In this age of distraction, writers are challenged to find the time and means to be productive. Between juggling commitments and fighting our own attempts at procrastination and self-sabotage, it can often feel like a losing battle.
But I can hear some of you asking: “Why should I strive to be a super-productive writer?”
No one says you have to be. But here’s something to consider.
Writers who want to make a career out of writing books have to think about productivity. Readers discover a writer they like, and when they do, they’ll usually read everything the author has written to date. And that’s exciting for an author; those are the kind of fans she wants.
But what happens if readers are waiting for the next book to come out . . . and it doesn’t? While some fans will buy a favorite author’s newest offering whenever it releases, there’s a matter of traction to consider.
Readers Expect Authors to Keep Releasing New Books
Simply said: readers want a steady flow of books from their favorite authors.
And how can an author truly gain traction (grow his fan base and sales) if he doesn’t regularly put out books?
I’ve heard it said by many in the industry, best-selling authors included, that to really be a success (as far as productivity and sales go), a writer needs to release a book every three to four months.
While that’s not likely to occur if you’re solely on a traditional publishing track (since you are at the mercy of your publisher’s schedule), it is something not only doable but desirable if you’re self-publishing.
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but the logic is sound. Especially if you’re trying to brand yourself.
You may be writing a series or two (or five). Your readers, now that you’ve hooked them with that first novel, are eagerly anticipating book number two. If you wait a year or more to release the next one in the series, and then wait another two years for the subsequent book, that momentum of growing your fan base may dwindle or fizzle out altogether.
And another consideration: How can you start making a steady (much less terrific) living from your books if you aren’t cranking them out on a regular basis?
Bottom line, though: before you can be a super-productive writer, you have to want to be.
The Truth about Productivity
Some authors write every day; they feel they have to. And maybe finding time to do so isn’t an issue. Others write sporadically, sometimes putting writing off for months, for whatever reasons.
But how frequently you sit down to write, or how many words you write a day, doesn’t necessarily correlate to how much you produce.
Plenty of authors who hardly have an hour to write a week put out more books a year than some authors who write all day every day. And while being a “fast” writer may imply you can crank out more books than a “slow” one, that’s also not necessarily the case (I put those words in quotes because fast and slow are a matter of perspective.) Do you recall the fable of the tortoise and the hare? Who won the race?
So, time does not equal productivity.
The trick is to get the most “productive” bang from each minute you write or engage in any writing-related activity.
While there are countless factors that impact productivity—and it behooves a writer to take the time to do a serious self-examination of these things—let’s look at just three key tips that will help you start becoming productive.
- Examine your excuses. We all make excuses not to write. But if we want to be productive, we have to determine which excuses are valid and which ones are attempts at procrastination. Every writer procrastinates to some extent—you’re not alone! Saying you don’t have time to write is not a valid excuse.
You and I know this truth: we can always find time to do the things we love. So make a list of your excuses, then challenge each one. Make a schedule for writing—a practical one, then stick to it. Take a professional attitude; this is your career. If you’re employed by a company, do you just show up to work if you feel like it and leave when you want? Not likely. So adjust your mind-set to view your writing for what it is: your career. Then push your excuses aside and get the writing done.
- Hack around self-sabotage. What stops many writers in their tracks is the feeling that their writing is lousy. Which leads to worrying about what readers might think, about poor reviews, about rejection . . . and the list of stymieing factors grows long. We may sit down to write, determined to get that chapter or scene finished, only to freeze up or start over again and again, that critical devil on our shoulder whispering in our ear.
Writers need to find ways to hack around the negative self-talk and replace it with positive messaging.
When you catch yourself falling into that type of thinking, one way to counteract it is to write down a list of the worst possible things that could happen if you write a terrible chapter. Will your family and friends hate you? Will the world come to an end? Will strangers in the street recognize you for the terrible writer you are and laugh in your face? Once you see that the “worst” isn’t likely to happen, you can break through that wall and get to work.
Rejection will come. Every writer, even the most successful in the world, suffers the slings and arrows of criticism. You will too. So what? It won’t kill you. If it’s helpful criticism, you can learn from it and improve. Consider that a gift.
Every time you hear that negative voice, challenge it. Tell it you’re busy writing; come back later. Stick it on a shelf and ignore it—for now. Get the writing done. I bet you’ll find that, over time, the gremlins of sabotage will get quieter and lose their power.
- Figure out the best times to write for you. During the day, your energy fluctuates. This fluctuation is impacted by what you eat and when, how much caffeine or sugar you consume, how tired you are, how hard you work, what type of work you’re doing, how much you’re using your physical body, and a whole lot more.
Consider charting for a week or two your energy highs and lows, noting those times and what you’ve been eating. Pay attention to your peak times of focus and lack thereof, as well as when bursts of motivation occur.
This type of self-examination works best if you include when you exercise and for how long and what times you wake and go to sleep. Basically you keep a journal with the emphasis on energy and concentration.
When you do this, you can note the variables that affect your energy levels. If you have a couple of beers with lunch and then you have to go take a two-hour nap, you might conclude the alcohol impacted your energy in the afternoon. If you’d hoped to put in a couple of brilliant writing hours between two and four p.m., you might see how those beers weren’t a good idea.
Once you have this chart all filled out, take a look at the results. You should be able to see interesting patterns and trends in your biology. You’ll then be able to schedule your writing time based on when you tend to be the most focused, when you have the most energy (as your schedule may allow—and perhaps you can change that schedule).
This isn’t a hard-and-fast science. Be flexible. But taking the time to understand your own biological patterns and cycles is important to productivity. Just making minor adjustments in your eating times, sleeping times, or exercise times may make a huge difference in how productive you are with your writing.
This is just a brief look at three key ways you can start to immediately improving your writing productivity.
Everyone is different, and part of the writer’s journey is to “know thyself.” Writing takes a lot out of us, and the challenges to produce stellar writing can be daunting. If you find that you are not getting the writing done, try starting with these three tips and see if they help you improve your productivity.