How to Become a More Productive Writer: 15 Incredibly Easy Ways
Writing can be a very cathartic way to get your thoughts down on paper.
However, at times, writing tasks can also feel overwhelming and be a bit stressful. It’s easy to get down on yourself, give up and toss the paper in the trash. Subsequently, your productivity also starts to suffer.
If you’re looking for advice on how to become a more productive writer, hopefully the 15 tips below will help. Put these tips into practice and your writing productivity will soar!
Best of luck and happy writing.
1. Schedule Time
So you want to write but you never have the time? Who has time for anything these days, right!? There’s always a new event to attend, groceries to buy, laundry to do, and on and on. You have to make time for things you want to do otherwise you’ll never get it done. Mark it down on your calendar, write it on a post-it or set a reminder on your cellphone. Whatever it takes, even if it’s just ten minutes here and there at first! Take a day and really look at how you spend your time. Are you spending twenty minutes here and there aimlessly surfing the web when you could be writing? Binge-watching shows on Hulu again? Make note of these habits next time you say you ‘don’t have the time’ to write.
2. Set Goals
Setting a goal can make the task at hand much more achievable and way less overwhelming. Whether it’s a daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly goal, it will help you to measure what you’ve done so far and continuously give you something to work towards. While goals should be set high, don’t burden yourself with the thought of getting something published from the start. Begin with a simple goal like writing 100-200 words a day and work your way up from there. Achieving these small goals will boost your motivation. If you’re not reaching the goals you set, take time to re-evaluate and determine why. Are the goals too lofty? Are you being distracted? It can be disheartening not to reach a goal, but rather than dwell on ‘failing,’ the missed goals should fuel your fire to soldier on.
3. Research Beforehand
If you don’t do your due diligence in taking time to research before writing, you’re already setting yourself up for disaster. There’s nothing more overwhelming than sitting down to write only to realize you have no idea what you’re talking about. The constant need to step out of your writing to continue researching in order to get words on the paper is just going to stress you out. Do yourself a favor and get the facts straight first! You’ll feel much more prepared and at ease in your writing, no matter the topic. Which leads me to my next point…
4. Create an Outline
The best way to have all of your researched notes in one spot is to create an outline! I used to hate making outlines in school, but it turns out our teachers were on to something. Your outline doesn’t have to include roman numerals or follow any specific layout; it’s just a space for your collected thoughts for ease of reference during the writing process. An outline can be hand-written points or typed up with links that you may want to have handy as you work through your piece. If you’re a journalist, it may be something as simple as having all of your sources in one spot with contact information and notes to go off of. Don’t get bogged down if your outline seems sparse or a bit jumbled; writing is a creative process and your thoughts and words are going to change a bit as you go along. An outline is just a helpful way to get things started.
5. Avoid Distractions
This may be the most difficult one on the list. I know it’s easy to say and super hard to put into practice but trust me, you can do it! We live in a world of continuous distractions and as a writer you need to find what works best for you in avoiding them. It’s hard to ‘unplug,’ especially when you’re using a laptop to write. Opening a new browser can lead to a whole new world of interruptions and delay your writing even further. This may mean having to use the good ol’ fashioned technique of literally putting pen to paper. Famous romance novelist, Danielle Steel, has said in interviews that she writes all of her books on a 1946 Olympia manual typewriter. Talk about dedication! While technology can certainly be an aid in writing these days (hello spellcheck and noise-canceling headphones), it’s the true passion and work-ethic that matters most. If you’re determined and motivated, distractions will be but mere speed bumps in getting your thoughts on paper.
6. Write Rested
Sleep is such an important part of your health and wellbeing. Lack of the Zzzz’s leads to lack of focus, impatience and irritability — none of which are good if you’re trying to increase your word count! Sleep proves to help us in a myriad of ways from improving memory and learning, to reducing stress and boosting the immune system. Trust me, pulling an all-nighter to catch up on your writing isn’t going to help. If you’re super tired but find yourself saying, “but I only have xx amount left to write, I’d rather just get it done now,” please choose sleep! You’ll wake up refreshed and that last bit will be so much easier to write when you’re not worrying about all the sleep that you’re not getting.
