Whether writing creatively, academically, journalistically or even just making entries in your diary, writing isn’t something that comes easy to everyone. Even if you consider yourself to be a good writer, that doesn’t mean that every day is going to be an easy day to write. Time constraints and writer’s block are common obstacles. But thankfully, there are ways to jump over those hurdles and ways to prevent them from happening altogether. Here are 20 tried and true tips for increasing productivity as a writer.
1. Find “Your Time” of Day
Nobody is “on” during all working hours of the day. Whether it is 20 minutes after your first sip of coffee, an hour before lunch or as soon as the kids go to bed, there’s likely a time of day that you find easiest to sit down and write. Once you find that time and set that time aside for only writing, your brain will become even more accustomed to it.
2. Omit Distractions
Sometimes the biggest distraction is the lack of willpower. Even if you set time aside for yourself and put yourself in a quiet room, the temptation to check Facebook, chat with a neighbor or even do chores will always be a distraction. Sometimes it helps to start by simply listing your distractions. After all, you can’t avoid them if you don’t even realize they’re distracting you. Maybe it’s the chatty co-worker who likes to stop by for gossip. Maybe it’s the pile of dishes next to the sink. Whatever it is, don’t let it interfere with your writing time. If you’re at work, put yourself on “do not disturb” and find a way to tell your co-worker it’s a bad time. If you’re at home, get your dishes done before you start writing. Make it easy for your willpower to do its job.
3. Stay Organized
I don’t buy the concept of “organized chaos.” If you have a cluttered desk, how can your brain not be cluttered as well? If you have anything on your desk, make sure it is related to the task at hand. The same applies to your laptop. If you’re managing several writing tasks at once, make sure they’re easily accessible so you can go back and forth between them instead of wasting time trying to find them.
4. Take Notes
Sometimes thoughts come into our minds when we least expect it, whether in the car, in the shower or in bed. Whether it’s my phone, or a pen and notepad nearby, I always try to have something at the ready for those ideas that pop into my head so I don’t forget them. I then make sure to log them in a centralized location (usually in my bullet journal) soon after instead of relying on little notes scattered around my house and on my phone.
For that centralized location, I used to use Evernote for tracking my ideas, but I found that it was more enjoyable for me to write things down on paper, so the bullet journal works best for me. But feel free to use whichever method you enjoy enough to commit to. If that’s Evernote, go for it. After all, someone once wrote a novel entirely in Evernote.
5. Make an Outline
Yes, it sounds “old school,” but that’s only because it still works. Organizing your topic and significant headings isn’t just helpful when writing, it’s downright necessary. It doesn’t have to involve Roman Numerals and numbered lists either (unless you want it to). It can be as simple as writing a list of important points you need to write about. You may come up with some ideas as you’re writing as well, so don’t feel like you have to stick to the outline. Instead, think of it as a home base for which you need to check in with now and then.
6. Start Wherever You Like
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a story always starts at the beginning. After all, the beginning might be pushed back further and further as you realize there were events worth mentioning from before your original story “started.”
Instead, start writing at the point that inspires you the most. That might be one part of the story one day and a completely different part of the next. You can always fill in the gaps later, but when you feel inspired to write about something specific at a specific moment, that’s very difficult to find again.
7. Spit It Out
Sometimes you may have so much going on in your head that it seems impossible to jot it down in an organized fashion. Don’t let that deter you from writing altogether. I find that a laptop works best for this since I can type quicker than I can write. I just rant without particularly making much sense. Then I find after spitting it all out, I have a clearer mind, and it’s easier to then organize my thoughts in order of importance. Sometimes this “word vomit” activity is better than any therapist!
8. Don’t Make Excuses
Setting a goal and making a commitment to write regularly is one thing, but actually sticking to it is another. You don’t need to have a plan of action in mind either. Just sit down in front of your computer or your notepad and let the words come to you. Sometimes the words don’t come to you unless you make yourself available to them.
