Constant creation involves more than just writing, and if your productivity sucks, you might need some help with the basics.
Guest blogger Ben Ellis has some interesting practical tips for writers today. Personally, sleep is my secret weapon and I am a chronic backer-upper with multiple external drives and cloud storage facilities. What about you?
Over the years, after writing two novels and a few short stories, I’ve garnered a few non-writing tips that may help fellow writers make their life that little bit easier.
What is a non-writing, or productivity tip? Anything not related to prose or style, usually organizational and technology based.
1. Ensure Laptop is Charged
It’s amazing the amount of times I’ve got a coffee, settled into a chair in a coffee shop, turned the laptop on only to be confronted with a solitary bar on the battery icon. Very annoying. If you’re going out, check the battery levels preferably a few hours ahead of time. A spare battery is a good back-up option to have.
2. Notepads Are More Mobile Than Laptops
One way to avoid a power shortage is to use a pen and paper. Another advantage is allowing you to write and make notes in far more places than a laptop does. There’s no need to worry about crumbs, sunlight, spilled coffee, over-heating, crashing, getting distracted by Twitter or Solitare, dropping it, getting a table in a coffee shop, waiting for it to boot-up, etc.
This mobility gives you the opportunity of going to different places which in turn should help keep your mind active and allow your ideas to flourish, unlike turning up to the same desktop computer day after day. I write my mobile number in my notepad in case I leave it behind anywhere.
3. Make Legible Notes
I start a novel off by making handwritten notes in a notepad, I find it easier to scribble my thoughts down willy-nilly on a pad than type them out in a structured way. The drawback is that some words can be indecipherable a few months later when you go to read your notes back. It isn’t easy to slow down when you’re in mid-flow so just ensure that when you’ve finished for the day, give your notes a quick read through and dot the ‘i’s’ and cross the ‘t’s’.
4. Back-up Your Work
This is an obvious tip that you do already, isn’t it? Of course it is! I’m extra careful and have made provisions for the apocalypse. I use Dropbox [www.dropbox.com] for ‘live’ documents, the webspace of a couple of personal websites for extra cover plus I use ‘My Original Works’ [myows.com] as extra online backup and for copyright protection. I also have an external hardrive and a couple of memory sticks, one of which I leave around my Mum’s house…but that makes me sound like a paranoid nutter, right?
5. Save All Versions
Keep every draft.
I started my second novel and it was dire. I abandoned it and started again. A year later, after I’d finished the second draft I was going through some notes and I discovered the ‘false start draft‘, as I’d named it. It still wasn’t great but it had a few bits I really liked, from that I wrote a novelette prequel. If I’d deleted that false start, it would’ve been forgotton about. The memory space used by a document is so small, you may as well keep everything rather than delete it, you never know what gems you may stumble across later on with the benefit of hindsight and a new perspective.
6. Record Submissions
I’ve got a simple spreadsheet detailing what story I’ve sent to whom, when, the person’s name (plus personal notes such as what genre’s they like, Twitter account, etc), website address and whether I’ve got a rejection…I mean, a reply! I also save every email I send and receive in a separate folder. This means you’re not unintentionally submitting to people twice and also you have an accurate record of when you could resubmit to someone. I rarely do this but some agents say resubmit if you’ve heard nothing after 3/6 months.
7. Submit After Every Rejection
Keep fighting the good fight! Keep those plates spinning! Save yourself from spiraling into rejection hell by sending out just one more. Keep on replacing rejection with hope, you never know, the next one could be ‘The One’!
8. Focus Your Thinking Time
I don’t write everyday and I don’t set word limits, I don’t need the extra pressure. If I sit at my laptop and grind out 100 words then I’m happy I got stuck in for that day. Sometimes there is a good reason NOT to be writing. For example, I’m just thinking about my third novel, I haven’t written anything down in weeks. I’ve made loads of notes and I’ve thought a lot about it but I’ve written nothing. I focus on what I’m thinking about so I can bite off small chunks and make the daunting prospect of a new novel, a more manageable task. So I don’t think, ‘New novel, go!‘. I think, ‘This main guy, he has a particular dilemma, what job would he have which would enable him to have or solve this dilemma?‘. Now I’m just thinking what job he might have, that’s all. Once I’ve got that, I may start thinking of a relationship for him or an antogonist to go against him. Adding layers piece by piece. Once I’ve finished writing down some notes in my notepad, I set myself one problem to think about once I’ve walked away, something I can chew on for the next day or two.
9. Sleep On It
It’s amazing how many problems solve themselves in the morning. I started running a few years ago and that’s another good way to get your mind off the job which, conversely, helps it do the job. I’m sure there’s loads of things you can do; swim, cycle, iron, paint, knit, all helping to relax your mind. I think the main problem here is flogging a dead horse, trying to force a solution instead of taking a step back or even stepping away from it completely. This goes for good writing too! You may have written something you think is brilliant but a month or two later it’s lost it’s shine. Whether it’s a sentence or a whole novel, spending time apart from it to gain a fresh perspective is always a good idea.
10. Disable The Internet
The internet is an obvious distraction whilst writing so disabling it can be a good idea. You can either do this directly on your computer by going into the settings and turning off Internet/Wifi or you could install some software such as www.macfreedom.com or www.getcoldturkey.com which will block all or just some of the internet for you. These programs might be better because sometimes you want to quickly jump onto Wikipedia or somewhere else to find an answer allowing you to continue with minimal headache. Also, if you completely block the internet then automated online backup programs such as Dropbox won’t work.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you and your productivity. Do you have any favorite tips to share? Please do leave a comment below.
About the Author
Ben Ellis has completed his second novel, ‘Broken Branches’ a dystopian tale of controlled procreation, and is currently looking for an agent or publisher. You can find him online at www.b3n3llis.com and on Twitter at twitter.com/#!/b3n3llis
Image: Flickr CC / Auntie P