7. Create a Routine
This tip goes along with scheduling time for writing. It’s going to be easier if you can create a routine where you write at the same time each day, no excuses. Choose the time of day where you are most productive (are you an early-bird? night owl?) and use that to your advantage when writing. Things will probably pop up, tempting (or forcing) you to break routine, and that’s OK… once in awhile. Don’t make a habit of breaking your routine though. For repeated events it’s easy and beneficial to have a consistent schedule and be able to plan your days around that. Note that creating a routine doesn’t have to be a daily thing. If you want to get into the habit of writing more, you can make a routine for every Tuesday or Thursday. Perhaps, make a specific routine every three or four days and then find ways to incorporate more writing time from there. American editor and novelist Peter De Vries said, “I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.” Make yourself a cup of tea, settle in at your desk (or comfy chair or neighborhood cafe) and get to writing!
8. Don’t worry about the first line
Ah, the dreaded first line. No matter what you’re working on, the first line seems to be the most difficult right? Don’t worry about it. Just do it. Write. Write with the freedom in knowing that everything can be changed and if you need to go back and move things around that’s totally OK.
9. Reward Yourself
Celebrate each and every accomplishment – you deserve it! Writing can take a lot out of a person, so take a break and treat yourself. Whether that means hopping on social media for a bit, treating yourself to a latte or even taking a short nap, it’s important to take in these moments of victory. Rewards should leave you feeling rejuvenated, awakened and happily ready to take on the next task.
10. Write Now, Edit Later
I’m currently using this advice as I write this list! If you edit yourself as you go with every little word and line you write, you’re never going to reach your goals. I tend to skip around as I write, knowing full well that I’m probably going to go back and change everything later. From the days of writing for school, if I was given an assignment to write a 5-7 page paper and felt overwhelmed by the idea of even getting to that seventh page, I would just take a breath and start typing. I would throw stuff down on paper until I reached that seventh page and then I would take a break, happily knowing that I met the mark. From there, I’d go back and end up editing a ton, but also I’d often realize with joy that a lot of the stuff I had written was totally usable. Just go along with that stream of consciousness and write, write, write. Trust yourself enough to go with the flow and the rest will fall into place.
11. Take Breaks
If you find yourself on a writing kick, don’t stop! But if you’re mind is wandering and you can’t seem to make sense of anything, take a break. Staring at your computer screen or paper is not going to help. Go for a walk, make yourself a snack or spend some quality time with a good friend. Make that phone call, send a postcard or tidy up a bit (when I’m stressed, I take breaks to clean – it helps to know some part of my life is organized, even if my writing seems a mess!). You may even want to use this break to read the words of another author. Reading is always helpful in writing and will ultimately inspire you. It may help to time your breaks to ensure you don’t end up completely distracted and unwilling to go back to your writing.
12. Take it ‘Bird by Bird’
Take the advice of author Anne Lamott’s father and just take it “bird by bird” as the title of her book suggests. The title stems from years ago when Lamott’s older brother had procrastinated writing a paper about birds. Overwhelmed by the prospect of having to research and write up everything in a day, her father put his arm around her brother’s shoulder and said, “’Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” A good reminder for those who write and a positive mantra for life in general, when the idea of your writing overwhelms you and the prospect of finishing seems as probable as you traveling to the moon next Wednesday, just stop and break the big things into smaller chunks. If you set a goal for yourself to write a chapter in a day but it’s stressing you out, calm down. Take one idea at a time and just go with it; don’t cloud your current vision with the design of the big picture.
13. Create a writing-friendly environment
This could truly mean anything as we all have our own preferences in how we work. Some may like an absolutely quiet environment, while others want to listen to music or white noise as they work. Do you work best in a comfy chair or a stiff one? Do you need to work at a desk? I prefer writing somewhere with a window nearby. I like being able to occasionally gaze off, but I know others who need to be completely shut off to the world in order to write. Know what motivates you and makes you comfortable enough to write, but not comfortable enough to become distracted or, you know, fall asleep.
14. Stop comparing yourself to others
Did Billy Bob write 5,000 words yesterday and you’re struggling just to write 500 today? That’s OK. While competition can be a healthy motivator, it’s important to remember that we all work at different paces. We all have other obligations and things that pop up in our lives, so don’t worry about what other writers are doing.
Seems obvious right? If you’re alive, you must be breathing. But it’s important to be self-aware in how you’re breathing (think: shallow breaths? deep breaths? hyperventilating?). Breathing can increase productivity in just about any aspect of your life, not just writing. Writers often procrastinate when anxiety or frustration in their work comes up, but being able to breathe through that sensation allowing it to pass will greatly increase your work efficiency. While I did suggest taking breaks earlier, that may not always be the best option. Sometimes rather than turning away from your work to play a quick game online or check your Instagram feed, you should just BREATHE. Focus on breathing for even just a minute or two and it’ll keep you from worrying about your current concerns, allowing you to get back to writing with confidence sooner.
Image credit: Pixabay