Writing is a funny old game. Some days the gods of writing smile on you and you write effortless reams of beautiful prose, compelling dialogue and tense action. You cannot wait to write, your every thought focussing on when you can get back to your novel/blog/poem/script. Those are the easy days, the summer’s days you look back on from your childhood. This post isn’t talking about those sun-kissed moments. This is about the other days, where things aren’t so easy; normal writing days as I like to call them.
Here are my top ten tips on how to be a more productive writer.
1 Complete any outstanding chores before you start
You have never known how attractive cleaning a toilet can seem until you’ve sat in front of a computer hoping to write. Or the washing. Or the vacuuming. Chores that can be done at any time of the day take on a sense of urgency only previously known by bomb disposal experts. If your partner has a list of jobs that have been outstanding for the last six months, persuade them to start writing. The list will be cleared within days. In order to write you need to be fully focussed on your task, so finish your chores before you start.
2 Recognise when you are procrastinating
Doing the washing is a necessary chore. Sorting your bookshelf in to alphabetical and chronological order at the time you specifically set aside to write is not. Neither is rearranging your computer files into a more logical structure. Or – as in my case – is tracing your family history history back to 1640. You are procrastinating. Stop it. Go write.
3 Never wait for inspiration
I find that writing is like parties; some of the best are the ones you didn’t want to attend. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in front of my computer without any idea of how to continue, only to find one of my characters does something unexpected that leads to a whole new creative spurt. Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for a warm British summer; yes, you may have sun three weeks in a row but you could wait another five years before it happens again. Just write.
4 Make sure your family know not to interrupt – including the children
Unless there is a fire, you need to make sure your family know that your writing time is precious. It is not a time to ask you questions, say hello, tell you about their favourite toy or to discuss items on a credit card bill. If they have trouble doing this, just chat to them, loudly, during their favourite TV program or film. They’ll soon get the message.
5 Set yourself a goal each time you write and don’t stop until you’ve finished
Just sitting down to write isn’t enough. To be really productive you need to have a goal. Some people set themselves a word count they want to achieve, others target finishing an article or a post (as I’m doing now). I write to an outline, so I set myself the target of finishing a scene or scenes, depending how large Ive planned them to be. If it helps, give yourself a treat whenever you complete your task. If it’s good enough for dogs…
6 Tell people what you are doing
Another method is to go public with what you do. Tell your partner or a friend your goal and keep them updated with your progress. There is nothing more motivating than the sense of guilt when a friend asks you how you’re getting on and you know all you’ve done is sat in front of the TV in your underwear eating nachos.
7 Write every day
After “start with one word, add another, repeat”, this is the best writing advice you will ever receive. Writing every day keeps the brain’s writing and creative centres lubricated. If you are writing a novel, it’s much easier to slip into a character’s skin if you had only been there the day before. If possible, try to write at regular slot each day, but if that’s not possible, find a time in the day when you can write, even if it’s a half hour here, another half hour there. Anyone who has taken on evening classes knows you have much more free time than you think.
8 Destroy the internet
Just while you are writing. This means your computer, your phone, your datalenses. Like chores, internet distractions have an increased sense of immediacy if you are struggling to write – “what, I can get pharmaceuticals for only a few dollars – I must find out more.”
9 Learn to write tired – at least until you are successful enough to write for a living
Most writers have to find other ways to make a living, meaning that your writing time gets squeezed to the peripheries of the day. Forcing yourself to summon enough enthusiasm to write is difficult enough at the best of times, but being tired makes it so much tougher. Yet, while you may not feel like writing, sometimes a tired brain can spring ideas on you that you would never have thought of otherwise. Remember daydreaming in class, well writing while tired is virtually the same thing, and you know how wild some of those daydreams used to be (or maybe that was just me).
There are lots of distractions looking to take up some of your free time. Blogs/Facebook/Twitter/Goodreads/TV/Movies/Music/Games all vie for our attention. We can often manage these very well but if you are committed to writing, something has to give. The irish comedian Dara O’Briain once said that the first casualty of becoming a parent is you knowledge of the music charts. The same could be said about writing. Did you notice the one thing I didn’t say? Books. Reading lots helps you to become a better writer so never give up on your reading. Just don’t use it as an excuse not to write.