OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Some of the most common emails I receive every day include: How do I find the time to write? And how do you get everything done?
While I don't write a book a month (at the moment!), I do get quite a lot done!
I published 4 new books in 2014 in ebook and print, plus I had another one completed and on pre-order, so technically 5 books in total. Plus, I published books in German, Spanish and Italian, as well as several in audio format, resulting in a total of 19 new products for sale in 2014.
Plus, a lot of blog posts and podcasts which I hope you found useful 🙂 So today, here are some of my tips on productivity for writers and a resource I think at least some of you will find useful.
(1) Schedule your time
We all have 24 hours in the day, and we all have to balance the real life stuff with the writing. Before I was a full-time author-entrepreneur, I would get up at 5am and write, then go to work. After the day job, I would come home and get on with building my online business. We got rid of the TV so I would have more time to create, and I spent every weekend working. I was so focused on leaving my job that I cut out everything that got in the way. I was driven to schedule my time incredibly well in order to fit everything in.
Now, as a full-time author-entrepreneur, I still have to schedule everything. You might have noticed that I blog, podcast and speak professionally, as well as writing books. It's just as hard to get everything done, let me assure you!
So I'll admit to being a chronic scheduler! But seriously, it is the only way I get anything done.
I use a Filofax – yes, a physical diary that I use to schedule my time. I write down blocks of time for writing, speaking prep and delivery, for podcasts, recording audio and other phone meetings. (I never answer the phone unless a meeting is scheduled!)
Of course, I have slots for personal time with my husband or family trips, medical stuff, friends and ‘real life,' and of course, sometimes I get things wrong 🙂 But overall, I rely on this kind of scheduling to get everything done.
(2) Reward yourself
Those of you with children may have used behavior charts, where they get a star or a sticker every time something good is achieved. Rewards for good behavior can actually work really well!
I have a wall calendar (see left) on which I write my word count or pages edited every day and I get a sticker if I go over 2000 words.
It's just a paper calendar – nothing fancy – but seriously, it works!
My creative muse is a child – she wants to play.
She loves to color stuff in and also likes stickers, the shinier and more colorful the better. When I realized this, I bought myself a coloring book (Johanna Basford's Secret Garden) and pens, as well as a massive pack of stickers 🙂 If I'm finding the writing difficult, I give myself 5 minutes of coloring, which is fun and relaxes me enough to continue.
(Sharing this makes me sound like a nutcase – but hey, whatever works, right!)
(3) Become accountable
This blog has kept me accountable since I started writing it in Dec 2008. Every year, I have posted my goals and what I've achieved. I also post my annual income reports on the anniversary of leaving my job, plus I share what I learn along the way, so you know I am working my butt off!
So you guys are partially my accountability. But I also have several accountability partners.
These are people who I skype or meet with every month and we hold each other accountable for our progress. We go through the list of what we said we would do that month, and we kick each others' butts if we haven't done it.
One of these is also a thriller writer, so our goals are thriller specific and related to income from fiction. Another is more like a creative mentor, and she asks me questions that relate more to staying true to my Muse.
Then I have an accountability partner who has a completely separate kind of business, and we challenge each other on content like the podcast and blog, as well as overall financial goals. We even have a competition now, where the loser has to pay for a spa day – now that's motivating!
I also have a coach who I have calls with several times a year, when I want to take things to another level.
Time goes by so fast that if you don't schedule these kind of check-points into your life, you won't achieve anything.
In my day job, a year would go by and I would wonder what the hell I had achieved except for 12 pay checks.
Now I measure my life by what I create, and I can only do that by being accountable.
(4) Set deadlines
If you sign a traditional publishing deal, you will have a timeline for your drafts, revisions and then for publication. You know what you have to do by when.
If you are going the indie route, you need to set these for yourself.
When I wrote my first novel, I set a deadline for my birthday. I wanted to hold my book in my hand on a specific date. I made it by a month later, but having that date in mind helped a LOT for getting things done.
Since then, I have speeded up the process somewhat, but I still set rough deadlines. On my wall I have one page A4 that has the priorities for each month roughly planned out.
For example, January has:
- Publish Gates of Hell in ebook and print (DONE – launched Jan 5)
- Finish first draft and edit novella, One Day in New York. Send to editor by end Jan (DONE)
- Record audiobook of Business for Authors. (Time is scheduled with the studio so I will have all the raw files done.)
- Start pre-production on Deviance, London Psychic Book 3. (Research trip done, but lots still to do)
If I haven't done all these by the end of the month, then I am behind on my deadlines for each book.
I also split the tasks into product per book, so you see here that I have print, ebook and audiobooks underway on various products.
I also love the pre-order function that we have available to us now on Amazon, iBooks and Kobo, as well as NOOK if you use Draft2Digital. Once the book has been edited, I put it on pre-order while I do the final proof-read, which helps me with a hard deadline for completion.
(5) Spend more hours in the chair
We all know what we have to do.
More hours in the chair actually spent WRITING will produce more words on the page.
Dean Wesley Smith is one of the most prolific writers out there, but he points out that he doesn't do anything spectacular in terms of word count per hour. What he does is spend more hours in the chair, and he does it every day.
This relates to point 1 – you need to schedule the time, and then you actually need to get it done.
Get black on white.
BONUS (6) Decide what you really want.
Perhaps this is the most important thing.
At the end of the day, we all have 24 hours in the day. We all have people we love, that we want to spend time with. We all need to pay the bills. We all need to eat and exercise, and clean and do chores and see friends … and … and …
But you get what you focus on in life.
If you really want to write that book, you will make the time.
If you want to prove that you can finish a manuscript, you will make the time.
If you want to be a full-time author and make a living with your writing, you will have to make the time.
What are your productivity challenges when it comes to writing? You can share your difficulties or tips in the comments below.