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.
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.