Be More Productive with Your Writing

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/

One of the bigger challenges for writers is how to stay productive or be more productive with their writing. All writers face similar hurdles when it comes to staying productive. Friends and family expect you to spend time with them and, sometimes, fail to appreciate that writing is actually work. In the latter case, friends and family may treat your writing time, read work time, as open season for doing other things. Writers get tired, have off days, and sometimes just don’t feel the muse. This last, though not necessarily the most aggravating, tends to be the most terrifying prospect for writers. The absence of some kind of inspiration can quickly turn into writer’s block. Fortunately, most of the hurdles faced by writers can be met and overcome with simple strategies.

Set Boundaries

Much as work expands to fill the time, family and friend demands will expand to fill whatever time they think you have free. It’s not necessarily malicious on their part, but it is destructive for you productivity. If you write for a living, it’s up to you to make it absolutely clear to the people in your life that what you do is work, that it takes real concentration, and interruptions make it a hell of a lot harder. If you treat it like a job or a career, others will follow suit.

While I also understand inspiration can strike at any time, you’ll do yourself a big favor by blocking out some part of the day that is your “official” working hours. Stick with this as a policy. If people interrupted with non-emergency calls or texts during this time, tell them that you’re working and to call back at whatever time you’re done working. This, of course, does not apply to editors or clients. Those are people who should be calling during your work hours.

The flip side of this is that you actually need to work during those hours in order to be fair to the people in your life. Once your official work time is over, you need to be available to your family and friends. You must take the calls and the answer the texts. Once you establish the boundaries, people will respect them…after the griping that will accompany the first few weeks. The lack of non-relevant interruptions will go a long way to improving your productivity.

Check Your Fantasy at the Door

Writers, even experienced writers, sometimes fall into the trap of thinking they need to create ART every time they sit down to work. First of all, only about 1% of people in any field operate at that brilliant, genius level. Maybe you’re one of them, but probably not. The more likely scenario is that on any given day you produce good work and, unless you’re on a strict deadline, you can edit the bejeezus out of your writing before submitting it.

Andrea Phillips notes in her book, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, that when looking back on her writing work a year or so after the fact, she couldn’t tell when she was having good days or bad days. Your perception of the quality of your work hinges a lot on the frame of mind you’re in on any given day. The objective quality of your writing, on other hand, hinges almost entirely on the skill set you bring to the table. Even if you feel like you’ve written nothing but drivel, there is a good chance it’s close to or even at your usual level of quality. Don’t fall into the “it-must-be-and-feel-like-ART” trap.

Freeing yourself from the shackles of the hitting the impossibly high standard all the time can help you avoid the writer’s block trap and will probably help to improve the pace of your writing as well.

Check Your Personal To-Do List at the Door

Many writers work from home and this is both a pleasure and its own kind of trap. There will always be dishes than need to be done, groceries that need to be bought, and a thousand other tasks that do not get words down on the page. When you go into your office or the space you normally do work in, leave your family life to-do list at the door. Work time is writing time and you need to create a psychological wall between your writing time/space and your personal life.

If you need to, build two separate to-do lists. One stays in your work space and you only put work related tasks on it and the other is for your personal life. Don’t store them together. Keep the personal list in the kitchen or the living room or anywhere but where you write. Keep your writer’s to-do list in the work space or your laptop case or somewhere you aren’t going to interact with it the rest of the time.

Separating your to-do lists will go a long way to keeping you focused on the work because you know you have a list for personal life. It will be there, ready to remind you of all the things you need to do when the writing is done for the day. If having two physical lists is too problematic, I recommend a web-based application called Simpleology for work-oriented list building/productivity improvement. The application works in most web browsers and offers integration with things like Chrome and Google Calendar. The program also includes a comprehensive set of built in tutorials to show you how to use the application and how to get the most out of it. You can choose either a free or paid version, but the free version is highly functional and should suffice for the vast majority of users.

I’d love to hear about any productivity improving strategies that have worked you in the comments below.

Do 1000 True Fans Make You A Living?

Lately I’ve been seeing talk about this idea that being able to make a living as an independent writer, artist, musician or insert your creative craft here _____ hinges on achieving a magical number of “true fans.” The number that crops up most often is 1000. Kevin Kelly talks about this idea pretty extensively in a Technium post here and Copyblogger’s Brian Clark also takes a swing at the idea here. The basic notion behind the hypothesis is that a true fan will buy the vast majority of what you produce directly, as well as any related merchandise, to the tune of some guesstimated figure. If you do as Kelly does and put that figure at $100 per year/per true fan, you get annual gross earnings of $100,000. In other words, you can make a living without achieving some kind superstardom.

