Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 10, 2024

Stop Writing and Other Ways to Improve Your Writing

By Kris Maze

Woman hands holding piece of cardboard with phrase Stop Doing What Doesnt Work against brick wall background.

Stop and ask yourself, how much have you written today? This week? This year? Maybe you have recently finished a manuscript that is polished and ready for the printer, but if you are like me, the honest truth about your writing productivity might leave you disappointed, underwhelmed, or simply disappointed.

Don’t worry.

Writers all have a personal flow that influences how much you produce. It is important to check in with where you are in your writing process, to track how many words and pages you are producing.

Sometimes writing your manuscript is like spilling a flurry of words. Words that haunt you to return to the page the second you leave your desk. Other times it’s like searching a cavernous void in your mind as the clock ticks, ticks, ticks. Both have their place in the ebb and flow of a writer’s journey.

Writing productivity isn’t only about the word count and making deadlines. It is about how you understand your own workflow. Want to examine ways to feel more productive and satisfied with your writing? Read on.

Examining Your Own Writing Workflow

Try following the steps below to examine your writing workflow. Maybe these suggestions can help you get more words on the page, or a more polished product that you want to share with the world. Taking time to reflect on your writing process may feel unproductive because you’re taking a break from writing, but it is worth it in the long run.

I hereby give you permission to stop writing, as counterintuitive as it may seem, and to take a closer look at your writing workflow.

1. Define YOUR Productivity

How you are productive is subjective. And what "being productive” is will be different for each writer.

Some writers prefer the tangible attainment of a certain number of words or pages that they write in a certain period of time. Others take their time, writing from an outline and carefully crafting their first draft. This takes more time to finish their draft, but it saves time later in the editing process.

Ask yourself what makes you feel like you accomplished enough in one day. 

What you decide to do will depend on how you work best. Are you better off with a messy, wordy draft, getting all the plot details on the page first? Are you frustrated by too much editing and side stories that shouldn’t be in your novel at all? Do you have a combination of both?  

Define what is most important to you to feel like you have accomplished your writing goal. Write it down.

2. Make a Plan

Set yourself up for success and write out what you think is your optimum workflow. I recommend starting towards the beginning of a project, but if your current work is struggling, focusing on how you work may help you get unstuck. 

This plan for your productivity, like a novel, is a first draft and can be altered.

Remember the workflow is there whether you examine it or not.  Knowing how you work better can help you manage your resources of time and energy better. And we could all probably use a little more time to write. 

A writing workflow is confined by a few factors, but the most important are time and mental energy.  

  • Schedule chunks of time that you need to accomplish your writing goals and add them to your calendar of choice.
  • Add your writing time to wherever you keep track of your daily tasks. 
  • Using a calendar, whether it is digital or written, is a good idea.
  • Try to make your writing time stand out, so it is easier to track.
  • Perhaps use a different color, or a separate area for writing can make it more visual. You don't want it to get lost in your other time commitments.

Once you have your times blocked off, try out your system for a week.  

While you are refining your writing process, figure out which days you actually did writing and which times you were the most productive.  I have a to-do app that makes a fun chime whenever I finish a writing session, adding the finished work time to my “done” list.  This makes the task less chore-ish to me and adds a little celebration when I’m reflecting on what works for my writing process.

The days and times that you were most productive should be repeated. Consider why the other times didn’t work and adjust your schedule to adapt your natural workflow.

3. Build in breaks

Now that you have figured out your optimal times to write, and the days and times when you are the most productive, you have to also pay attention to something else -- when you need to take a break.

When a story grips you, it can become the only thing you can focus on. It flows from you freely and you want to capture those words and plotlines. You want to ride the waves of your new novel with the fabulous new friends that are your characters. But it can also derail your writing later.

Have you experienced any of the following emotional concerns when it comes to writing? 

  • Writing continuously could stem from the fear that if you stop and take a break, your words, your ideas, your inspiration will disappear. 
  • Maybe an imposter syndrome is sneaking into your mind, making you worry that too much time away from your story makes you somehow less than the writer that you are.
  • It could be that you are trying to be disciplined and sticking to the strict butt-in-chair mantra is too much for your writing flow. 

These common problems writers face and erode one’s ability to write well. Try to not let these deplete your writing productivity. Below are some things that might help.

Mindsets for Better Writing Productivity

Fear of losing a great idea. 

