How to Be a More Productive Writer: A Quick Guide

Want to be a more productive writer? Here’s where to start.

So. You want to write more, huh?

I totally get it. Writing is the thing you desperately want to do more of but can never seem to find the time to do as much of it as you would like. Because no one tells you how time-consuming writing is. And they don’t tell you how exhausting it is.

And they definitely don’t tell you how much people who aren’t writers do not understand any of this. Which makes getting writing done a thousand times harder, since “aren’t you done writing yet” and “why are you still writing” are common grumbles among the loved ones of even the most ambitious aspiring writers.

Life is busy, most of us are tired, and this is not a world designed with creators — especially writers — in mind.

So how are you supposed to write more when trying to write more just makes everything else that much harder to manage?

Here are a few tips that have helped me write and more with the same 24-hour blocks of time as everyone else. Hopefully they will help you, too.

Say yes to less … of certain things. Confession (though not one I’m ashamed of, just something to admit nonetheless): I love video games. I used to spend every weekend doing absolutely nothing outside of gaming. Not because I didn’t want to do other things, but because it was — and still is — something that genuinely makes me feel happy and, sometimes, super accomplished.

I don’t think I’ve touched any of my gaming apps or consoles since March or April (it is officially November as I am writing this). This will change in the next few weeks, since I’ll be (hopefully) taking a brief writing break to play through Jedi: Fallen Order because, uh, reasons.

But the reason I haven’t done much gaming this year isn’t even because I’m deliberately depriving myself of something I love doing. I just know that once I start up again I won’t want to do anything else for a while, and because I’m me, I can’t afford to not get things done right now. There is just too much that needs doing.

So I put my consoles away and took Steam off of my desktop temporarily. Not because I’m not “allowed” to play, but because there are just more important things I need to focus on right now. However, if I trusted myself (I do not), I could very easily game for an hour or so before bed most nights and it likely wouldn’t have any negative impact on my work.

Instead of saying no to gaming, I could very easily say “yes” to less.

There are a lot of writers who end up avoiding their work because they, for whatever reason, assume that if they are going to take on a big writing project, they have to give up anything and everything that might stand in their way … most of which happen to also be things, like playing video games, that genuinely make them happy.

Some people actively make the choice to avoid these things for the same reason I am right now: They know they can’t balance both. And that’s fine — you know yourself better than anyone else and you know what you can and can’t handle. You have to do what’s best for you and your productivity.

But if you still want to play games or watch Netflix or hang out with friends while you’re also simultaneously working on a writing project, you are allowed to do that. You just might have to do the “fun” things less so that you can get your work done. And yes, about seventy five percent of the time, writing is considered work. You’re not always going to want to do it and it isn’t always going to be fun.

Guess what? Productive, successful writers do it anyway. They do less of the things that might take away their writing time and they write. Even when they’d rather spend their Saturdays playing Sonic the Hedgehog and/or Minecraft in their basements (sigh).

Schedule your breaks and down time. Burnout is a real thing and it is not fun. Let me repeat that, in bold, italics, and all caps this time: BURNOUT IS A REAL THING AND IT IS NOT FUN.

How does burnout happen? It happens when you keep working and keep working and you have convinced yourself everything is fine even though you have come to absolutely loathe the work you are doing. Yet you keep getting out of bed and you keep doing it anyway. Why? Because burnout also somehow convinces you that if you stop working, you will fall apart. And maybe it’s not totally in the wrong.

I have been taught (and am still working on learning) the same lesson time and again: You have to take breaks from your work. Have to. It is not optional, and it is not something “only some people have to do.” You are not immune to burnout. I don’t care how long you have been a writer, I don’t care how “successful” you are or how knowledgeable you are or how “stubborn” you are. If you do not take breaks, your work will suffer. And probably not just for a day, but for weeks or even months at a time.

Let’s put it this way: Either you can strategically take one day off per week and remain productive and content the other six, or you can work seven days a week for a month straight and find yourself unable to write efficiently for the next two weeks because you’re just so fed up with all of it.

Yes, it can happen to you, and yes, you have the power to avoid it.

Schedule your breaks. Schedule down time for yourself. Give your body and brain the space and time it needs to recover. Work is mentally and physically draining whether you realize it or want to acknowledge it or not. You have to rest. This is not a choice. It should be part of your writing productivity plan — everyone’s writing productivity plan. No exceptions.

Understand your goals and what you need to do to achieve them. What happens when you don’t have a set writing goal and just seek to “write more” is that you start writing aimlessly. And in most contexts, aimless writing isn’t the worst thing in the world. Sometimes you just have to start writing nonsense for the sake of getting into the creative mindset required for massive quantities of writing.

But when it comes to motivation and giving yourself a reason to keep writing — especially in those all too common moments you would much rather not — you need a target. Something to aim for. “Getting more writing done” is an okay place to start, and let’s be honest, it’s where most of us begin. But if you really want to write more, you have to be a little more specific.

You’ve probably heard of SMART goals before. Well, “specific” is the S in that acronym. If you keep your writing goals too general, you won’t be able to focus on the right things, and it’s going to be much easier to get distracted, wander off course, and not end up accomplishing what you hope to accomplish even if you do end up completing a lot of work along the way.

So instead of just saying “I want to be a more productive writer,” actually give yourself something that will motivate you to be more productive. Nothing crazy like trying to write 1 million words in 365 days (because what kind of person would ever commit to doing something like that), but something that requires consistent writing progress nonetheless. Like finishing the first draft of a novel, for example, or committing to writing one blog post per month over the next year.

If you want your writing goal to tie into your productivity, make sure you have not only a deadline (even if it’s just one you have set for yourself) but small milestones to work toward from day to day as well. Maybe you’ve calculated that in order to finish writing a first draft by June you have to write just 500 words five days a week. That’s seemingly much more manageable than just “trying to write more,” plus it requires that you continue writing consistently and aren’t just putting it off until the last minute.

Productivity is a long-term thing. It’s not just something you do for a month and then move on. Being more productive is a major time commitment, not just in the short-term but for years, maybe even for a lifetime.

If you’re willing to commit, then your chances of success are already much higher than most.

I’ve covered a lot here, and trust me, I could go on and on and still feel like I hadn’t covered enough. If there is anything you would like me to address specific to writing productivity and I haven’t done so here or another post, please reach out and let me know. It’s OK to ask questions or voice your concerns. Please do!

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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