Are You Meeting Your Writing Goals? Try These Productivity Tips For Writers

Time seems to fly by and our writing goals can sometimes fall behind in the craziness of the day to day.

manage day to dayBalancing writing with ‘real life’ and business tasks as well as family and other commitments can become a strain.

But we need to step back now and then, assess the situation and reset our behaviors in order to achieve our goals.

I’m not a productivity geek, but I do have processes and systems and I love to learn about new ways to optimize my workflow. I recently read ‘Manage Your Day To Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind‘ from 99U, one of my favorite blogs.

It gave me plenty of pages of notes, but the significant changes for me are:

Do not check email or social before I have done my first creation block of the day

e.g. 1500 words on latest WIP. In order to achieve this, I have removed my email app from my mobile phone and am using Antisocial software to block access to those while still allowing me on the internet for research (which I often need as I write). I started doing this at the beginning of the year, but I fell off the wagon. Not firmly back on it.

Look strategically at personal and business goals and decide what I can get rid of and what I can streamline.

I’m still looking at this but I will be restructuring this site somehow, and making the process flow easier so I have more creation time. But don’t worry, it won’t be going anywhere!

have you made artI asked my email list about their tips for productivity

Here are some of the responses I received back (some paraphrasing). Perhaps they will help you, or you can add yours in the comment section below.

[By the way, you can join the email list by signing up and ownloading the Author 2.0 Blueprint here]

Benjamin Tiller: I get my writing done first thing in the morning before work – with no TV, no phone, no wifi on the laptop. Word count goals have been great. I utilize the full screen feature in Scrivener to limit other distractions.

Annemarie Slee: Try Easy for list making, but also very useful for outlining your ToC. You can set times and dates easily too.

Attention management, not time management

Grace Marshall: It might help to think of it as attention management rather than time management – gets you noticing and tracking the thing that you can actually manage – your attention, rather than time itself. And here’s how to beat writer’s procrastination.
Jon Jefferson: I use three things as a crutch to help me stay focused: The times I write, doing pre-writing to get all the extraneous out of my mind, and timed writing for set blocks of time to focus in.
Word count chart

My daily word count chart

Jean Reinhardt: I found that when I was stuck on my YA book, I could write if I switched genres (to a short story, now a novella). This means I am writing two books at the same time, but switching genres works for me and keeps things flowing.

Find what works for you – even if it is in the bathroom!

Stacie Whitney: I’m a mother of a young child who gets up and wants attention as soon as she hears me come out of the bathroom in the morning.  So on that first morning to get my book written, I went into the bathroom with my computer, locked the door, and got to work.  I wrote the entire outline and two chapters before breakfast!
After a week of early morning bathroom writing sessions, I was somehow able to sneak into the living room, and the rest of the book was written (mainly) in early morning hours before the rest of my family was awake. Basically, my tip is to find whatever space and rhythm work best for you and DO that! And be willing to alter it if circumstances change.

Jason Lewis: the only way that I can write effectively is to completely lock myself away (metaphorically) from social media. The best way I’ve found so far is to take a long train journey; get the netbook out and just write like there’s no tomorrow. Racked up six thousand words the other day (my single most productive day by a long distance) on a five hour journey. The reason being I cannot get a signal on my phone and I refuse to pay to access the internet on the train.

Karlene Cameron: When I write, I keep the computer turned off. That does it for me.

Lyle Nicholson: Set a block of time, and then use it.  If it’s one hour or three hours, close your door, or your external senses and write.  Even if you don’t write, and you just doodle on a pad, or write silly things for the hour or three hours, use that as your creative process time. The mind is an amazing instrument, if you give it space and time, it will take you in marvelous directions.

Write by hand – away from the computer

writing coffeeCarlie Van Amerongan: I’ve just started doing my writing by hand. I used to do everything on the computer, and I would easily get distracted, by all the other things I could do on the computer… and no amount of willpower would help! Since I’ve started doing it this way, I’m much more productive, even if the rate of words to page is a little slower. I’m enjoying the process more, and I think in the end I get more words out. Far from a productivity tip, this is a brand new practice for me… but so far it seems to be working.

Kathleen Heady: I carry an old-fashioned legal pad with me, or a notebook would do, and when I have time throughout the day, I work on whatever my current writing project is — longhand. I substitute teach so I often have downtime to do this, but sometimes it is easier to pick up a pad of paper than go on the computer with all the distractions it offers. Then later I can type up my work when I am in a less creative mood.

