I am not, I admit, the most productive of writers.
If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I’d be up there on the rostrum and I can only shake my head in wonder at other writers who seem to be ‘super productive’ (you know the types: they tweet things like ‘another chapter written!’ or ‘got an idea for my next novel!’).
How do they do it?
Well, they probably do some, or all, of the following:
1. Consider The ‘Pareto Effect’
You may know it as the ’80-20 Rule’. The ‘Pareto Effect’ states that, for many phenomena, 20% of input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. For example, in business, 80% of sales usually come from 20% of clients, the richest 20% of the world’s population control 80% of the world’s income and so on.
Have a look at the time you spend writing and the success you have in each area (your idea of success might be monetary reward, another writer’s could be the number of words he’s clocking up). You may well find that 80% of your success comes from 20% of your input and with that knowledge, you can decide how best to allocate your time.
The ‘Pareto Effect’ certainly applied to me until recently. Running a writing class and tutoring for the Writers Bureau ate into the time I had free for ‘writing’ but my short stories – on which I was only spending 20% of my writing time – were bringing in 80% of my writing income (income = success for me!). So that’s the area I want to concentrate on – and I’ve phased out the others (at least for the time being!).
2. Find A Good Way to Say ‘No’
Most of us say ‘yes’ to things we don’t really want to do out of politeness or a sense of obligation. I’m not saying ditch all your friends (or become a hermit) but it’s worth practising how to say ‘no’ to invitations or you could really do without – thus freeing your time up for something you do want to do: write!
It might be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry but I just don’t have the time.”
3. Make An Appointment With Yourself To Write
Someone told me once about a creative writing class they attended, run by a very scary lady who, at the end of each session, made everyone say when – exactly – they were going to write during the coming week. She wouldn’t accept a vague, “A couple of evenings, after work”, you had to be precise. eg: “I’m going to write on Monday from 6pm to 8pm in Starbucks and on Saturday afternoon, in my study from 3pm – 5pm.”
She made them write those ‘appointments’ in their diaries and the following week, they had to report back. Sounds a bit extreme? Well, the person who told me that story – Martin Davies – has subsequently written 6 novels, one of which was a Richard & Judy Book Club Read in 2006. Go figure, as they say across the pond!
4. Get Up Early
Now, if you’re absolutely NOT a morning person, this might not work for you (not even by going to bed earlier and starting the day with a jug of coffee?) but there are several advantages to getting up early to write, not least the fact that you’re supposedly more in touch with your subconscious when you’ve just woken up! But also it’s quieter, the world hasn’t ‘got going’ so there are less interruptions or temptations to check emails or social media.
If you manage to write before you start your ‘day job’ – whatever that may be – you’ll feel rather smug: if you do no other writing for the rest of the day, you’ve managed some, first thing. You’ve done the most important thing: you’ve written.
5. Don’t Multi-Task
I am guilty of this, I’ll admit it. But research has shown that you don’t actually achieve more by multi-tasking, it just feels like you are! (Remember that expression ‘a busy fool’?)
Received wisdom is: do one thing at a time and finish it before you move on to the next. Don’t start a new project until you’ve finished the one you’re working on. Starting is easy: finishing is trickier. Don’t be one of those people that never finishes anything.
6. Reward Yourself
Make yourself a lovely cocoa to drink when you start, or bribe yourself with a bar of Galaxy once you’ve written 1000 words. Whatever floats your boat (10 mins on Facebook, perhaps) – whatever’s going to give you that gentle kick up the backside that we all need from time to time.
If you like cats – and I’m not a great fan but this is fun – try typing directly into the Written Kitten website. For every 100 words you type in, a new picture of a cat pops up! Cute!
7. Set Goals & Targets
Groan. I know, this sounds serious and a bit too much like WORK but remember Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
The theory is, if you don’t set yourself a time limit, you can take forever to complete what you’re doing. Deadlines, targets, mini goals and bigger goals all help you control and monitor your progress and should help you to write more.
See Simon Whaley’s excellent book The Positively Productive Writer if you want to know more about setting goals.
Another tip is to break down your task into smaller components (so if you’re writing a novel of 100,000 words and you want to finish the first draft in a year, you’ll need to write 8333 words a month, which is 1923 a week, which is 274 a day (approximately!) Doesn’t sound too bad if you break it down like that, does it?
8. Report In
It’s all very well setting goals and targets but you’re more likely to stick to them if you’re accountable for them in some way. So try to ‘report in’ to someone – whether that’s swapping your totals (or your work) with a writing buddy or setting out your goals in a blog post and then keeping readers updated on your progress.
9. Watch How Much You Watch
The average Briton now spends 24 hours a week in front of the TV. Aagh! That’s a whole DAY! Now, dear reader, I’m not suggesting that you are one of these couch potatoes but it’s worth totting up how much you do spend – and whether you could be doing something else a little more constructive (eg: writing!) instead.
