I freely admit that for as many years as I’ve been seriously writing I have greatly admired those writers who are able to crank out work after work with god-like speed. (Okay, that admiration is tempered with a generous portion of detestation). Authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz (I’m sure you can name many others) produce a novel each year, year after year, like machines. Some years they produce two or three. It’s called productivity and be comparison I have never been a terribly productive writer.
I’m working on it. I’ve been working on it for years. I’m better than I have been in the past, but still don’t consider myself very productive.
The biggest hindrance, in my humble opinion, to my quest for productivity is the balance between quality and quantity. What is the point of writing four novels this year if they’re all garbage? (I mean more garbage-like than my work already is). I have been writing and re-writing my current novel for about two years now because I’m trying to make it as good as I possibly can. If I had stopped after one year and begun another novel, I don’t think the finished product would be as good. (And I have trouble writing two projects at the same time without having both ending up virtually the same).
In this quest for productivity, however, I have learned a few tricks that do help me get words on paper. Without these tricks, the two years I’ve spent on this novel, could easily have been three or four. Perhaps they can help you increase your productivity.
1. Set aside a particular time reserved for writing.
Find a time in your schedule that you can devote exclusively to writing. It doesn’t matter when it is, or how long it is. What does matter is that it can be a time for you and your writing. Some people take some time before the rest of their family gets up in the morning. Others after everyone else goes to bed, or during their lunch break at work. It doesn’t matter when it is, or even how long. What matters is that it is your reserved writing time. Treat it as you would a job, or a business appointment. You go even if you don’t particularly feel like it. You go even though there is a good movie on television. As a wise person once said, half of success is just showing up.
2. Get rid of all distractions.
Turn off the cell phone, disable the social media accounts, turn off the television (or find a place without one), establish to your friends and family that nothing short of a life-or-death emergency is important enough that it can’t wait until you’ve finished writing. One of the key elements of the creative process is being able to focus and it is hard to focus if you keep getting interrupted. They can survive without you for an hour.
3. Create a realistic writing goal for each day.
One of the basic rules of productivity is to set yourself goals. However, it is important that your goals be realistic and short term enough that you can meet them on a daily basis. Say your overall goal is to write a novel this year. You aren’t going to achieve that goal tonight, or even this week. Keep the year-end goal of a new novel, but break it up into smaller goals. For instance, if you write five days a weeks, fifty weeks a year (with two weeks off for a well-deserved vacation) a daily production of 350-400 words will give you a novel in one year. A goal of 350-400 words a day is something you could actually accomplish.
4. Turn off your self-editor.
Nothing is better at killing the creative process as much as our nagging self-editor. It’s human nature to want to be creating something earth-shattering as we create it, but that isn’t how it usually works. There’s a reason it’s called a “rough draft.” It’s your initial attempt. Resist the urge to judge your work as you first write it. Editing and re-writing can be done later to clean up and polish the draft. But you can’t edit anything if nothing ever gets put on paper.
5. Reward yourself for meeting your writing goals.
We all spend a lot of time and energy beating ourselves up when we don’t perform as well as we think we should. It’s human nature. (Except for sociopaths. They don’t give a flip.) But how often do we reward ourselves for doing well? Not nearly enough. It’s positive reinforcement and it is very effective, even with ourselves. So when you meet or exceed your writing goals, treat yourself to something: a bowl of ice cream, a hot bath, a gold star on the calendar. Believe it or not, our subconscious will react to the reward and begin to perform.
Those are my tricks to get myself to be more productive. I hope they might be able to help you do the same. If you have your own tricks please tell me about them in the comments.