The true fan hypothesis can be equated to ideas like micro-patronage that drive websites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and BandCamp. The runaway success of a handful of projects and the surprisingly high number of projects that at least hit minimum funding goals on these sites seems to support this idea. Yet, as Kelly details in much less frequently discussed posts here and here, there seems to be a distinct lack of real world evidence to support the 1000 true fans idea, which jives with my intuition about the hypothesis.

One of the problems I see with this idea relates a problem I discussed with the idea of essentially purchasing exposure on blogs with guest posts and giveaways here. The problem, of course, is time. True fans are fans that you interact with regularly in person, by email or via social media. Granted, you don’t interact with every fan every day, but you’re going to have to devote a lot of time to interacting with a lot of fans; a problem musician Robert Rich discusses. Time is probably the single most valuable resource creative types possess, aside from the actual skill set they use in creating. Time is also finite and not fungible.

All of this brings to mind Seth Godin’s book, We Are All Weird. In it Godin discusses how marketers have to adapt to the slow collapse of mass marketing as a strategy and he predicts future success will depend on marketing to niches. His contention seems to be that eventually, all businesses will be looking for their true fans as their primary source of income. Yet, as someone who reads and writes a fair bit about marketing, I’m inclined to think that even if Godin’s prediction pans out, the niches he discusses are not niches composed of 1000 people. I think he probably means niches composed of 100,000 or 1,000,000 people. Compared to a 6 billion-plus global population, those are tiny niches. For the purposes of marketing, though, you can’t use a true fan strategy to capture a market share that size.

Even for an individual creator looking to secure a livable annual income, I don’t think the true fan strategy can be your only or even your main strategy. I think you should make it a point to develop true fan relationships, but you should develop them with what marketers call influencers. For creative types, these are bloggers, reviewers, Facebook personalities or Twitter personalities that hold sway with the niche market you’re trying to capture. For the rank and file fans you hope to develop, those who can be more or less counted on to pick up a copy of your new book or album most of the time, you still need some level of more traditional marketing. It should be much smaller scale to reflect the smaller size of your intended market, but, in my opinion, you cannot be replaced those marketing techniques by securing 1000 true fans.

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think about the 1000 true fans approach.

Relationships versus Transactions

Image courtesy of Craftyjoe/

Image courtesy of Craftyjoe/

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post for another site where I set out some strategies for indie authors to improve their odds of securing reviews for their books. (You can read the post here.) One of suggestions I made was to develop relationships with reviewers. This suggestion was met with a comment that suggested authors should essentially buy space on review sites by providing books to give away, doing guest posts and so on. I should say that I am confident that this approach works, at least some of the time, but it sits wrong in my gut. I just wasn’t entirely sure why until I read Michael Port’s book, Book Yourself Solid.

While the book is aimed at service providers, Port’s entire strategy for getting booked solid is built on the foundation of developing relationships with potential clients, with other service providers, and even with your existing clients. He essentially argues that much of business relies too heavily on the idea of transactions, which are fundamentally one-time events. Relationships, on the other hand, are more likely to result in an ongoing exchange that both parties find valuable. Buying exposure on a book review site seems to me to focus too much on the transaction between reviewer and author, while dismissing the value of a relationship between reviewer and author.

I would be a little put off by someone who wanted me to write a guest post who hadn’t at least read one of my books or spent some time reading my blog first. To make a guest post a cost of entry to even consider reviewing your book strikes me as deeply counterintuitive. In the first place, if I’m effectively paying for exposure with giveaway copies or a guest post, then it only follows that the reviewer has a vested interest in giving me at least a middling, if not great, review, regardless of my skill as a writer. While this may serve me as an exposure seeker and, in the short term, the reviewer/blogger who gets a week off from content generation, it dilutes the credibility of the reviewer.

What if I wrote a bad book? What if I wrote a horrifyingly bad book? If the reviewer scores it well, people will be disappointed or angry or disgusted with the deception. If the reviewer gives it a legitimate review and says it’s awful, then I have no incentive to ever provide this person with a review copy or guest blog again. After all, why would I pay for bad exposure?

Then there are the logistical problems with the transactional model. Let’s say I submit my book to 50 reviewers and 25 accept, on the condition that I provide a guest post. Let’s say that I excel at writing quality blog posts and can write one in an hour. That still means I need to spend 25 hours writing guest posts. That may be a manageable number, but what if 50 or 100 or 150 reviewers accept on that same basis. I’ve basically gone from being a novelist to a full time guest blogger for the foreseeable future, without considering any other marketing actions at all.

The transactional approach is limited by basic time constraints and self-corrupting in its expectation setting. While it may serve a function in getting the marketing ball rolling, I don’t see how it can work as a sustained marketing effort for an indie author.