I want to assure you that although these are legitimate concerns for us as writers, we can have peace in the work that we do. We know that pursuing stories is a time-honored skill, innate to humans, and that the writing bug has infected us as creatives. And that won’t go away. 

Keep Imposter Syndrome Away.

Don’t define your writing by comparing it to others and remind yourself of why you became a writer. Became a writer, dear friend, because you are already deep into the writing work and that is what writers do.  You are a writer because it is the best writers that continue to seek more knowledge about all the aspects of creating and marketing their books. You are here and reading about writing. That is evidence enough.

Avoid Burnout and Writers Block

Taking breaks from writing can keep you from burning out and hitting the dreaded writer’s block. And how much more can we as writers, who study characters and grammar and plot, can use this knowledge when we figure out our workflow and apply it to our writing process.

If you want some fun ideas for taking breaks, check out my previous post on self-care for writers here. One of my favorite mental health hacks though is not included in that post. I’m sharing it with you here instead, the go-to for this writing gal is naps.  Naps. The best mini break a writer can take. In my opinion. 

My Favorite Mental Boost Hack

Napping isn’t just for the lazy or tired; it can be a powerful tool for writers looking to enhance their creativity and productivity. Research suggests that short naps can improve cognitive function, memory, and creativity.

New to napping? Not sure napping is for you? Getting rest gives you hives? Whatever your feelings about naps, here’s a few popular ways others have used a nap to enhance their productivity. 

1. Power Nap  

 A power nap is a short nap, typically around 10 to 20 minutes long, taken during the day to boost alertness and energy.

Set a timer for 15 minutes and close your eyes in a quiet, comfortable place. Try to relax and clear your mind.

A power nap can help you feel refreshed and more focused, making it easier to tackle writing tasks with renewed energy and clarity.

2. Coffee Nap

Also known as a caffeine nap, this technique involves drinking a cup of coffee or tea right before taking a short nap.

Drink a cup of coffee, set a timer for a 20-minute nap, and lie down.

The caffeine takes about 20 minutes to start working, so by the time you wake up from your nap, you'll feel the combined benefits of the nap and the caffeine, which can enhance alertness and focus.

Note: there is a similar version, nappuccino, which involves drinking a small amount of coffee or espresso and then taking a short nap.

3. The NASA Nap

This technique is based on research conducted by NASA, which found that a 26-minute nap can improve pilot performance and alertness.

Take a 26-minute nap in a quiet, comfortable environment.

The NASA nap can help you feel more alert and focused, which can improve your writing productivity and creativity.

4. The Dream Nap

This technique involves taking a longer nap, typically around 60 to 90 minutes, to allow for a full sleep cycle, including REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

Set aside time for a longer nap, ideally in the early afternoon.

The dream nap can improve memory, creativity, and problem-solving skills, which can benefit your writing by enhancing your ability to generate ideas and think creatively.

Napping can be a valuable tool for writers looking to enhance their creativity and productivity. By incorporating these napping techniques into your routine, you can recharge your mind and body, improve your focus and alertness, and boost your writing skills. So go ahead, examine your writing process then take a nap, and see how it benefits your writing!

Which napping techniques would you try, or currently use, to recharge and improve your writing? And what have you learned about your own workflow? Have you found ways to hack it to get more creative productivity? Please share in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Kris

Kris Maze

Kris Maze, an education enthusiast with a knack for the written word, has dedicated several years to the world of academia. She writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host.

You can find her YA fiction, writing resources, and keep up with her author events at KrisMaze.com. Find her darker, scarier fiction at her sister-site KrissyKnoxx.com.

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, learning languages, and spending time outdoors where she ponders the wisdom of Bob Ross.

And sometimes she takes a nap.

Top photo purchased from Depositphotos.

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18 comments on “Stop Writing and Other Ways to Improve Your Writing”

  1. I could have written most of this. You did a very coherent job of it.

    Chronic illness forced me to learn how to nap; I can get a boost from as little as 5-15 min., though I aim for about 35 usually because I need a few extra minutes to settle and get comfortable, and usually need to make sure I will be warm - socks and extra coverings - because my body temperature drops when I nap. I'm pretty efficient about it now - but don't necessarily use the timer to end the nap if the nights have been erratic.

    In my case it doesn't enhance creativity - it makes it possible at all. I can't tell you how many times, when my decision-making (and writing) process is paralyzed, I have forced myself or my body has forced me to take that crash-nap - and everything is better a short while after I wake up.

    And still I resist. I am not a toddler! Which is just the cry of exactly that cranky toddler.