Sally Chippendale: 1000 words per day and don’t start later than 10am. If you are blocked move straight on to the next scene. If you have children put their favorite tv show on and neglect them for an hour and a half. I make one decent coffee beforehand; that is my only set up requirement/custom that I allow myself. I printed out and pinned above my desk one long excel spreadsheet detailing each scene in one sentence, headings included  day, characters, action, reason. Then highlight each line when complete, for satisfaction value.

Tom Evans:
1. Breathe in through alternate nostrils five times (use a finger to close each nostril off in turn)
2. Doodle or mind map what you are about to write about
3. Then meditate or go for a walk before you start writing
4. Resist the temptation to edit while writing
5. Have a treat lined up for when you finish each session (e.g. a cup of tea and digestive biscuit)
Tom is an author, bookwright and creative catalyst. His latest book is called The Zone and is an exploration of how to get in and stay in it. More details here …

Find a few good writing website/blogs and stick to them.

Don’t be distracted by a hundred updates inboxing you each day. This happened to me, for a few days I spent more time reading than writing.

Betty Halsey: disable the internet on my computer and leave my phone in a different room.

Francis Wade, author of Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure: In our age, improving your time management skills continually is a must, and it’s best done by slowly adapting new habits, practices and rituals, rather than chasing down the latest gadget, shortcut or trick. Deliberate practice anyone?
There are clearly a lot of similarities, and yes, I know the irony of blogging about this topic and distracting you from writing at the same time!

Do you have any specific productivity tips for writing or marketing?

Please do leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. says

    A fun and helpful look at productivity! It’s what we all struggle with. I find getting my bum in the seat is the first and foremost important task. I look forward to more interesting blogs. Many thanks Jax

    • says

      Bum in seat is still the most difficult thing, that’s for sure :) It’s a bit like running – getting yourself out of the door and into those first few steps is the hardest bit.

  2. says

    Joanna – thanks for the mention and the link. Truth is, I struggled to carve out the time each day to write my book, until I re-discovered a tactic I had used before. I simply grabbed 2 hours each night and put them in the morning, waking up at 3:30 after going to bed at 9:00. It’s not a new tactic by any means to most, and it works because I found it easier to get into the Flow state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. For all writers, careful and mindful management of this state is absolutely essential.

  3. says

    The only thing I can see in improving my writing more daily is to buy a TABLET PC. I bring up P.C. because I had been told by sales clerks that the Apple Ipad and Androids, one cannot really write a novel. It was not designed for it. Then lately the notion of downloading an app that will allow you to write a novel was suggested. The new SONY tablet supposedly one can write all the documents they want. I am guessing; I have not looked into it. But any Windows 8 tablet should have Microsoft Office, which should have Microsoft Word. I use MS Word and the last time I tried something off the internet it ruined many of my files thinking that on a USB Flash drive it was interchangeable or compatible with I had already written during copy and paste. When I really need to write, I do not read E-mails or read anything on the Internet.

    • says

      Hi Daniel. I used an iPad for ages – you can use Pages app or the scrivener app. It doesn’t matter what tablet or computer or pack of paper you use, it’s about the writing. Don’t let any salesperson tell you any differently. The technology doesn’t matter – the words do.

      • says

        I agree. The tablet PC would give me more mobility. It is why I want one, even a less expensive Wifi cell phone to write on an E-mail account and send to myself where my desktop can retrieve it for copy and paste on to my file. I am stuck in front of this desktop. I have bouts with childhood allergic asthma so I cannot really work for more than a couple of hours and I need to walk around or get fresh air. With a WiFi, I can move about in the house or even outside and even at restaurants. Commercial passenger buses have WiFi available for our students that go to school at Metro Manila (12-hour drive one way) and the students visiting during school breaks.

  4. says

    Love all the tips and I’m going to try the before 10am trick and the making a list and crossing it off for satisfaction tip, too.

    I think it’s great that writers are sharing their tips for productivity and I’m reading that book right now. I love the quotes in the beginning of each part. 😉

    Thanks Joanna.

