Be Productive By Ali Luke Did you resolve, on January 1st, to “get more writing done” this year? Have you ever bought a book on time management, or read a bunch of blog posts on productivity, and tried really hard to make someone’s clever system work for you? How did it go? Chances are, you ended up disappointed. Perhaps you felt like a square peg trying to squeeze into a round hole. Or maybe you did get more writing done—but weren’t happy with the results. Regular time-management advice is aimed at regular people in regular jobs. It’s for people whose days are filled with meetings, emails, phone calls and itty-bitty tasks. It’s not generally aimed at people who want to spend hours writing… and it doesn’t take into account your need for creative energy and periodic rejuvenation. (Don’t ditch all the advice you come across, though. One common productivity tip definitely applies to writers: minimize interruptions. More later on why that’s so important.) Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to spend your life as a writer in a stressed, procrastinating muddle. You can absolutely be more conscious and proactive about how you use your time. Here are the five key rules you need: Rule #1: When You’re Writing, Write However much or little time you have, you need to make the most of it. I learned this rule early in my writing life, at university. I had to turn out an essay or two a week, and I had a pretty good system. I’d do the research, jot down key quotes, write a detailed plan, and hammer out a first draft of about 1,500 words. Typically, I allowed two hours for a first draft; I was usually done in one and a half. But on one particular day, I was chatting online with my cousin while drafting my essay. It took me three hours to get that draft finished. Twice as long as it should have. All because I was distracted every couple of sentences, and never got into flow. If You Do One Thing: Turn off your internet connection while you write. It’s probably the source of most of your distractions… and you might be surprised by just how much you get done. Rule #2: Minimize Interruptions Have you ever sat down to write, with the best of intentions, only to find your efforts constantly derailed? The doorbell rings. Then the phone. Then your spouse wanders in to ask you a question. Then you get a text from one of your kids asking for a lift home. Even brief interruptions can knock you right out of the flow of writing. Longer breaks can eat up the whole of your writing session. While having your very own office might not be possible right now, you can and should make the effort to get rid of as many interruptions as possible. If You Do One Thing: Ask one person you live with to help you protect your writing time. This might mean asking your spouse to take care of the kids, asking a roommate if they could answer the phone or door if needed, or asking your teens to fix their own dinner. Rule #3: When You’re Not Writing, Get Enough Down Time You’re probably a busy person: you’ve got chores, maybe a day job, or small children, or elderly relatives to care for, or other responsibilities. It’s easy to let down time get squeezed right to the margins of your life. I don’t think you should even try to write during every minute of “free” time you have available. That’s a recipe for swift burnout. Instead, make sure you get enough down time—whether that’s an hour in front of the TV, or an evening out with friends. Make this a real priority, otherwise when you sit down to write, you’ll find yourself distracted, tired, and tempted to give up. If You Do One Thing: Keep the last 30 minutes of your day for something restful. Many writers find this a great time of day to read in bed! It’s something to look forward to, and a good way to unwind at the end of a hectic day. Rule #4: Spend More Time Planning and Less Time Editing This is another rule I’ve learned the hard way. I’m good at planning blog posts and non-fiction books, but I’ve always been a “pantser” when writing fiction. This worked fine when I had a fair amount of time available, but these days, I have two young children. If I want to ever finish what I start, I need to have a solid plan upfront. The more you plan, the less you’ll need to edit. It can be really disheartening to completely redo, or even throw out, months of hard work when you realize you’ve gone in the wrong direction with a project. If You Do One Thing: Don’t launch straight into the writing. Allow the first 5 minutes of your writing session to plan, or to review your current plan. If you have really short daily writing sessions—say, 30 minutes—then this might be tricky. Try to allow some time once or twice a week, instead. Rule #5: Keep Learning About Writing It’s easy to spend a ton of time going in a particular direction with your work, or struggling with a tricky problem, only to one day read an article or book chapter or blog post that solves everything. I’m not suggesting you put off writing anything until you feel sufficiently educated about writing: that’ll probably never happen! Instead, carry on writing regularly, but set aside some time every week to learn more about the art, craft and business of writing. This could mean: Reading great writing-related blogs (like Write to Done) – you can find Write to Done’s most recent top ten list here. Downloading a free ebook to help you with a particular aspect of writing. For help with characters, for instance, try Roz Morris’s Nail Your Novel Instant Fix: 100 Tips For Fascinating Characters or K.M. Weiland’s Crafting Unforgettable Characters. Buying a book that deals more broadly with writing. My favourite all-rounder for new novelists is Nigel Watts’ Writing a Novel. Taking a writing class or course – anything from an afternoon workshop to a Master’s degree. If You Do One Thing: Set aside 30 minutes this week and 30 minutes next week to learn more about writing. (If it’s hard to find 30 minutes continuously, try for 5 minutes each day – for example, reading one blog post.) Making the time to write consistently, and using that time well, isn’t easy. Even if you have days or weeks when everything goes wrong, keep trying. Over time, you’ll build a solid writing habit—and a great body of work. If you’re struggling with finding the time to write, or if you’re sitting down to write but not getting anywhere, know that you’re not alone! Drop a comment below to tell us what you’re finding hard, so we can support you. Please share the post if you found it helpful!