(And 10 things you can do about it)
Time and again, through my writer’s mentoring nonprofit work and pitching ideas to writer’s conferences, I hear the same thing: writers of all levels not only struggle with plot, structure, and craft – but with productivity issues.
Why? Because what works for one writer, simply will not work for another. In critique groups, we try not to take things personally. It’s your work, it’s not you. But you know what? It IS YOU. And any problem you are having with your writing, and especially with your writing productivity, stems from who you are. Or who you aren’t.
Here are my suggestions for upping productivity, based on personality type.
Are you a people pleaser? Overcommitted? Writing grants for a nonprofit instead of your novel?
1. You can save the world after you save your novel. Volunteer for YOURSELF FIRST. If you have trouble saying no to people, write up a gentle paragraph about why you can’t do whatever someone is asking you to do – and keep it on your computer –and copy/paste whenever you have to say no.
2. Give something up, and replace it with writing. Announce to the world – “I am not cooking dinner on Tuesday or Thursday.” Work out at the gym 3 x a week instead of 5. Watch one less TV show, and write during that time instead.
3. Make use of miniature time pockets. Hire a babysitter for 2 hours and STAY HOME and write. Go to a Laundromat and write for an hour while your stuff is drying.
Are you a perfectionist? Do you procrastinate because the task seems too large, or you’re afraid you won’t measure up to your own standards?
4. Write a simpler novel. You heard me. Throw away that multi-generational beast with 100 characters and brainstorm something simpler. I’m not kidding. I’m not wrong.
5. Make it impossible to go off-track. A) Write into the next scene, leave notes for what you are going to do next. Always. B) Create writing prompts that have to do with your WIP or your characters and keep on your computer, so there’s always a task to complete.
6. Set up a reward structure. Like potty training a child with M&Ms. Pay yourself for meeting your goals. Think it doesn’t work? You must not be potty-trained.
7. Set goals that don’t focus on word counts. Word counts, page counts, and number values create weird, mathy pressure. Instead, use your words. I will write until the timer goes off. I will write until the candle burns down. I will write until the streetlights come on.
Are you a type A overworker? Do you think you could get your novel finished if you only had a research assistant and a secretary?
See answers 2 and 4.
If that doesn’t work –
8. Write at work. Yes, you heard me correctly. How much of this you do is up to you, and what kind of job you have, but your company does not control your brain 100% of the time. If it did, how would you gossip?
If you have to sit in lots of boring meetings – daydream about your characters. Learn a simple written code – so no one will know what you are jotting down on your yellow pad.
When it’s slow, or you’re on your lunch break, write a quick paragraph. No one needs to know. You know how to minimize your windows, right? You know how to write in an email app, right? Course you do. Oh, don’t look at me like that. The company doesn’t OWN YOUR DREAMS.
Are you sensitive, observant, and easily distracted?
Yes, you could download Freedom to cut off your wifi, yes you could buy noise cancelling headphones, but YOU KNOW THAT. Here are two suggestions that are FREE and just as helpful.
9. Turn off all your notifications on your phone. Let nothing ever beep or buzz to alert you to anything again. And when you write -- Put your phone in another room. And leave it there until you’ve worked for an hour and earned a reward of looking at it. (see #6.)
10. Clean up your act. Simplify your workspace and office. Throw things away. Make your whole world look as if you have tons of room for your writing, and maybe, just maybe you will.
It’s not easy to write a novel. It takes time and focus and dedication. But how you free up the time, and find your focus, differs for everybody based on who they are. Do you see yourself in these suggestions? And what has worked for you? I’d love to hear!
Kelly Simmons’ novels have been hailed as electrifying, complex and poignant, and aren’t those nice words? Her third novel, ONE MORE DAY, keeps being called riveting, so don’t buy it unless you want to stay up all night reading it. She’s a member of Women's Fiction Writers Association, Tall Poppy Writers. and The Liars Club & Writers Coffeehouse, a group of published novelists dedicated to helping fledgling writers.