  5. Brenda Frost says

    Joanna, thanks for the post and useful tips. Finding any time to write during my hectic day is the challenge. So, I free write in a college ruled notebook with a gel pen while my morning coffee brews. This seems to help get the creative juices flowing and I find I can average 1500 words in about 10 minutes. I start by writing whatever flows from brain to paper through the pen for about 3 minutes, then, a couple quick yoga stretches and deep breathing to focus on the current scene or writing task. I’ll longhand rough draft thoughts that come to me during my focus time, then have my coffee and get ready for work. Computer time isn’t until late in the evening, but with my morning notes and scribbles to jump start my writing time I can just type without thinking and let the scene emerge.

    • says

      I love gel pens :) I have ones with sparkly bits in the ink! Creatives need pens and paper … I am using Lechthurm notebooks right now as well, the paper is thick enough for purple ink in my ruby red Montegrappa pen

  6. Dee says

    What is it with busyness? It seems these days that there’s something wrong with you if you’re not busy. It’s like you’re not normal, or alive, or whole unless you’re able to declare there’s too much to do. Is busyness a virtue or something? Surely, for most people, busyness is an option. Well, I’m not that busy. There I’ve said it. I have time. Now to my writing desk I go.

    • says

      Awesome Dee. I have shifted my mentality in the last 6 months too. Now I crave an empty diary as that means I have more writing time. I used to be proud of all the appointments, now I say no a lot more. I think we only learn this over time, and also, we have to be present enough and honest enough with ourselves around what we use the empty time for.

  7. says

    I like how you polled your e-mail list for feedback (I hope that you did this after getting your writing done for the day). I particularly liked what Francis Wade said. Thanks for sharing.

  8. says

    Great post, Joanna, thank you. How NOT to deal with these issues is to do what I do and sacrifice sleep at either end of the day, staying up way too late and then getting up before the rest of the household to spend an hour at my computer. Tiredness is the arch enemy of creativity. I love the concept of “attention management” rather than time management, thank you for that, Grace Marshall!

  9. says

    At my work, I deal with a constant state of emergency. The culture there is to wait until the last minute and then declare an emergency — and usually it’s never necessary. This is THE most destructive thing to bring to writing. Last year, I waited until almost the deadline to write some short stories, which meant novel writing got shoved out of the way while I raced through the story — and often produced a poorer story for it. I’m in a group where everyone is complaining about how blogging is cutting into their writing time. They drop the novel while they write the blog, so the novel gets dropped a lot.

    I’ve started to use a planner, just to make sure I know what was coming up so it didn’t turn into an emergency. It’s nothing special — I’m not filling in appointments to myself (which would drive me crazy) — rather, I have dates of upcoming events and Post-Its with potential magazine theme deadlines. It makes it a lot easier to figure out what’s going to work within the schedule, and puts the fun into writing instead of taking it away.

  10. says

    Great tips, Joanna, and it just goes to show that we writers are a weird bunch! I have to say that my best ideas and most inspired writing always occurs around 4 am and with my Internet connection shut down. The world is asleep, the night is quiet, that’s when the muse calls! Which is why hand writing is often the best way to go about it: indeed, using a computer is risky, you have to stay away from your browser. Don’t click it open,!

    The Internet is our single most dangerous temptation, at least it is for me because I happen to enjoy blogging in addition to my fiction writing.

    I used to write a lot more before the Internet became ubiquitous…

  11. says

    Joanna, you are one of my favs. In fact, I’m sharing your site with my FB Fan page followers and more. I’ve finished my book and it’s at the publishers (self-publish). While they take the time needed to design and prepare to print, I’m doing all I can to pre-launch my book. I’d love to hear more from you about that. I have your Author Bluepring and am going through it now too.
    Thanks again for a great site. Hope you’ll visit my FB and better yet, my main web site and blog.

  12. Dan says

    I would recommend checking out Gtdagenda for an online productivity tool.

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  13. says

    I write first thing in the morning while I eat my bagel (no cream cheese on the keyboard though). It’s when I’m the most productive. If I am blocked I switch to a different WIP (I have four going right now) or I edit an already completed one. I sometimes write after dinner but usually I’m too tired from my day job. On the weekends I try and write more. This week I am editing a SF, continuing a YA contemporary, doing research for a YA historical and trying to get the voice right for a MG. I tried to write it in 3rd person POV and have switched to first person and it’s much better. Trying to infuse humor into it which is not an easy thing to do at seven in the morning!

  14. says

    For me what it is working, I have travel time each days for work. It’s the train, since I don’t have the WIFI so no distraction and with my music in my ears. One morning, I was able to do 1k of word in 30 minutes… I travel with my laptop each work day and with this I able to write a lot.


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