7 Productivity Rules That Help Writers
By Natalie Andersen
The problem with writing is that you’re often only responsible to yourself. That means it’s so very easy to say ‘manana’ and put off the work that you’re meaning to do. But of course, if you’re always putting everything off then you’re never going to get anywhere.
Similarly, it’s easy to get trapped and end up spending enough hours working but not actually getting any writing done. That’s just as bad – worse actually, because you can’t just up the hours in the hope of doing more.
So how do you make sure that you actually get stuff done? What are some of the productivity rules that we writers use to actually get our words done and out of the door? Here are some of the methods I use to write between three to four thousand words a day.
Rule 1: Start
Rule one is simple enough. If you’re trying to be a productive writer who writes every day, then you want to start just like other people do – at a specific time. Having a routine like this has been shown to be very effective. So that’s what you do first. Set yourself a starting time. Not ‘somewhere in the morning’ but ‘nine o’clock in the morning’. And keep to it to. Because every time you start thirty minutes late that means you’ll be doing thirty minutes less work that day.
“Do that every day for five days and you’ve just lost two and a half hours. That’s more than a working day a month,” shares Evelyn Jarvis, a content editor for BestWritersCanada.
Rule 2: Work towards time, not towards a goal
Most taxi drivers work towards a monetary goal per day. When they’ve made that goal, they’ll call it quits and head home. The thing is, that doesn’t actually make any sense. After all, it means they end up driving less on the more profitable days as they fulfill their goals early and much more on the less profitable days when it’s much harder going. It would make much more sense if they did turned it around. The more money they’re making, the longer they’d drive while on the bad days they call it quits earlier. They’d work the same hours but make much more money.
It’s the same for writing. A lot of writers will have a hugely productive morning, feel they’ve written enough and then quit. On bad days, in the meantime, they will feel they have not written enough and keep pushing onwards.
Don’t do that. Instead, write a certain number of hours a day. Perhaps a little more if it’s going exceptionally well an less when it’s not. You’ll get far more done in the same amount of time.
Rule 3: Separate your editing and your writing
When you’re writing, you’re creating. At its best you’re experiencing flow, where you get sucked into what you’re writing. When you’re editing you’re being critical and carefully weighing which turn of phrase works better.
Those are two very different things. As a result, if you edit as you’re writing then you constantly keep undermining your words and second guessing yourself. That’s not productive. For that reason, try to write the first draft of a section or text first before you head back and start editing it. In that way, you can just let the words flow when you’re writing and then edit them afterwards to make them truly shine.
Rule 4: The distance gap
If you spend too much time with a text then you end up blind. What I mean by that is that you can no longer see what’s actually good and what’s not as you can’t separate out the ideas you wanted to write from the words you’ve written.
To get past that, you need to give yourself space. My personal strategy is to work on several texts at the same time. I’ll finish one text, put it aside and then go work on something else (or go get lunch, or work at keeping your list of publications up to date, or take a walk). Then, after an hour or two (possibly even a day if it’s really important) I return to the text. The space has allowed me to forget at least in part what I meant with each word and therefore will let me see the text more objectively. That makes it much easier to edit effectively.
Rule 5: The tools
There are a lot of tools out there that can help you. Some examples include such things as the Hemingway App. That’s really only the tip of the iceberg, however. There are plenty of tools out there to use.
Don’t be afraid to try them out. Sure, you won’t think they’re all as great as people make them out to be. And that’s okay. After all, when you do find a tool that clicks, then it will end up boosting your productivity for months and years to come. And that’s well worth the time you invest in those failed experiments.
Rule 6: Read like a writer
Every time you read a book you’ve got to be aware of the turns of phrase that you really like and take the time to analyze why you like them. Similarly, if you read something that doesn’t work for you, figure out why it doesn’t. In this way you’re learning from other people’s magic and mistakes and that means you don’t have to do the same when you’re writing.
Krystal Mohammed suggests: “Perhaps you should even consider to start writing with a pencil in your hand so you can mark passages in a book that you really like. In that way, when you want to find it back later on it will be a lot easier to do so.”
Yes, this does make reading slower. But it makes your writing faster. And that’s the goal, no?
Rule 7: Write. A lot.
I’ve met so many people who say ‘I’m a writer’ and then it turns out they haven’t put a word to paper in days (or even weeks or months). I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you’re not writing you’re not a writer. The best you can say is you’re a dreamer. And that’s nice. But it’s not what you’re after.
So write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. Just make sure you do. Writing is a process. And the only way you can get better is by actually going through that process. So if you want to be productive stop reading articles like this and instead, go write.