    If that's the way I'm going to be functional, so be it. 3-5 naps a day, with a writing session or two tucked in there somewhere, is what I manage.

    Other people are always skeptical - I can rarely get someone to try napping, especially not someone not damaged as I am by ME/CFS - but it really, really works for me.

    I've been sick since 1989, and writing Pride's Children since 2000. Should be finished with the third volume, LIMBO, in another five years or so.

    By the way, those naps also seem to give my subconscious time and space to think things out: I keep a notebook and pen at the ready to capture those thoughts, or they vanish like the morning fog in San Francisco.

      1. I agree, Jenny. It adds perspective to what seem like smaller daily struggles.

        I'm grateful for the healthy moments that I have! And I suppose you have gone through that level of struggle too, Jenny. Kudos to you for your positive outlook as well.

      2. Thanks, Jenny.

        Sometimes I think that by now everybody should be completely tired of hearing about me - and my inching ways (a snail will get from Patagonia to the Kamchatka peninsula faster).

        Not the way I would have done this if I'd had the choice I planned, but: 'two down, and one to go' is not bad.

    1. Hi Alicia,

      I'm very sorry that your chronic illness has such an impact on your day-to-day life. Thank you for your kind words about my promo of napping and taking time to take care of your most important writing tool - you!

      The comments about wearing socks and comfortable clothes is very true. If I'm not warm enough, or have some weight in the blanket I use, I have trouble taking a quick nap.

      My hopes are that your ability to keep on writing stays like the SF fog and keeps coming back. Great line, btw. 🙂

      Thanks for your insights and sharing your writing experiences. It can be encouraging to let other writers know what you have to do to get words on the page.

  2. Kris, one of the most important items in my planning for my first workspace in 15 years was a sleeping space. Seriously.

    When I am writing under any sort of deadline, the best way for me to stay in flow is write-sleep-write-sleep. I do the best work, get the best ideas, and get the most done when I add extra sleep into the equation.

    We had an amazing post here at WITS about a decade ago called "talking back to your brain" from Harry and Susan Squires. They talked about the best way to ask your creative brain questions when you're stuck, so you could go to sleep and literally wake up with the answer. Best trick ev-ah!

    1. Love it!

      And cool article. Brain science is fascinating and it can inform our work. Let the brain process, even though it seems counterintuitive to not work through what you want to accomplish at that moment.

      And the writing space that includes a sleep space is fantastic.

      I wonder what kind of furniture will you look for... a futon thingie that has dual purpose? Or some writing inspired lounging chaise? Let me know if you find something fun. I am working on a writing space right now too. And a laying space helps me write quite a bit!

      1. I am getting a library murphy bed, so my bookshelves will be front and center and useful. It's a 4-across layout, so the middle two can move to the left and right to open the bed. I am very excited about that piece of furniture!

    2. Fascinating article.

      I've figured out something similar after all these years: when things aren't going well, I have to make the piece I'm dealing with SMALLER.

      If a scene isn't working, try a beat. If a sentence isn't working, fiddle with its words, and also write down exactly why it isn't working and what I want it to do. If a WORD isn't working, print out what the thesaurus says are similar words, and see if one doesn't work better, saying more exactly what I want.

      I call it atomizing: turning things into their smallest possible atoms.

      When I was learning, I would print out something one sentence per line, get out the scissors, cut it into strips, and move them around on the desktop. Physically. I called it 'going back to Kindergarten.' Sometimes the printed or monitor version is hard to rearrange (and a lot of those lines got dumped, and a lot of holes were replaced with the transitions they needed).

      Now, all I have to do is remind myself to atomize.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      The nappuccino idea came from an author and thinker, Daniel Pink. I've read most of his works on productivity and the creative mind, and they have really challenged me to rethink how I view the creative life. And he added this gem to my napping set of ideas.

      To be up front, I have not tried it yet either. But I'll let you know if I do!

  3. Hi Kris,

    I am on a loop where our goal is 30 minutes of editing or 100 words per day. All I tell myself is that I need 100 words. Some days that's a push to make other days I soar/zoom by it. I have a trick for myself that a friend is trying too. I end every word count for the day on zero or five. If I have sixteen hundred seventy two words, that means I need three more. That often leads to way more than three. The other night I posted to a Book In A Week loop that I wrote 365 words when it was 345. I was like well now I need 20 more words to not be a liar. I wound up writing 1,010 words total lol.

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