9. Track Something
Some people sit down and say, “I’m going to write 500 words today.” Others say, “I’m going to write for 45 minutes.” Whether it’s words, minutes or how many cups of coffee you’ll need to drink, having something you can track makes it easier to see if you’re on schedule to meet your goals.
You may even want to consider software like Toggle, which is a time-tracking app and website. It lets you create a project and then smaller tasks within that project. Start the timer at the start of each task and watch each task magically disappear as you make progress.
Toggl Time-tracking App
10. Create Audience Personas
There’s no way you can write effectively without knowing who you’re writing to. That’s not to say you have to know your audience personally, of course, but it sure would help if you did. To that effect, lots of writers create personas for their audience. For example, if I’m writing an article on parenting, I might narrow it down further based on the age of the parents’ kids or struggles they’re dealing with. I’ll picture that “persona” as I’m writing. I might even name them! The result is a deeper connection to the content and to the audience.
11. Take Baby Steps
Don’t set unrealistic expectations. If you do, you’re more likely to dread writing. Instead, set small, achievable goals. Even aiming to write five sentences a day is better than writing nothing at all. You may find that some days you don’t even feel like stopping.
12. Switch Gears to Keep Things Fresh
It’s natural to get bored when you’re writing about a particular topic repeatedly. And if you’re bored, chances are it will show in your writing, boring your readers as well. Try having a couple different projects going on simultaneously so you can switch gears if need be. If you absolutely have to keep writing about a topic that bores you, try looking at it from a different angle.
13. Find Your Niche
If you have found a topic that consistently interests you or that you can consider yourself to be an expert on, stick with it. You’ll be more productive writing about a topic that you specialize in than a topic that you’re just winging it with.
14. Silence Your Inner Critic
There will always be a little bit of doubt when you’re creating something, whether it’s something with our hands or with your words. After all, our brains are wired that way, with the right side responsible for thinking creatively and the left side responsible for logically editing what we’ve written. Sometimes our left brain is more powerful than the right, unfortunately. Find a way to silence it and pull it back out at the end of your project when you can actually use that inner critic as an editor.
15. Don’t Worry About Grammar
This goes back to the idea of using two different parts of your brain as a writer and silencing that inner critic. When you’re trying to be creative and find the best way to organize your thoughts, you shouldn’t be thinking about grammar and punctuation. Silence that part of your brain and let your creativity flow.
16. Use an App
If you have software on your smartphone that helps you log your sleep, track your steps and remind you to call your mom, why not use it to help you be a more productive writer? There are a variety of so-called “productivity apps” out there, that may help. But that’s not to say that they’ll all suit your specific writing style. Nonetheless, they’re certainly worth checking out. For example, the Todoist app asks you to write down everything you need to do before prioritizing it and organizing it into manageable chunks. It also makes it easy to collaborate with other writers and editors. It’s like your own personal assistant!
17. Write Short and Basic
Don’t try to impress your readers with fancy words that they’ll likely have to look up in the dictionary. You’ll only make them feel stupid and turn them off. Plus, it’s a major time-suck. That doesn’t mean you can’t write descriptively later on. It’s like building a house. Get your thoughts on paper first and let them serve as a foundation. Then you can go back to decorate your writing.
18. Reassess Your Method
Maybe going to the local coffee shop, laptop in hand-worked for you for years. Does that mean it will always work? Absolutely not. Maybe it no longer inspires you as it did. Try a change of scenery or even a change in your writing method. Try using a pen and paper. Try writing from a different point of view. In short, don’t be afraid to try new things.
19. Set the Mood
For me, that means lighting a candle and playing a deep-focus playlist on my smart speaker. Make sure the music doesn’t have any lyrics. It’s not easy to find the words you need when you’re being bombarded with someone else’s.
20. Stay True to Yourself
It might be tempting to take on projects for money or because they seemed like a good idea at first. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it if it isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug if it isn’t working for you or if it is a topic that you don’t feel strongly about. Its easier to be productive when you have an interest in what you’re writing about than if you have no interest in it at all.