself. So balancing both is always a struggle. I've been trying to create the habit of waking up before my kids to have some quiet time to myself and the days I succeed, it changes my whole day. Thank you for your thoughts!

  6. #2, Jaime! Only I never thought of it as trust before, but you're perfectly right. It's a leap of faith, every. Single. Day.

    Just wrote to get your spreadsheet - the CFO in me LOVES that!!!!

    Thanks for a great blog!

    1. You're welcome! Trust is something I struggle with a LOT so it's a big theme in my goals for this year. Lol!

      I'm going to get that spreadsheet out to you shortly!

  7. Spreadsheets scare the crap out of me. ) I have a printed monthly calendar on my desk and stick a little gold star in a daily square to reward a day of making my word count. LOL It was all so much simpler in elementary school! I do like what you said about trying to trust yourself that you've done the work before, you can do it again.

    Many thanks!

    1. Hahaha! I totally get that. Hit one wrong button in the wrong cell and it can mess up everything. But the star creates that same reward trigger in the brain so it works just as well!

  8. Awesome post, Jamie. You're sort of inspirational to me for keeping track and making progress, so I always love to read your thoughts on the topic.

  9. Happy writing productivity, for me is through the rhythm that I have noticed over the months, understood the pattern of my work. Break up in between for better chunks of it, sometimes keep the timer to loosen up your writing productivity.

    I always feel the difficulty in concentrating, as I am writing this to you now, my mind is running with yet another blog idea, and I am i na hurry to put this down and initiate the new topic.

    Result - Both half done 🙁

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