“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” —W. Somerset Maugham
In the above quote, Maugham is getting at one of the critical distinctions between professional working writers and, well, everyone else (which here includes students, hobbyists, people who don’t write at all, and those who approach you at parties, mildly drunk and grinning, to tell you that they hate writing because it’s too hard, but they’ve actually got THE MOST AMAZING IDEA EVER for a novel or screenplay – do you want to hear about it?).
If you think of yourself as a working writer, or you aspire to that, then it’s worth considering the following seven hacks to help you be more productive:
1) Separate writing into these distinct processes:
- WRITING: creating your narrative, finding the story, working through plot points, discovering character and voice, etc.
- EDITING: reading your work critically, and marking it the hell up
- REWRITING: taking your critical notes from editing, and rewriting to make your story stronger
- TYPING: if you’re able to write longhand, save the task of typing for days/times when you’re too exhausted to do anything else. It takes little thinking power, but still counts as writing.
2) Pick one project and stick with it until it’s finished. Productivity suffers when writers flit from project to project. The good stuff always comes from deep, contemplative work, and commitment to seeing a story through to the end.
3) Read critically and purposefully when you’re stuck. Can’t figure out how to deal with the ending in your YA dystopian? Pick up five of the best and see how those writers did it. Get friendly with Goodreads, Amazon, and other sites that help you find books in specific genres that might be of immediate use.
4) Establish an easy, somewhat flexible writing routine. Whether it’s a place, certain type of pencil, music, clothing, whatever, figure out a routine that works for you. It should help you get into the flow of writing, but shouldn’t be so elaborate or rigid that you become a slave to your system. No clue about what works for you? Read about famous writers’ habits and routines, and try some out.
5) Condition yourself. Like Pavlov’s dogs, condition yourself to respond to specific stimuli that you consistently pair with writing. It sounds a bit crazy, but it really works. One writer I know uses a vanilla scented candle. Another creates a playlist for each novel he is working on and plays it throughout each writing session until that book is completed.
6) Set small, achievable goals. Forget about Stephen King’s 2,000 words per day. Start small with something you can be happy with. And, for god’s sake, celebrate when you hit your mark! Even if your celebration consists of a cup of tea or a nice bath, do it. External rewards for writing are few and far between, so you’d better figure out some ways to pat yourself on the back.
7) When you’re feeling especially unproductive, call a writer friend, or invite one for lunch or coffee. Talking with another writer – who very probably knows exactly what you’re going through at any given moment in the writing process – can do wonders to make you feel normal, connected, and ready to go back and hit the keys.