Life is full of distractions and our writing time can be eaten away if we don’t impose some discipline. We find our work in progress or book idea has sat unfinished for too long and that’s just depressing. Well, I know how you feel. After twenty years of saying I wanted to write a novel, I finally wrote my first one in just over a year. That’s not hugely fast but I had spent so long talking about it that it felt like a breakthrough!
Here are some of my tips for being productive as a writer that will help you finally finish your book whether its fiction or non-fiction.
1. Know yourself. I first tried to write a novel years ago but spent a lot of time trying to make it sound like Umberto Eco i.e. literary and important. It wasn’t easy for me to write this way and I wasn’t enjoying it either. If you’re not enjoying the process, chances are your readers won’t enjoy the book anyway. So I looked at my bookshelves. They are full of books on psychology and religion as well as fast-paced, explosion-filled, high body count thrillers. So I decided to write a religious thriller with a female kick-ass ex-military psychologist for a protagonist. Kind of Dan Brown meets Lara Croft! I had so much fun writing it. It won’t win any literary prizes but I’m embracing the thriller genre and loving it! So be realistic. Look at what you like to read and forget what the critics think.
2. Stop reading and start writing. Most writers have shelves full of books on writing. Learning the craft is definitely important, but you will actually learn more if you put pen to paper. Definitely keep reading for pleasure and research but don’t use reading as a procrastination tactic. Write first, then go find a book that will help when you actually hit a writing problem. This also applies to courses, seminars and events which of course should be done within reason but can also be an excellent way to avoid writing.
3. Model success. Ok, I know I said stop reading but I do suggest reading books in your genre and breaking them down into areas you can model. Pick one that has been successful and go through it critically. I used James Rollins’ The Judas Strain and went through every chapter, noting first and last sentences, point of view, action, length of chapter, character, dialog and exposition. It took me several days to work out how he put it all together (and Rollins is a master thriller writer!). I then took the principles and worked out how I could apply them, for example, ending every chapter with a cliff-hanger. This is modeling, not plagiarism. You can’t use other people’s plot ideas but you can look at the ‘rules’ in your genre and apply them. Some may criticize this as formulaic writing but readers have expectations and if you disappoint them, you run the risk of not selling your book.
4. Diarize your writing time. Your family, day job and health will always come before writing but there are pockets of time where you could write if you plan in advance. Go through your diary and identify blocks of at least 30 minutes where you could write. Then mark them down as if they are business appointments and treat them just as seriously. Tell people you’re busy at that time. You can’t interrupt a business meeting for a phone call, coffee with a friend or Facebook, so don’t interrupt your writing.
5. Use Write or Die for your first draft. You can’t edit a blank page and writing your first draft is just a matter of getting the words down. Write or Die is cheap and simple software where you set a time or word count limit and then you have to keep writing. If you stop for more than a few seconds, the screen starts going red and violins screech. You can even set it to kamikaze where your words start disappearing. It definitely keeps you writing and even in 15 minutes you’ll be surprised at how much you can produce. Of course, you will edit later but at least you have something to work with. This was the key to completing the first draft of my thriller Pentecost and also for writing extra scenes later. It works whether you have a rough outline or if you just want to write stream of consciousness.
6. Ditch your TV. I hear screams at this suggestion but hear me out! Four years ago, the TV was banished from our house and since then I have written four books, started a business and now have a Top 10 Blog for Writers! (as well as a day job and home life). TV is a time suck, the programs you want to watch are padded with adverts and you end up watching other shows just because they’re on. I still watch programs I enjoy (Glee, Fringe, Bones and Castle!) but I download episodes on iTunes so it takes 45 minutes instead of hours of distraction. This leaves more time to be creative or to spend time blogging/social networking.
7. Work 4 days a week. This is seriously life-changing but takes some sacrifice. Just imagine what you could achieve if you had a full day to spend on your writing instead of the day job. When I decided to really focus on blogging and writing, I moved to four days a week and dropped to 80% of my income. That extra day gave me the energy boost I needed to kick-start my writing and online business. It also meant I could schedule meetings and marketing tasks by batching them together, allowing me more concentrated time for writing at the weekends. This is the one thing I recommend to anyone wanting to start a business/write a book or achieve more in their lives.
8. Set deadlines. I always aim to have a book written for my birthday each year which continually keeps me producing. Decide on your deadline for finishing your book and then work backwards from that date and set smaller specific targets. For example, to be publishable by January, the book needs to be professionally edited in Oct/Nov to allow for rewrites, which means a decent draft needs to be finished before then. Assuming that’s the third draft, the first draft needs to be finished in August. If I write 5000 words per week in between working and real life, then I need to start the book by the beginning of June. Plan these steps out and then mark them in your calendar for tracking.
9. Be accountable. If you set a goal, you need to tell someone in order to make it real. Blogging is fantastic for accountability because you owe it to your readers to walk the talk. Authenticity is critical these days. You can also share with your writing group or a coach. At the very least, write it down in a journal or email it to yourself at FutureMe which will send an email on a specific date in the future when you should have achieved your goal.
With even some of these methods, you’ll be able to boost the speed of your writing and creation time and finally finish your book. So what are you waiting for?