James Herriott, who wrote those lovely vet books back in the ’70s, apparently used to write sitting in front of the TV, with his family around him. Great if you can do that – he had the best of both worlds – but I suspect most of us would find that too distracting! (but might be worth a try…?!)
I am not too much of a gogglebox but I must admit to watching the current Great British Bake Off, which inspired this rather tasty banana cake the other day…
10. Don’t Strive for Perfection.
Don’t write what you think you ‘should’ be writing, write what you enjoy and what excites you. Don’t worry about the first draft – it’s supposed to be rubbish. In fact, give yourself permission to write rubbish. You can always improve it by editing and redrafting. Many of us procrastinate because we’re frightened of being disappointed by what we write but if you lose that fear – and worry about improving it later – you can and will, write more.
And on that note, I’m going to reward myself for this blog post with a cup of tea and a piece of that cake. Do write and tell me your tips for Writing More!
Great list, I have a few practical tips that might help you carve out more time.
Start using a slow cooker, throw everything in first thing in the morning, and it’ll be ready by teatime. Therefore freeing up more time to write. Be that the time you would take to make the evening meal, or later. Also, if you don’t already, start ordering your grocery shop online, this will definitely free up more time, and you don’t have to carry heavy bags home.
One last tip, which can be beneficial, if the car needs cleaning, take it to one of the many ‘side of the road’ places, they’ll do a much better job, much quicker than you ever could. Also, whilst their making it all shiny, start scribbling! Amazing what you can write in fifteen focused minutes.
Thanks for your tips, Maria – great list. I like the idea of sitting in the car while it’s being washed! The place I go to makes you move the car from ‘station to station’ though, so you have to stay ‘alert’!
Hi Helen – good tips there! I’m fortunate I don’t have a ‘9 to 5’ job and can ‘make my own time’.
What works for me is that I set aside a whole morning, say two days hence and book my time for writing within that. No interruptions, no nipping to the kettle for coffee, no answering the phone…..
at 9am, just start writing. I’m amazed at what I can achieve!
I know this might not be possible for a lot of folk but the discipline works for me…………….
Good for you, Bill. Even though you don’t have a ‘9 to 5’ job (neither do I!) I know how important it is to still ‘carve out’ the time you need for writing – otherwise life just gets in the way, doesn’t it? And having a big chunk of writing time clearly works for you. Others may find grabbing half an hour (or even less), here and there, can still be productive.
Great tips. I’ve finally managed to stop myself having the Face Book tab open when I’m working, which has helped. Also, I take a pen and paper everywhere, because you never know when inspiration will strike or you’re going to have five minutes to fill. My next challenge is to watch less TV. Curse you, Netflix!
Julia, I am guilty of leaving my email inbox open sometimes – and the temptation to flick over when you’re supposed to be writing is just too great, isn’t it? Good idea about the pen and paper though, I agree, you never know a) when you’ll have five mins just to jot a few ideas down and b) when those ideas will appear!
This looks great – going to have to bookmark and read again later!
Helen, I’m currently giving number 4 a try. The lovely Katie Fforde once told me that she gets up with the birds and finds the tranquility the best time for her to write. Well, I am not and have never been a morning person but I am trying to roll out of my bliss earlier than normal – which is not early for some people (06:30). I walk around like a zombie for at least 2 hours, make coffee and have even done a packed lunch for hubby. I grunt a few words at my hubby when he leaves the house (around 07:10) and then sit at the computer and start. After about 20 minutes of writing, I actually come to life. So, it has worked so far but I must admit that first jaunt is not pleasant 🙂 Wishing you a lovely weekend.
Nicola, well done. I’m not a morning person either (eek, I’ve got to get up at 3.45am tomorrow but that is because I’m going on holiday..!) ANYWAY, good for you, for giving it a try. I’m sure you get more done in the morning than at any other time of the day but of course, everyone has to find the time/place that suits them! Good luck with your early mornings and let me know how it goes!
What excellent advice this all is. I actually said ‘no’ to a writing related request today (very unlike me) and felt very proud of myself.
Ooh, I’m wondering what that was now.. but of course, not expecting you to spill the beans! I’ve just said a polite ‘no’ to former members of my writing class who are setting up a writers group and have invited me to join. I’m sure I’d enjoy it – they’re all very nice people and talking about writing is possibly my favourite activity in the world … BUT it would just be another excuse not to write!
I like these a lot, although I’ve read a lot of them before. In my teaching days, we used to teach that, if you read the same point repeatedly, it was ‘valid’.
Lots of good advice, and I agree with all of it. I found out about the ‘perfection’ one the hard way. I’m a compulsive editor and used to spend (waste?) so much time checking, rewriting, checking again … My ‘perfect’ stories were all rejected. I got so frustrated that I submitted one that was just a hastily spellchecked first draft – that’s right, it was accepted. ‘Good enough’ is very often good enough. And if it isn’t, you can always edit it when it comes back!
Yes, Linda, I’m a bit like that too – a bit of a ‘perfectionist’ (but not in a good way!). Sometimes you just have to let things go, don’t you! And mostly, they’re fine!