This post “10 Ways to Improve Your Writing Productivity” hopes to help you stick with a task that sometimes becomes laborious and often becomes lonely.
First off, let me say that I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think writer’s block is an excuse to stumble. If I ever feel like I’m not sure what to write about, I simply sit down and write poetry, or some sensuous detail I saw out in our surrounding woods, or about a conversation I overheard, or a facial expression I’ve recently witnessed.
And it’s my personal belief that productivity and word count remain high on my list of most important things in my daily work. Why? Because with any business having a product to sell will determine whether or not you sell. Or, in other terms, whether you will succeed. Not the marketing. Not the social media. They are important but not as important if you don’t have books to sell. Because if you have no books to sell then you won’t sell any books. Pure. Simple.
So, how does a writer improve their word count? By improving their habits. And, as a side note, excuses irritate me. Don’t tell me why you can’t do something. Tell me how you can make it work for you.
I’ve developed the following list of 10 items to help improve your productivity and to add word count to your stories.
- Decide how many days a week you will write–Knowing your current schedule will limit your time to write. Some people rue over this, that all they can write is in the evening after the kids go to bed or only on the weekends, on Mondays and Thursdays, or on Sunday after Church. No need to rue when you have solid information that tells you, “Well, I can write between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evening.” Basically, you’re turning your negativity and your limited time into a huge positive. When people have limited time for an activity–whether cleaning the house, playing a round of golf or writing, they tend to fit in the time for that activity. It’s all about choice here. If you want to write and you prefer to write, you will find time to write.
- Set aside time to work on your writing–Setting aside a specific amount of time each day to write will not only help improve your craft but it will also add word count to your story.
- Write in Segments–Segment writing will cause you to focus on what’s important about your current story. Break your writing up into several 15-minute chunks. Set a timer and begin and end with your timer. If you are not currently writing to a story, segment writing can be a great way to find a new story to expand into a longer piece. Segment writing is what I like to call “free” writing in that you can play around with new ideas, techniques, ways to format, new genres, poetics, and any other idea you want to practice on such as deepening characterization through voice, setting through applying different sensory perceptions, and conflict by employing hooks, foreshadowing and cliff-hangers.
- Read books about writing–Reading books on how-to-write or how-to-edit your work will make you a better writer. Much the way watching golf instruction on TV has made me a better golfer (no lie), reading within your craft about how-to develop character, setting, and conflict will strengthen your writing. Books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King, will help you avoid common writing mistakes before a real editor gets hold of your manuscript. Titles like The War of Art, and Bird by Bird are other books that focus on craft and the writing life.
- Take defined breaks–Defining your writing between stints at work and stints during breaks is key to being able to get back to writing. Allowing yourself “coffee” breaks of 5- to 10-minutes each, allows your mind to settle on what you have accomplished during your time at writing. Taking a defined lunch break allows you time to refuel your brain (see my “healthy choices” post). Eat, relax, walk the dog, read a book. Hey! You can even fold laundry or clean the toilet. All these things will fuel your writing mind to create better scenes with more visceral imagery to strengthen your story.
- Make sure to edit–Editing your work at the end of your writing session and again at the beginning of your writing session is always a good practice. At the end of writing, is when I catch all of my major boo-boo’s. I run my spell-checker to catch spelling errors and then go to my “usual” problem children such as to and too, they’re and their, hear and here–those problem children. I use the find and replace function in Word and fix those problems. When I come back the next day, I re-read what I wrote yesterday (or last time) and I edit for word choice and sentence structure. By the end of my story, my manuscript is fairly clean when I hand it off to an editor… can you guess what item #7 is going to be?
- Hire an independent editor–Editing your own work is great and makes your independent editor happy that she doesn’t have to delete or correct silly spelling errors and typos. It allows them to line edit for structure and grammar, syntax and clarity. Never send out your manuscript or self-publish without using an independent editor. Your work and your sales will suffer. Believe me, I know. I learned the hard way. Editors will strengthen your work and make it look professional when it arrives at the agent’s or the publisher’s desk. Put your best foot forward by hiring an independent editor to go over your work before sending it out.
- Set deadlines–Self-imposed writing deadlines will keep you on track. Sometimes. However, when you tell someone outside of you that you will be completed with a writing project within 6 weeks, you subconsciously make yourself accountable to that person. This works too, sometimes. So, why not make yourself accountable to your editor? Tell them you will be done with a project by May 13th (or whatever) and you will get them your MS on or before that date. What happens when you work with an independent editor is that they will clear their schedule for you. And you had better get them your work on or before that deadline or else they will lose money. Being responsible for someone else’s financial losses is a huge motivator but it can also be key for you to complete another project and get that story to an agent or a publisher for consideration. I like to set up deadlines for myself because when I meet the deadline I get a great sense of accomplishment in that I’m doing something to further my career by staying on track, by getting another story finished and by clearing the slate for my next writing job.
- Join a writing group–By meeting up with other writers on a regular basis will focus you to get work done on time. You will clear your slate when one or more authors are relying on you to give constructive comments about their writing in exchange for their comments on yours. I have been involved with several groups and the most successful ones are those who allow 5- to 10- double-spaced pages of work. Also, join groups where the writing is of fiction or nonfiction. Mixing genres can lead to weird dissatisfaction among members. Don’t ask me why but I have found that either fiction or nonfiction groups work well–but not both intermingled.
- Find a mentor–I often mentor fiction writers. I write fiction so mentoring students who write in nonfiction doesn’t work for me. I had a mentor early on in my career. Michael Collins will remain a key figure in my writing career. He gave me expert advice when I was flailing. He motivated me to write and encouraged me to continue a career in writing. He was honest sometimes brutally but I grew from our mentor-mentoree relationship. It was a priceless experience.
There are many more methods on how to become a more productive writer, I’m sure, but this list will help you right away. Basically, buckling down and pressing ahead are the ways to succeed in this industry. Try not to be discouraged and if you do, drop me a note. I’ll be your encouragement and will try to talk you out of your frustration. We’re all in it together. So let’s help each other the best we can.
I often write books about God. Amen.